Happiness: A History
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Happiness: A History

3.79 of 5 stars 3.79  ·  rating details  ·  150 ratings  ·  27 reviews
Today, human beings tend to think of happiness as a natural right. But they haven’t always felt this way. For the ancient Greeks, happiness meant virtue. For the Romans, it implied prosperity and divine favor. For Christians, happiness was synonymous with God. Throughout history, happiness has been equated regularly with the highest human calling, the most perfect human st...more
Paperback, 560 pages
Published December 18th 2006 by Grove Press (first published 2005)
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Gloria
We from our selves alone, and not from Fate,
Derive our happy, or unhappy State....
If Fates Inconstancy we wou'd prevent,
We, in all States of Life, shou'd seek Content...
~William Wycherley

I've found one thing that doesn't make me particularly happy--
reading about happiness.
Or at least what those from all walks of life, all branches of history, and all realms of faith define as "happiness."

While some of the history in this book was interesting (especially the ancient Greeks' and Romans' take on th...more
James
If you are looking for answers to the questions of how or where to find happiness this is not the book for you. However, if you want an expansive discussion and history of the idea of happiness in many, if not all, of its forms then this is the book for you. The author catalogues many of the most interesting interpretations of this elusive subject, while he avoids concluding precisely what it should be. This is a good place to look for beginnings to the search for answers rather than the answers...more
Heidi
I came across this when i was working on my thesis. The author really has a wonderful idea with this book--investigating what has defined happiness throughout history across cultures.
Dan Rivas
What I learned:

People have never been happy, that's why there's a God.
Chris
For the philosophically inclined, I'd recommend this book. It goes through the Western history of the concept of happiness, focusing mostly between the medieval and renaissance time-frames giving a more limited focus on 18th century and classical Greek lines of thought. It doesn't, however, cover any thinking from other traditions, which is a slight weakness of the book.

The book does a good job of going through the ages. Classical Age being about virtue, Medieval being about Christian piety, Ren...more
Tami
The pursuit of happiness. If you browse the shelves of your local bookstore or library, you are sure to find a couple dozen titles that claim to have the secret to happiness. Surprisingly though, when you look past the cover these books don't seem to agree on THE way to gain happiness. After reading a few of these titles it becomes very apparent that no one seems to even agree on what constitutes happiness. Some believe that material possessions are proof of happiness while others think that hap...more
Will
"To maximize pleasure and to minimize pain - in that order - were characteristic Enlightenment concerns. This generally more receptive attitude toward good feeling and pleasure would have significant long-term consequences. It is a critical difference separating Enlightenment views on happiness from those of the ancients. There is another, however, of equal importance: that of ambition and scale. Although the philosophers of the principal classical schools sought valiantly to minimize the role o...more
Michael Fong
There are those who say "You can never be sure" and "There's so much to know before you can be sure". Such folk, when scaffolded by education, become Darrin McMahon. I've for long thought of most historians as the librarians of the intellectual world, sweeping together the dusts of knowledge into nice big mounts, while physicists and philosophers chuck spears of thoughts at the ideas that stand tallest, clearing way for a rising humanity. McMahon has put together a book with such sweeping scope...more
Bookmarks Magazine

Today bookstore shelves are stocked with encyclopedia titles like Salt, Zero, The Pencil, Cod, Chocolate, and One Good Turn (A Natural History of the Screwdriver and the Screw). Happiness follows in suit but delivers a surprisingly rounded view of its subject. True to his subtitle, McMahon is more interested in cataloging the manifold interpretations of his slippery subject than in delivering a decisive conclusion of what it should be. A few critics wanted some answers; instead, McMahon raises m

...more
Bumbierītis
A wonderful book, it takes you on a journey from the start of humanity to today, always searching for happiness. Happiness that is never to be found. Approached, yes, seized, never. A very thorough research of the Western ideas of happiness. The one star I took off from the rating was for how difficult it was to read. I bought the book in 2008 and been reading it on and off since then. But I guess in a way it makes sense. It is so full of ideas and information, that reading it all at once might...more
Jenette
This book gave a good explanation of ideas from Aristotle to Lock to Darwin to Marx to Nietzsche to Freud, etc and is well written. I would really recommend this to someone who is interested in a more history oriented look at the philosophy of happiness. It is an entertaining journey through the cultural, moral, and intellectual history of the West.
I have learned a lot about the people discussed and about my own conceptions and misconceptions of what constitutes happiness. I loved the ending li...more
Tim
McMahon's big book made me far more happy than I expected it would. It is an intellectual history of the idea of happiness in the West that ranges from the Greeks, through Christian thought, to the Enlightenment and 19th century philosophy and science, to modern psychology and pharmacology. I had expected more on the latter, but it mainly came in an epilogue to an engaging, well-written dive into what the ages have thought about happiness.

More later . . .
Paul Patterson
This book is from my retreat talk and I am reworking the ideas I had there. It is an intellectual history of happiness. The first chapter deals with the Ancient views of happiness in Greek Tragedy, Platonic, Aristotle, Epicurus, and Zeno traditions. The shift if from happiness as a product of fate and gods, to happiness for the elite, and finally a democratized from of happiness in Stoic thought. The various conditioning of happiness is well discussed.
Ruth
544 pages.

A look at the bright side - the process is as important as the result.

In the tradition of books by Peter Gay and Simon Schama, Happiness is a major work that draws on a multitude of sources, including art and architecture, poetry and scripture, music and theology, and literature and myth, to offer a sweeping intellectual history of man's most elusive yet coveted goal.
Penny Dreadful
A really freaking interesting reminder that just about everything is contextual... What I learned from this book is that the time that we live is unique in thinking that the pursuit of happiness is an inalienable human right when most of history considered the happy few those who were blessed by the gods. As Tom Waits once said, with a wink & a nod "Call no man happy til he's dead."
Colin
A very detailed look at the history of the concept of "happiness" (mostly focused on the West). The early chapters dealing with Greco-Roman conceptions of happiness were the most interesting to me; my interest rapidly waned after that point, sadly. Still, worth reading for those first few chapters alone, in my estimation. Borrowed from Central Library in Phoenix.
Renate
Not a how-to or self help book, but a thorough historical overview of the theme happiness. In the style of Huizinga and Schama, the author goes from the Greeks to modern societ, using most philosophical sources, but also referring to literature and art. Very worthwile.
Julia
Aug 06, 2011 Julia added it
For anyone who has ever pondered whether the current focus on happiness might be causing more problems than it's solving, this history of the idea of happiness in Western thought makes fascinating reading.
planetkimi
I'm giving up on this one. It's been a few weeks since I picked it up, and I don't see myself returning to it. The subject is interesting, but the way it's written isn't. It sounds like a textbook.
Liz
I liked it..was worried that McMahon was going to get weird as it went deeper into recent philosophical stuff. Very researched, interestingly presented and nuanced. Some beautiful ideas.
Wenjtu
Gives societal beliefs and philosophies on how to obtain happiness. Really gives good insight on why we, and past cultures lived the way they did. Highly recommended!
Ak Hauck
Very enjoyable. Traces the many different meanings true happiness has taken on as world views have changed throughout time.
Kang
A very breezy intellectual history--I would call it "journalistic." Good for factoids, but not for philosophizing.
Jude Brigley
very scholarly. reminded me of lots I had studied in the past.
Carolyn
Way too dry for me. Too much philosophy, not enough history.
Scott
Fairly happy with this read.
Ken Fose
Ken Fose marked it as to-read
Aug 19, 2014
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This book is identical in contents to "HAPPINESS: A HISTORY" 1 2 Nov 01, 2012 05:21AM  
  • The Courtier and the Heretic: Leibniz, Spinoza & the Fate of God in the Modern World
  • What Happy People Know: How the New Science of Happiness Can Change Your Life for the Better
  • Forgetfulness
  • Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War
  • Civilizations: Culture, Ambition, and the Transformation of Nature
  • Counterclockwise: Mindful Health and the Power of Possibility
  • A Most Dangerous Book: Tacitus's Germania from the Roman Empire to the Third Reich
  • Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950
  • Empires of the Atlantic World: Britain and Spain in America 1492-1830
  • Dancing in the Dark: A Cultural History of the Great Depression
  • Curious?: Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life
  • The History of Hell
  • Happiness: The Science Behind Your Smile
  • Happiness: Lessons from a New Science
  • Born to Be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life
  • Prisoners: A Muslim and a Jew Across the Middle East Divide
  • The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher
  • Modernism: The Lure of Heresy from Baudelaire to Beckett and Beyond
Darrin M. McMahon is a historian, author, and public speaker, who lives in Tallahassee, Florida, and the Ben Weider Professor of History at Florida State University.
More about Darrin M. McMahon...
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“Like Rousseau, Hegel appreciated quite early on that in modern commercial societies, individuals' desires and needs were generated by the desires and needs of others. Implanted by advertising, dictated by fashion, and determined by style, individual desire was always socially determined, shaped by the particular contexts in which we live. [..] Hence the need for greater comfort does not exactly arise within you directly; it is suggested to you by those who hope to make a profit from its creation.” 5 likes
“No one could work harder to be happy," Tocqueville observes of Americans, marveling at the ceaseless, restless energy they expand in search of a better life. Rushing from one thing tho the next, an American will travel hundreds of miles in a day. He will build a house in which to pass his old age and then sell it before the roof is on. He will continually change paths "for fear of missing the shortest cut leading to happiness.” 1 likes
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