Feeling Happy Today?
How are you?
It’s a question we are constantly asking—on the sidewalk, over the copier, at the dinner table. Almost invariably the answer is noncommittal. “Fine.” “Okay.” “I’m doing well.” What about “happy”?
Happiness is hard to talk about—not least because we have so many definitions of what it might mean, from such diverse thinkers as the 18th century poet Alexander Pope, the Roman Stoic Seneca, and the 21st century psychologist Ed Diener. In her book Exploring Happiness: From Aristotle to Brain Science, Sissela Bok offers the reader a multidisciplinary look at all of these conceptions of happiness, combining ancient philosophy and modern science to provide the fullest possible view of the subject.
Yet Bok goes beyond mere definitions as well, delving into the moral dimension of the pursuit of the good life. While Aristotle, for example, believed that happiness was irrevocably linked to a life of virtue, Bok raises questions as to what extent these two concepts are connected. Can one individual’s pursuit of happiness impede another on the path to well-being?
Psychological research indicates that doing good may contribute to increases in health, well-being, and life-span, and neuroscientists have found a correlation between performing charitable deeds and increases in perceived happiness. Yet, Bok notes, these causal links are not always clear. Literature show us a legion of self-satisfied characters whose kindnesses are negligible—and conversely, myriad villains who seem to enjoy their dastardly deeds.
Englishman Sir Leslie Stephen (father to Virginia Woolf) wrote that among the best guarantees of happiness was “a mind endowed with an insatiable curiosity,” a quality Bok exemplifies with her broad-reaching inquiries into both the arts and scientists. Indulge your own thirst for intellectual adventure and follow her in Exploring Happiness—Stephen would say you’ll be happier as a result.