Three Recent Books On Happiness

Everyone wants to be happy, but few people seem to be happy. Even people who are, and have every reason to be happy, still want to be even happier. There is an infinite desire for happiness, and, not coincidently, there is a huge industry in telling people how to be happy. Religions have served this market for millennia. Nowadays, there are apps for it, too.

I thought I would sample some of the recent offerings.

OK, I admit it. I was motivated by the release of Paula Poundstone’s entry in the genre, which I really wanted to read. In the spirit of her “unscientific study”, and the eternal maternal principle that you have to eat your vegetables before you get dessert, I tackled two other recent books on the topic, the sublime, the ridiculous, and the real.

So I (tried to) read all these:

  1. The Book of Joy (2016) by Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams (The Sublime)
  2. Solve For Happy (2017) by Mo Gawdat (The Ridiculous)
  3. The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness (2017) by Paula Poundstone (The Real)

Each of these books tackles similar questions (“what can I do to be happy?”), and actually advocate the same array of techniques (e.g., getting a grip on negative thinking, focusing on others, not focusing on “more stuff”). The differences lie in how they tell the story, and especially, how they seek to inspire you, the reader.

These differences are important, both abstractly (are they correct?) and pragmatically, because even the same story told differently captures different readers.

Inevitably, I found myself arguing with the authors, especially where they make claims about science. I cant say that criticizing books about how to be happy made me especially happy, but its what I do.

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Sunday Book Reviews

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