The Secrets of Happiness is a philosophical inquiry into the nature of happiness.
Combining wit, warmth, and intellectual authority, this book offers us ancient wisdom for modern living. Richard Schoch shows readers how they can enrich their lives by recovering the ancient philosophical and religious traditions of happiness--and then putting them to work in their own lives today. In a journey across cultures and centuries--from the trials of Job to the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, and from Buddha's Four Noble Truths to the ecstasy of medieval Sufi mystics--Schoch answers questions that, although fundamental to our well-being, are rarely asked: what kind of effort does it take to be happy? do you have a right to be happy? can you be happy if others are unhappy?
Although Schoch finds that there is no single answer to these questions, he argues that every strategy for happiness can be placed in one of four categories: Living for Pleasure, Conquering Desire, Transcending Reason, and Enduring Suffering. (The book is divided into these four parts.)
The one thing that these disparate strategies do share is that each takes effort. Happiness, Schoch posits, is never an end-point; it is instead "a joyful struggle."
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Adding to the burgeoning number of books about defining and seeking happiness, cultural historian Schoch looks to the work of philosophers and religious seekers of the past. The essence of happiness, Schoch believes, is not simply feeling good—a state some today consider an entitlement. Rather, it lies in one's quest to create a better world. First highlighting the Greek philosopher Epicurus, the Roman Stoic Seneca and medieval Islamic scholar Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, Schoch explains that although these three thinkers had very different experiences, they were united in their search for a more fulfilling life under sometimes adverse conditions. Schoch then explores the ideas found in eight sacred and secular traditions, including Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and Epicureanism. Epicureans, for example, sought pleasure, but only after conquering their fear of death. Judaism, the author says, wrestles with the question of human suffering by emphasizing the importance of enduring it honorably. Buddhists struggle to free themselves from the ego to attain detachment, right actions and enlightenment. Schoch writes in an informed, lively style and his nonjudgmental stance will appeal to many who seek not easy self-help but to wrestle with issues of meaning and values. (Nov.)
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More than 2,000 years ago, the Greeks considered happiness a civic virtue. Things have changed--a lot--during the intervening years. Nowadays, most people consider happiness a birthright and, as a result, Schoch maintains, have denied themselves the chance to discover meaningful happiness. Schoch encourages rejecting the "modern enfeeblement of happiness" and returning to ancient traditions of happiness. Which won't be easy, since modern happiness is big business. Self-help books earn $1 billion annually, Schoch says, and antidepressants a mind-boggling $17 billion. But not all happiness is the same, which is why Schoch refers to the secrets of happiness ("a different one for each person"). Just as each person is unique, so is each person's sense of happiness. Schoch insightfully discusses various happiness traditions throughout the world, including those of Unitarianism, Epicureanism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Stoicism, and Judaism, examining their philosophical and religious roots and suggesting ways in which they may be applied to busy, modern lives. June Sawyers
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