An enlightening read for anyone who wants to learn more about joy and related emotions.

A Psychological Perspective on Joy and Emotional Fulfillment

From the Explorations in Mental Health series , Vol. 3

In this debut nonfiction work, an academic, clinical psychologist, and psychotherapist reviews the scholarship on joy and attempts to define what it is and how it comes about.

Meadows studied the phenomenon of joy in depth while teaching at Nashville, Tennessee–based Vanderbilt University, where he gathered subjective accounts of joyful experiences from 300 students. Joy, he writes, is “one of the most over-used and under-valued words in the English language.” A “kind of happiness industry has developed,” he says, causing a flood of self-help books and use of “joy” as a marketing buzzword. Psychologists and other scholars have paid far more attention to negative emotions, he notes; nevertheless, positive ones, including joy, have come in for their share of scrutiny, and he covers a lot of ground reviewing literature in the field, starting with Aristotle and working his way through contemporary studies. Joy is not just a feel-good emotion, he writes, but an important mental armament that “serves crucial evolutionary functions,” helping to ensure that infants receive proper care and spurring couples to reproduce, for example. Meadows compares and contrasts it with other, similar emotions, such as happiness, ecstasy, pleasure, transcendence, and even the manic phases of bipolar disorder. Despite its importance, though, joy “comes to a person on its own schedule,” unbidden, Meadows notes, and it’s as fruitless to pursue it—although one may better accommodate it by using philosophy, religion, one’s work, and other channels. Overall, Meadows has written a fascinating book that’s rich in scholarship and detail yet also accessible to general readers. He writes clearly and backs up his work with abundant, intelligently analyzed sources. However, he does fall prey to occasional glitches, such as writing “pedals” instead of “petals” and placing a contemporary scholar just two and a half centuries after Aristotle. That said, he makes a solid case for the evolutionary and emotional importance of joy—providing not only a description of it, but also hints as to how one might approach it, if not necessarily attain it.

An enlightening read for anyone who wants to learn more about joy and related emotions.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-415-84123-8

Page Count: 308

Publisher: Routledge

Review Posted Online: June 11, 2016

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The Stoics did much better with the much shorter Enchiridion.

THE LAWS OF HUMAN NATURE

A follow-on to the author’s garbled but popular 48 Laws of Power, promising that readers will learn how to win friends and influence people, to say nothing of outfoxing all those “toxic types” out in the world.

Greene (Mastery, 2012, etc.) begins with a big sell, averring that his book “is designed to immerse you in all aspects of human behavior and illuminate its root causes.” To gauge by this fat compendium, human behavior is mostly rotten, a presumption that fits with the author’s neo-Machiavellian program of self-validation and eventual strategic supremacy. The author works to formula: First, state a “law,” such as “confront your dark side” or “know your limits,” the latter of which seems pale compared to the Delphic oracle’s “nothing in excess.” Next, elaborate on that law with what might seem to be as plain as day: “Losing contact with reality, we make irrational decisions. That is why our success often does not last.” One imagines there might be other reasons for the evanescence of glory, but there you go. Finally, spin out a long tutelary yarn, seemingly the longer the better, to shore up the truism—in this case, the cometary rise and fall of one-time Disney CEO Michael Eisner, with the warning, “his fate could easily be yours, albeit most likely on a smaller scale,” which ranks right up there with the fortuneteller’s “I sense that someone you know has died" in orders of probability. It’s enough to inspire a new law: Beware of those who spend too much time telling you what you already know, even when it’s dressed up in fresh-sounding terms. “Continually mix the visceral with the analytic” is the language of a consultant’s report, more important-sounding than “go with your gut but use your head, too.”

The Stoics did much better with the much shorter Enchiridion.

Pub Date: Oct. 23, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-42814-5

Page Count: 580

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

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Readers unfamiliar with the anecdotal material Greene presents may find interesting avenues to pursue, but they should...

MASTERY

Greene (The 33 Strategies of War, 2007, etc.) believes that genius can be learned if we pay attention and reject social conformity.

The author suggests that our emergence as a species with stereoscopic, frontal vision and sophisticated hand-eye coordination gave us an advantage over earlier humans and primates because it allowed us to contemplate a situation and ponder alternatives for action. This, along with the advantages conferred by mirror neurons, which allow us to intuit what others may be thinking, contributed to our ability to learn, pass on inventions to future generations and improve our problem-solving ability. Throughout most of human history, we were hunter-gatherers, and our brains are engineered accordingly. The author has a jaundiced view of our modern technological society, which, he writes, encourages quick, rash judgments. We fail to spend the time needed to develop thorough mastery of a subject. Greene writes that every human is “born unique,” with specific potential that we can develop if we listen to our inner voice. He offers many interesting but tendentious examples to illustrate his theory, including Einstein, Darwin, Mozart and Temple Grandin. In the case of Darwin, Greene ignores the formative intellectual influences that shaped his thought, including the discovery of geological evolution with which he was familiar before his famous voyage. The author uses Grandin's struggle to overcome autistic social handicaps as a model for the necessity for everyone to create a deceptive social mask.

Readers unfamiliar with the anecdotal material Greene presents may find interesting avenues to pursue, but they should beware of the author's quirky, sometimes misleading brush-stroke characterizations.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-670-02496-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Sept. 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

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