In Pursuit of Happiness : Better Living from Plato to Prozac

Mark Kingwell

Published by Crown, 2000
ISBN 10: 0609605356 / ISBN 13: 9780609605356
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Synopsis: We all think that we know what happiness is, or at least that we would like more of it. But the pursuit of this rather abstract commodity may be at once the simplest and the most vexing of human endeavors. In Pursuit of Happiness: Better Living from Plato to Prozac is an exploration of the idea of happiness, the ways in which that idea has changed over the course of history, and how it influences not only individual lives, but also economic and political thinking, psychological investigation, medical practice -- in fact all facets of human life.  

Featuring Mark Kingwell's unique combination of cultural reportage, historical investigation, and philosophical reflection, In Pursuit of Happiness excavates layers of manipulation to seek out a happiness uncontaminated by technology, advertising, and popular culture. From a meditation on the relevance of Platonic ideas about happiness to a running commentary on the author's week at a "happy camp" in Massachusetts, this is an utterly absorbing and often hilarious exploration of just what it is that makes life worth living.

Review: Mark Kingwell gives new meaning to "the pursuit of happiness." He enrolled in a course on how to be happy, reminiscent of the Ab Fab episode in which Eddie drags Patsy on a retreat, or of David Foster Wallace's brilliant account of going on a cruise in A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again. Ever a game little guinea pig, Kingwell put himself on Prozac and St. John's wort. He hired himself out as an expert to "help" marketers suss out material sources of happiness for the 18 to 29 cohort. He notices little things such as the fact that Pepperidge Farm has added smiley faces to their Goldfish crackers. (And for what? The fish are happy that you are happy when you eat them?) He ranges widely, writing about Roman Stoic Epictetus, Nick Hornby, The Honeymooners, Freud, Sir Thomas More, PMS, Plato, and much more.

Kingwell, a philosophy professor at the University of Toronto, exceeds at making the personal philosophical--a skill that has earned him mild derision from academic contemporaries, but that lay readers will appreciate. His writing is clear, engaging, and thought-provoking, and, like fellow pop philosopher Alain de Botton (How Proust Can Change Your Life, The Consolations of Philosophy), Kingwell doffs his mortarboard at Montaigne, surely the most loose-limbed and least po-faced of philosophers--human, confused, and curious--who seems to be enjoying something of a revival.

Your happiness does not depend on reading this book. But it's nice to know that for those of us who abjure books with titles like Become Happy in Eight Minutes, there are wry, funny, smart, and even uplifting reads such as In Pursuit of Happiness. --J.R.

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Title: In Pursuit of Happiness : Better Living from...
Publisher: Crown
Publication Date: 2000
Book Condition: New

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