A comprehensive study examines the nature of true happiness—and the quest to find it in modern society.
The authors’ nonfiction debut operates on the assumption that human happiness is an extremely complex and multilayered thing rather than a simple response to circumstances. It’s an inner compulsion, as the husband-and-wife team clarifies: “Something innate within the human spirit cries out for something deeper, something more lasting and something more profound than material things to bring us to a more sustained state of happiness.” The book anatomizes dozens of aspects of happiness—social, spiritual, moral, physical, and intellectual—and ranges them along a scale designed to help readers quantify their own specific happiness indexes. The authors are empathetic but also cleareyed, and they cast their inquiries over many kinds of societies, assessing all the various pragmatic factors that can determine a person’s happiness. “We have seen,” the authors write, “how…happiness takes flight due to poor nutrition, deficient diet, failing health, inadequate housing, and education, underpinned by the lack of money.” The authors’ analyses of the origins and deployment of happiness are uniformly thought-provoking, although their importation of religious elements can at times be confusing. For instance, they list as “non-religious” economic principles such prompts as “stay focused,” “learn new skills,” and “repair rather than replace,” and as “religious” economic principles such dictums as “guard against the impulse to be unfair,” “be generous with excess wealth,” and even “exercise justice and mercy”—with no real elaboration on why the former are secular and the latter religious. But such categorical confusion is rare in a text that’s for the most part exceedingly precise about the sources and textures of happiness, from the key role that education plays to the part that the improvement of general human rights has served to increase joy globally. The liberal use the authors make of their own personal experiences adds an element of warmth to their systematic appraisals, and their compartmentalized grid for assessing personal happiness should give seekers of contentment a great deal to think about.
A complicated but intriguing breakdown of an emotion many take for granted.