In Pursuit of Happiness

In Pursuit of Happiness: Better Living from Plato to Prozac

by Mark Kingwell

Read June 2006

Mark Kingwell is a teacher of philosophy. He writes in a whimsical style, but serious enough for other amateur and professional philosophers. I especially liked his anecdotes and personal experiences, particularly his account of a week at a “happy camp” called Option Week, and his account of putting himself on Prozac. He kept a journal of changes in mood, sociability, sleep effects, and other side effects. He is charmingly self-revealing. His personal approach made this book bearable and fun.

When it came to the review of the happiness literature of the sages, he got a little deep. I was glad that I had read some dumbed-down Aristotle, and am finishing The Republic by Plato. I was glad to get a little better acquainted with Freud’s writings through the book. Though deep, I liked the review of the philosophers. And Kingwell seems much less ambivalent and amoral than some of the hopeless, value-neutral writers of the recent past. I liked that.

A couple of Kingwell’s insights were difficult to understand, and difficult to find sympathy with. The difficulty was in the survey of philosophers as I mentioned already. When he castigates advertising, I find his concern over-stated. Not everyone is sated with ads. Some people don’t imbibe. You can choose to skirt the advertising culture by ignoring the media. Apparently he and the author of No Logo compared notes. I smiled condescendingly when he launches into academy-talk; sections sometimes smell of the nether-world of Harvard and Cornell.

But mostly he makes me smile. And think. I liked the book more than I imagined I would when I casually picked it up at the Bozeman Public Library and brought it home. I sampled then got drawn in.

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