Now I am adding a third title to my pantheon: Happiness: A History by Darrin M. McMahon, "a professor of history at Florida State University and a frequent contributor to publications such as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Boston Globe, and Daedalus."
Selected by the New York Times as one of the 100 notable books of 2006, Happiness is an engaging survey of Western philosophy from Herodotus to today's bioethicists. To learn more about the book, you can't do better than Jim Holt's excellent review. Sample its opening lines:
The history of the idea of happiness can be neatly summarized in a series of bumper sticker equations: Happiness= Luck (Homeric), Happiness=Virtue (classical), Happiness=Heaven (medieval), Happiness=Pleasure (Enlightenment) and Happiness=A Warm Puppy (contemporary). Does that look like progress? Darrin McMahon doesn't think so.A better woman than I might sit down and read Happiness straight through. Instead, I'm enjoying it in small bites each morning, reading 10 pages or so from one subhead to the next. A couple of days ago I learned that the word fun is "a relative novelty, introduced in English only in the late seventeeth century as a variation of the Middle English fon, meaning jester or fool" (199).
In the eighteenth century a truly radical philosophy developed, one that Lively Dust finds charming:
To dance, to sing, to enjoy our food, to revel in our bodies and the company of others--in short, to delight in a world of our own making--was not to defy God's will but to live as nature had intended. This was our earthly purpose.Warm puppies are also pleasant.