Book Review: The Happiness Myth by Jennifer Michael Hecht.

May 5, 2007

I have a fixation on the concept of happiness. When I read about The Happiness Myth: The Historical Antidote to What Isn't Working Today, I immediately bought it and read it. It does not disappoint. Hecht takes an historical approach to happiness. She breaks this down into categories: Wisdom, Drugs, Money, Bodies and Celebration. She discusses each topic as humans have behaved over time in an engaging and through provoking way.

I learned a bit of history on Celebration. It seems that if a people are oppressed in one way, they can develop elaborate and in some ways shocking ways of cutting loose through carnivals and festivals.

It goes too far to say that Hecht advocates drug use. However, the reader gets the feeling that she has no problem with using legal drugs to get through rough spots. She has a great deal of historical backing on this point. Of course there’s also a lot of historical data about how bad drugs can be. The message seems to be: if are not the type of person who gets addicted, don’t feel bad about using legal drugs to get by. She argues this point well, yet there are an awful lot of people who struggle with addiction. I’m not sure how I feel about this, but it is thought provoking.

Hecht writes very well. In fact, this book seems to be classified as a self-help book and this does not do it justice. She is a writer of the caliber of Steven Pinker or Steven Levitt & Stephen Dubner The book does discuss self-help and distills that literature down to: “Know yourself. Control your desires. Take what’s yours. Remember death.” Taking these topics in turn, Hecht seems to say that happiness is found in open-minded moderation. She also identifies virtually all areas of human endeavor that can make one happy. Yet she goes beyond this in her clinical discussion of happiness and how humans have tried to find happiness over time.

This is easily one of the best books I’ve read this year. I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in happiness as a concept.


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