978-0-670-87502-3 / 9780670875023

Better Living: In Pursuit of Happiness from Plato to Prozac





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About the book:

What is happiness and how can we achieve it? Although many North Americans assume that the pursuit of happiness is an inalienable right, ask us to define it and we're stumped. In an era of mass marketing, pharmaceuticals, and wellness seminars, too often happiness becomes a matter of swallowing a bright pill, buying the right sneakers, or enrolling in a crash course in attitudinal adjustment (Forget your troubles--as Sinatra sang--come on, get happy!). Yet happiness, writes Kingwell, "is too important a subject to be left to advertisers, self-help gurus, psycho-pharmacologists and cut-rate therapists." In other words, happiness is serious stuff, giving rise to questions both vexing and profound: "We could not confront the problems of happiness without beginning the philosophical investigation of what it is to be human."

Blending cultural criticism, philosophy, history, and personal anecdote, Better Living is Kingwell's attempt to "probe... and ponder... to investigate happiness philosophically, in the best sense of that much abused word." This doesn't mean uncovering a simple formula for happiness, but rather asking more questions than he answers. Kingwell's range is broad and impressive. The kind of thinker who's equally at ease discussing Aristotle and Star Trek, Bentham and Roseanne, he samples, for his edification and ours, a smattering of contemporary solutions to our creeping malaise, enrolling in a personal happiness seminar at the Options Institute, sampling Prozac and St. John's wort. Better Living is sharp and deep and endearing and funny--a hipster's antidote to Become Happy in Eight Minutes.

Thankfully, Kingwell ultimately admits that he has grasped a few basic truths about his subject. The truly happy life, he offers, lies in living both fairly and well--although this requires thoughtfulness and effort. "Human happiness, sustained in both virtuous action and vigorous contemplation, is possible on this benighted earth." --Svenja Soldovieri

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