Friday, November 22, 2013
Ten Best Happiness Books
My last article gave the ten tips - now we answer, which are the best books on Happiness? Why? What’s their angle? As it's Christmas, I have listed my top ten recommended books on the topic.
The truth is, there are many claims to the best route to happiness, originating from a wide variety of perspectives, ranging from physics to mysticism, including cosmology, biology, neuroscience, psychology, philosophy, religion, and ancient spirituality. I have spent some ten years researching the topic from these different angles. In fact, as a result, I proposed a framework which pulls all the ideas together on one single framework, which I call the Physics of Happiness - but more on that another time.
There are other books of course; some I have left out because I didn’t think that they will inspire you enough. One or two are so determined to be scientific that, frankly, they are boring. Others with profound implications for happiness I omitted only because their focus was not directly on happiness. Here’s the list: .
1. Dalai Lama & Cutler, H. (1998). The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living. Coronet. I’m putting this first because it is authoritative on more senses than one, is interesting and inspiring to read, and has practical advice. Ok, it does draw on Buddhist principles, but bear in mind that Howard Cutler, who composed the text from his time spent with the Dalai Lama, is a psychologist. This tempers it to a level for a wide audience. 265 pages (no index).
2. Layard, R. (2005). Happiness: Lessons From a New Science. The Penguin Press. The complete opposite of my first choice. If you like your happiness to be rational and functional, and justified by an economist, this is for you. Although that reads like a put-off, this is a great source of information and directly addressess the bottom line question “why does happiness matter?” His ideas will resonate with many people; indeed, Layard has been advising government on policy, too. For the record, I don’t agree with his main conclusion. 297 pages including good reference list and footnotes.
3. Gilbert, D. (2006). Stumbling On Happiness.
main theme is that your brain is kidding you, and sets out to prove with known psychology. Lots of
astonishing “experiments” with perception for you to experience for yourself. The
implications for happiness are we are pretty hopeless at predicting. I put this
second because it will open your eyes. What will make us happy. Very well
written solid work, frequently amusing, and often astonishing. 277 pages including
good index. London
4. McMahon, D. M. (2006). The Pursuit of Happiness: A History From the Greeks to the Present.
: London Penguin Allen Lane. This
is my personal favourite, because it is the only
book which sets out to show that happiness has a history, which means it changes.
Its origins are fascinating, going back to ancient Greek mythology, through the
Romans (I daren’t tell you what their symbol for happiness was), Christianity,
the Middle Ages, the Enlightment and modern times. Happiness as we know it is
not static in terms of what we understand by it and what makes us happy. It is
also an immensely informative and very well written. At 544 pages including
superb endnotes and index, this is for the connoisseur, not the Xmas tree.
5. Shimoff, M. (2008). Happy For No Reason. Simon & Shuster. Based on a study of 100 happy people, this is combination of real-life cases and exercises. It is not tied down by the straightjacket of conformist psychological principles, or any particular spirituality or religion. It is more humanist, and maybe a little new-agey , but that does not detract from it. It is quite uplifting, and good for anyone to read who has an open mind. 308 pages.
6. Ricard, M. (2006). Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill. Atlantic Books. Ricard is a one-time highly respected scientist, but a Buddhist monk for some two decades. He has been described as the “happiest man alive” which arose from scientific studies he took part in on the effect that meditating has on developing the brain. He certainly is qualified to teach happiness. Whilst underpinned by a Buddhist perspective, the book is not a Buddhist work, and provides practical advice and exercises. 281 pages including endnotes.
7. Myers, D. G. (1993). The Pursuit of Happiness.
by a social psychologist, it is surprisingly quite wide-ranging in the topics
covered, even covering religion sympathetically. Many thought-provoking ideas in this
well-written solid work. 331 pages including 130 pages of endnotes, index and
8. Seligman, M. E. P. (2003). Authentic Happiness: Using The New Positive Psychology To Realize Your Potential For Lasting Fulfillment.
Nicholas Brealey. Seligman’s
big idea is about the power of positive emotions. These are to be cultivated
by drawing on our “strengths” which is the core of what he believes will bring
happiness. Whilst no spiritual dimension is included, he does say that having
an interest in serving something “bigger than ourselves” is a good thing. Whilst
it probably won’t inspire you, there is some good stuff in this well-presented
and authoritative book. His views will probably suit the book-buying audience
quite well. 319 pages including endnotes. London
A. (1968). The
Meaning of Happiness: The Quest for Freedom of the Spirit in Modern Psychology
and the Wisdom of the East. Rider. (Original work published 1940). This is an oldie but still
a goodie for those interested in how ancient principles from eastern culture
can fit alongside modern psychological ideas to explain the nature of
happiness. I think it is a good and interesting read, and takes a different
angle from the others in this list. 219 pages including biography and index.
10. Haidt, J. (2006). The Happiness Hypothesis. Arrow Books. My tenth choice was difficult in that it was a toss-up between this and Mikail Csikszentmihalyi’s (1992) seminal work on the concept of being in the “flow”(Flow: The Classic Work on How to Achieve Happiness. Rider.) Both are important and good reads. I chose Haidt because it is more wide-ranging on the whole topic of the human condition, and it is witty with it. 297 pages including good list of references and index.