- Hardcover: 96 pages
- Publisher: Pantheon; 1 edition (January 8, 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780307907714
- ISBN-13: 978-0307907714
- ASIN: 0307907716
- Product Dimensions: 4.8 x 0.6 x 7.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 7 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,680,540 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Happy Life: The Search for Contentment in the Modern World 1st Edition
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Even as we lament a sluggish economy, economic uncertainty, or even global warming, we are free of the kind of illness and famine common to earlier eras. So why aren’t we happier? Why doesn’t the good fortune of the times outweigh the bad? Australian author Malouf offers a penetrating meditation on happiness, quoting thinkers and philosophers from Kant to Plato, from Aristotle to Locke. He gives close examination to Thomas Jefferson’s thinking in developing the Declaration of Independence with its famous evocation of the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and the significance of that evocation at the time and since. Malouf draws on etymology, psychology, religion, and philosophy to explore the meaning of happiness in a developed society, when greater freedom and leisure afford the luxury to ponder what makes us truly happy. In this slim volume, Malouf eloquently weighs the appeal of material goods and well-being against the heft of morality and individual longing for something we can’t always articulate. --Vanessa Bush
Praise for The Happy Life
“These musings on happiness by an eminent Australian novelist and poet revolve around the question of why it eludes so many of us…Malouf’s prose is as clear as his quiet, unexpected conclusions.”
—The New Yorker
“What is happiness, anyway? In this slim volume, the topic is covered…in five linked essays, each considering aspects of happiness, from social to sexual…rich and thoughtful…a useful riddle for midwinter meditation.”
—The Boston Globe
“A brief but piercing meditation.”
—The Los Angeles Times
“Penetrating…Malouf eloquently weighs the appeal of material goods and well-being against the heft or morality and individual longing for something we can’t always articulate.”
“Engaging…A slim volume of meditations on the conundrum that is happiness.”
“The Happy Life is no self-help book, and David Malouf is not naive enough to suggest he has an easy cure for our persistent angst. But for anyone who wants an intelligent primer to begin the process of asking some of the questions whose answers may relieve it, Malouf offers a useful starting point.”
Praise for David Malouf
“David Malouf is one of our finest writers, a poet with an ear for language that transforms an interesting concept into a classic meditation on the role of chance in each of our lives.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
“A richly imagistic writer, philosophical and literary in the best sense.”
—The Washington Post Book World
“A first-rate writer—–a sensitive historian of the spirit.”
—The Wall Street Journal
“[Malouf is] a storyteller of achievement, for whom simple things gracefully become totems for deeper thought.”
—The Philadelphia Inquirer
“Malouf’s prose is delicate, marvelously alert to the natural world, and endowed with a quality that has one name only: wisdom.”
—The Sydney Morning Herald
Top customer reviews
Fans of Malouf's fiction, amongst which I firmly class myself, will know that he has a beautiful way with words and his arguments are always interesting. Like much of philosophy, of which inevitably this enters into, the ideas often leave the reader with the longing to interject and cross-question. I didn't always fully agree with some of his points, but the sense is more like sitting next to a warm fire with a glass of something equally warming and having an interesting discussion rather than being given a lecture.
Two elements though made me less than, well, happy. The first is an inconsistency with the Notes section. It's debatable how much this adds to the book. At one level it could be a list of sources of the quotes, at another an opportunity to provide some background notes to some of those quoted. Malouf does both, but neither consistently. Personally, I think it is largely unnecessary here altogether. He provides a straight reference for quotes from Solzhenitsyn (whose Shukhov he concludes is the closest we come to managing happiness) and Montaigne but others are merely referenced in text while poor old Shakespeare gets quoted from Othello without even a mention of where the quote comes from or who it is by. At other times he gives some background to the pieces quoted which is at least more interesting. Whatever method you chose, pick one and be consistent.
The second element is that in a book this short, there is little scope for going off topic and this he rather does in the chapter entitled "Happiness in the Flesh", which unfortunately I, like most I suspect was drawn to in the way that you want to look up rude words in a new dictionary! Here he starts to delve into art criticism, which he does well, mostly concentrating on Rubens but a little strangely jumps to Rembrandt before returning to Rubens. It looks like it has been rather heavily edited down and has lost some of his flow. I have a minor gripe with the inclusion of black and white reproductions of the two works of art shown which always seems incongruent with the descriptions of colour and texture when the reader struggles to even make out the basic image, but doubtless economics prevent colour plates.
Overall, his argument is fairly straightforward. He delves back to the Greek philosophers who were most concerned with happiness before interestingly considering Jefferson's inclusion of the "pursuit of happiness" in the American Declaration of Independence and then considering how this does, or doesn't relate to modern life. His idea is largely that the barrier to happiness is the erosion of human form. The Greeks anthropomorphized the fates into the form of Gods which made them easier to cope with he suggests although he stops short of suggesting that the current Greek crisis would be easier to cope with if they came up with some kind of God of Debt.
It's a light and thoughtful exploration if not a particularly detailed one. It won't change the world, but it might make you happy for the couple of hours or so it takes to read it.
A random sentence says it all:
"What we have is psychological help for those who seek it, or the pastoral care of a church if we belong to one; or yoga, meditation, dating agencies, Facebook, Gaydar, drugs, cycling or jogging; or the full range of stimulus and sensation provided by continuous sporting programs on pay TV, endlessly proliferating porn websites, Fashion or Race or Food weeks, or all night clubs." page 12. Do you like the long list? Does it tell you anything you didn't already know? well maybe I wonder what is 'gaydar'. Does it sound like a magazine?
This little book seemed to me quite different from the other reviewers! It seems to lack genuine thought, heart, care. He didn't even know about De Rerum Naturae, though he refers to Jefferson's unusual phrase: the pursuit of happiness. As a very longtime reader of the New Yorker, I was shocked they gave this a positive review, or indeed, any review at all. Maybe they are social friends, or have some pull. This was really shallow. Having read all of it, as lent by a friend, I am very glad to be done with it.
Read Stephen Greenblatt's book instead, The Swerve, a book with a real idea, well researched and convincingly presented.