BOOKCASE : The Secrets of Happiness

• Richard Schoch • Profile Books • $49.99

As someone who has worked their way through substantial number of new age, “transform your life in six, eight or 10 steps” tomes, the main title of this book was somewhat alarming, but the subtitle gives clue as to what the book is really about. The author is critical of the current cult of positive psychology, life coaches, self-help kits, and schools that are now teaching ‘happiness’ as part of their curriculum.
He believes that curriculum on happiness already exists, sometimes it’s called philosophy, sometimes religion, but he sees the ancient teachings as the source of how to live the good life.
Richard Schoch is professor of the history of culture at Queen Mary, University of London and is not your typical new age writer. The author takes us on tour of the history of happiness, starting with the Greeks for whom the study of happiness demanded lifetime of reflection, and then taking us through what major philosophers and religions have to teach us.
There are some key points that emerge from our tour. The first is that people who seek happiness usually do so because they have been unhappy at some stage and want to find change – inner or outer – to move away from despair. In short, you can’t be happy until you’ve been unhappy. The second point, and not good for the quick fixers, is that people who have found happiness have only done so after effort and sacrifice. Schoch says that the experience of happiness is lifelong project that we dip in and out of. third point he makes, and not good for those who curriculum-ise happiness, is that happiness is personal, relative and subjective.
Throughout the book, Schoch addresses some interesting questions. What is it like to be happy? Is it possible to be happy if others are not? Is happiness an emotion or an attitude? How much effort is needed to be happy? Do you have right to be happy?
If these questions and the topic itself appeals, then this is book written with passion and depth of knowledge that makes it pleasure to read. You might not agree with everything Schoch says but he presents his arguments in compelling way that, nevertheless, holds the interest.

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