A compendium of aphorisms aimed at helping readers achieve contentment.
Byer’s debut attempts to differentiate between pleasure and happiness. According to the author, this distinction hinges on the notions that pleasure is basal, “the effect of our desires as an instinctive motivational process,” and that happiness is only possible when one’s “higher thinking” overrides those instincts. When one concentrates only on pleasure, he says, it results in stress and anxiety: “To become free we must control what controls us,” Byer writes, “and that is us.” To help readers achieve “higher thinking,” Byer offers a collection of 3,300 axioms, grouped around the key concepts of “Peace,” “Desire and Fear,” “Pleasure,” “Truth,” and “Wisdom,” among others. These axioms vary considerably in quality and impact. Some are bland statements of fact, such as “We seem to go through our lives without knowing why we do what we do.” Others are instructional: “We rationalize our desires by providing plausible but untrue reasons for our conduct.” Life, according to Byer, is the discovery of the relationship among nature, society, and ourselves, and “our truth is the ability to know that the cause of our discontent was us.” This epigrammatic approach makes the book compulsively readable. However, it also lends the collection an opaque quality that would have been considerably lessened if the author had elaborated more on his ideas. His opening discussion of the structural difference between pleasure and happiness, for example, is tantalizingly brief, and it will no doubt leave readers wanting more in-depth analysis and fewer tossed-off maxims.
A thought-provoking, if uneven, collection designed to clarify the true nature of happiness.