Here we go again, another one of those ‘history of’ books. I sort of got sucked into reading this after a favourable review. Don’t get me wrong – Mr McMahon writes very nicely indeed, and seems to handle his material well. It’s just that, well, even he himself in the introduction pretty much says that a history of happiness is a questionable pursuit (‘For how to write a history of something so elusive, so intangible – of this ‘thing’, this hope, this yearning, this dream?’) Once you come to the end of this ‘history’, you can answer the author’s question yourself. Such a thing is an absolute nonsense.
What you have in this book is a history of the great philosophers and religious figures. We go from Socrates to Jesus, from the Protestant revolution to Marxism, ending up roughly at capitalism.
What do we learn, roughly, about how to be happy? Don’t wish for too much; be happy with what you’ve got. Too much desire makes us miserable.
This book makes for a good introduction to some of the world’s great ideas. As I said above, the author writes very well, and makes his subject matter most enjoyable to read.
If you want to learn how to be happy, I’d recommend reading the Dalai Lama. He’s lost all, and still claims to be happy.