I first learned of Jennifer Michael Hecht’s newest title, The Happiness Myth: Why What We Think Is Right Is Wrong , via D.J. Grothe and his interview with her on the Point of Inquiry podcast. I highly recommend listening to the interview before reading the book. It gives a very good feel for Hecht’s personality and approach to the subject.
The book begins with a definition of the three distinct kinds of happiness: a good day, euphoria and a happy life. I really enjoyed the philosophy/psychology in this section, regarding how the three kinds of happiness are very different and often at odds with each other (for example, a good day might include celebrating by eating and drinking a lot at a party….which cannot be done every day and still allow you to maintain a happy life). Next, Hecht reviews the four ancient happiness wisdom imperatives to know yourself, control your desires, take what’s yours and remember death, then spends the largest section of the book covering four areas of happiness: Drugs, Money, Bodies and Celebration. In each area, she reviews the historical perspectives and contrasts them to today’s “cultural trance definition” of happiness. A brief Conclusion encourages the reader to consider what they are doing to nourish/create each of the three kinds of happiness and exhorts the reader to get out there and do something and note how well it works.
The overall message from the book for me was that we live under the strong spell of our culture’s definitions of happiness. The antidote to that spell is an historical understanding of happiness.
The book was easy to read, since the subject was very interesting to me. Hecht writes in the first person, so reading the book is like listening to her give a lecture. This caught me off guard at first, but you get used to it. The familiarity of the first person style is balanced by rigorous footnotes and references.