Exploring Happiness

From Aristotle to Brain Science

Sissela Bok

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From the acclaimed author of Lying, a brilliant exploration of happiness set in the context of the world’s great philosophers, leaders, writers, and artists

In this smart and timely book, the distinguished moral philosopher Sissela Bok ponders the nature of happiness and its place in philosophical thinking and writing throughout the ages. With nuance and elegance, Bok explores notions of happiness—from Greek philosophers to Desmond Tutu, Charles Darwin, Iris Murdoch, and the Dalai Lama—as well as the latest theories advanced by psychologists, economists, geneticists, and neuroscientists. Eschewing abstract theorizing, Bok weaves in a wealth of firsthand observations about happiness from ordinary people as well as renowned figures. This may well be the most complete picture of happiness yet.

This book is also a clarion call to think clearly and sensitively about happiness. Bringing together very different disciplines provides Bok with a unique opportunity to consider the role of happiness in wider questions of how we should lead our lives and treat one another—concerns that don’t often figure in today’s happiness equation. How should we pursue, weigh, value, or limit our own happiness, or that of others, now and in the future? Compelling and perceptive, Exploring Happiness shines a welcome new light on the heart of the human condition.

Sissela Bok is Senior Visiting Fellow at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, and a moral philosopher of international renown. A former member of the Pulitzer Prize Board, Bok is a Fellow of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, and sits on the editorial boards of the Bulletin of the World Health Organization, Common Knowledge, and Ethical Theory and Moral Practice. Her many books include the seminal Lying, Secrets, A Strategy for Peace, Mayhem, and Common Values. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

"It is hard to imagine how anyone else, in fewer than 200 pages of text, could better encompass so much Western thinking about a question so important to the way we live."—Wall Street Journal

"Confronted by a welter of conflicting definitions, eighteenth-century poet Alexander Pope despaired of establishing a meaning for happiness. Less easily discouraged, Bok acknowledges the contradictions in the diversity of perspectives, yet she converts these contradictions into openings for deeper inquiry."—Booklist, starred review

"Sissela Bok makes sense of happiness for adults: what sort of happiness we can seek, and what lies beyond our grasp. The book illuminates 'the pursuit of happiness' in modern economics, psychiatry, and philosophy, but she addresses, in the end, any intelligent reader. Sissela Bok writes so clearly and directly that the reader is often caught up short, suddenly realizing that her arguments are always provocations to think more deeply. This is a wise book."—Richard Sennett

"What causes true happiness? From ancient philosophers to contemporary neuroscientists -- as well as any of us searching for how to lead a good life -- people have grappled with that most profound of all simple questions. Sissela Bok weaves together the different conceptions of happiness to create a shimmering and subtle tapestry. This book will take you a step closer to happiness by helping you understand the idea better."—Walter Isaacson, President and CEO, the Aspen Institute

"A profound, erudite, and lucid exploration integrating a vast array of sources - personal, philosophical, historical, scientific and spiritual - that cohere to illuminate this elusive subject."—Barbara Goldsmith

"Lucid, careful, and illuminating. . . . As an elegantly clear overview of the subject, Bok's book is not only a great starting point for further study, but provides a salutary reminder that looking at happiness from only one viewpoint is going to miss a great deal."—Barnes and Noble Review

'Weaving gracefully through a canon of thinkers from Aristotle and Seneca to Freud and Bertrand Russell, Bok also affirms the newer school, which regards itself as a science and whose reach extends to techniques such as brain imaging. … Amid the plethora of books about happiness, from self-improvement manuals to commentaries about improving society, it plays a distinctive and valuable role as a model of how to engage with different kinds of knowledge on the subject, and to get them to engage with each other. It demonstrates the principle that when it comes to happiness, the humanities and the sciences should be intertwined.' - Financial Times

“The book is highly recommended… [It] is a very welcome addition to the thriving literature on happiness.”—Lisa Bortolotti, Journal of Consciousness Studies (18) 2011

“Very smart, sensitive, and thought-provoking. . . . This thoughtful, beautifully written book makes one feel one is present, conversing with the very best minds of the last 2500 years on one of the few philosophical problems that is of universal importance.”—Owen Flanagan, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

'Bok's humane inquiry makes a virtue rather than a problem out of the discord of ages, comparing competing accounts of happiness by Aristotle, Seneca, Augustine, Montaigne, Pope, Kant, Bentham et al, and asking questions of what she calls the “Yes but” sort.' - Guardian

"Sissela Bok offers a clear and engaging historical tour though dozens of competing philosophical renderings of happiness over the ages."—Timothy Renick, The Christian Century

"Happiness is complicated. And Bok elaborates its complications through labyrinthine pathways. . . . Exploring Happiness is an intellectual feast. . . . It is an invitation to turn to personal writing and reflection and to past thinkers from Goethe to Swedish feminist Ellen Key, who thought that happiness was the process of developing our capabilities. Exploring Happiness explores not only happiness but the question of how we should live our lives."—Priscilla Long, The American Scholar

"[Bok] sets up a fascinating dialogue between insights from the history of philosophy and recent work in the social and natural sciences. . . . It will be a treasure for the philosophical counselor: in the classroom, for background reading and for work with clients. . . . authoritative, engagingly written, and thorough."—Kathryn Russell, Philosophical Practice

“Bok’s best ever . . . [and] the best example of integrative scholarship on happiness to date. . . . Both the philosophy and the science are presented in a way that most lay readers will easily handle, and in her skillful, almost pastoral, style, Bok is able to make all this relevant to the lay reader on an existential level. It is possible to read this book and be transformed.”—Stephen G. Post, The Pharos

Selected as a Choice Outstanding Academic Title for 2011 in the Philosophy category.

ISBN: 9780300178104
Publication Date: July 11, 2011
224 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/2