These days, there is a science to the state of happiness. Harvard University’s most popular course teaches “how to be happy.” Researchers try to figure it out, and authors publish books on the pursuit of happiness.
But as we learned this past weekend, “there is nothing new under the sun.” We’ve been trying to figure out how to reach a state of bliss since we got kicked out of the Garden of Eden. With that in mind, here are my five favorite books on the pursuit of happiness:
5. The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search For The Happiest Places In The World This is a great travel memoir to read on (or before) your vacation. Author Eric Weiner journeys around the world, looking for places with the happiest, most content residents. If you just want pure travel reading, this is the book for you.
4. The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun Author Gretchen Rubin dedicated a year to finding happiness. In this book she “chronicles her adventures during the twelve months she spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific research, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier.”
3. The How of Happiness: A New Approach To Getting The Life You Want Author Sonya Lyubomirsky brings serious research to studying the good life. “Drawing upon years of pioneering research with thousands of men and women, The How of Happiness is both a powerful contribution to the field of positive psychology and a gift to people who have sought to take their happiness into their own hands.”
2. The Myth of Happiness: What Should Make You Happy, but Doesn’t; What Shouldn’t Make You Happy, but Does Another book by Sonya Lyubomirsky, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside. Her books are particularly stimulating because, out of all her contemporaries, she does the most research and draws the most compelling conclusions.
The Myth of Happiness looks at those “I’ll be happy when ______” myths we tell ourselves. It’s a sobering look at a society that mythologizes “benchmark” events, convincing us that when we achieve a certain status, accomplish a certain goal or reach a certain stage, then we’ll be happy.
1. Ecclesiastes You knew I would say this, right? Those other writers are insightful but my #1 is Solomon. Before Harvard had a course on the pursuit of pleasure, there was Solomon. His studies were empirical and philosophical. He had far more resources than anyone else — all the resources in the world at his disposal, and every means of pleasure available.
And he pursued them all.
In chapter two of Ecclesiastes, which we’ll dive into together this weekend, Solomon pursues comedy and sex, along with the same assortment of pleasures we all pursue. Did any of it make him happy? We’ll see. One thing is for certain though — the “happiness puzzle” is one of mankind’s great mysteries.
How does your current view of happiness differ from your view of five years ago? Ten?