Happier: Learn the secrets to daily joy and lasting fulfillment [Book review]

Happier is based on Tal Ben-Shahar’s positive psychology primer – the most popular class at Harvard and attended by about 20% of all Harvard graduates.

Ben-Shahar wisely suggests that a better question than Am I happy? is How can I be happier?, since this recognizes happiness to be an ongoing and lifelong process.

He positions his book in contrast to self-help guides which, because they aren’t subject to the scientific method, tend to ‘over-promise and under-deliver’ (page xi). Findings published in academic journals, he says, have greater substance.

Part 1 seeks to define happiness and identify the components of a happy life. Here purpose plays a large role in reconciling immediate and delayed gratification, as well as meaning and pleasure.

Part 2 applies these ideas to:

  • Education – suggesting a ‘lovemaking model’ for more enjoyable learning
  • Work – happier work gives meaning and pleasure and also uses a person’s strengths
  • Relationships – we may need to cultivate rather than find the relationships we want.

Part 3 contains Ben-Shahar’s reflections on the nature of happiness and its place in our lives.

Rather than simply surveying the research, Happier seeks to help the reader become happier by incorporating interactive elements:

  • Time-ins (as opposed to time-outs), which ask the reader to apply the ideas to their own life – for example, What are the things that you really, really want to do? (page 77).
  • Exercises, which include journal-writing, meditations and tasks such as reading a particular book or joining a class.

In short:
Happier argues for a balanced approach to life – balancing present with future wants, pleasure-seeking with meaning-seeking, and self-interest with altruism. The combination of research, anecdotes and exercises give the reader a sense that being happier is an achievable and worthwhile goal.

Although Ben-Shahar’s writing style is certainly not hard work, for some readers the book may be. There are so many concepts and tasks that the whole project may come to feel onerous after a while.

For readers really ready to get happier and looking for the information and exercises to follow, this is a good guide.

Title: Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment
Author: by Tal Ben-Shahar
Publisher information: McGraw Hill, New York, 2007

By Michele Connolly

Choose to be happier – and you will be.

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