Happiness Is A Serious Problem, by Dennis Prager
It has been a while since I last read a book by Dennis Prager , but I will be reading a few more in the near future so I figured that this book from the library would be a good start. And in general I find myself largely in agreement with the author that happiness is a serious problem and that it must be dealt with seriously . This is not to say that I agree with everything the author says on the subject of happiness, for that is not the case. There is a lot that I agree with, though, and this book is certainly a worthwhile one, there are some occasions where the author’s works-based theology hinders him from an accurate understanding of the world. And while there are occasions where the author does contradict himself, he does in general view happiness as something that is an individual responsibility and a moral imperative and he deals with aspects of happiness that are in the control of the reader as well as those aspects that depend on others and may hence be unreliable.
The book is less than 200 pages and is organized into three parts. The first part looks t the premises of happiness (I), namely that it is a moral obligation (1), that it takes work (2), that the mind is central in happiness (3), that there is no good definition of happiness (4), and that life is tragic (5). These are all premises I happen to believe. After this the author looks at major obstacles to happiness and (briefly) how to deal with them (II), like human nature (6), comparing ourselves with others (7), images (8), missing tile syndrome (9), equating happiness with success (10), equating happiness with fun (11), fear and the avoidance of pain (12), expectations (13), family (14), the suffering that is in the world (15), seeking unconditional love (16), seeing yourself as a victim (17), the opposite sex (18), and genes and biochemistry (19). The third part of the book then deals with attitudes and behaviors that the author considers essential to happiness, namely finding meaning and purpose (20), viewing happiness as a by-product of doing something else (21), cultivating a robust philosophy of life (22), finding the positive (23), accepting tension (24), knowing and accepting the price of everything in life (25), accepting the lower parts of one’s nature (26), allowing innocuous expression of one’s lower parts (27), seeking to do good (28), developing self-control (29), finding and making friends (30), and using psychotherapy and religion (31), after which the author has an epilogue enjoining passionate moderation.
Overall, the author strikes me as someone who is fairly grimly realistic and also someone who has a basic acceptance of aspects of contemporary life that I would not be as generous towards, especially psychotherapy. Nevertheless, even where the author is encouraging readers to have a positive view of therapy, he is candid enough to admit that most therapists are not very good, which has certainly been my own personal experience in the matter. Overall he is a firm believer of people taking responsibility for their own happiness and this approach is of the same tenor as the author’s generally conservative approach to other aspects of existence too. To be sure, there is an admission that the world is a place that is full of evil and sadness but also a resolution that the best way to make the best of existence is to do what we can with what we have and not to whine about what an unfair hand nature has dealt us. That this approach is strongly against the general zeitgeist is something to be commended and appreciated as well. This is a little book but it is definitely important reading for anyone who finds themselves wanting to be happy and seeing happiness as a by-product of virtue and wisdom.
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