ASK Musings

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April 2017



Happiness: A Philosopher’s Guide by Frederic Lenoir

Written by , Posted in What I'm Reading

Three Stars

Best for: Former philosophy students, current philosophy students, or anyone interested in looking at happiness from a more philosophical, less how-to perspective.

In a nutshell: French philosopher Frederic Lenoir examines what many great thinkers have had to say about how we can be happy in life.

Line that sticks with me: “It is essential for us not just o know ourselves, but also to test out our strengths and weaknesses, to correct and improve within us those things that can be changed, but without trying to distort or thwart our deepest being.” (p 48)

Why I chose it: The cover art is pretty fabulous – it made me smile, which seemed like a good sign.

Review: This is fairly concise survey of ancient, modern, western and eastern thought as it relates to happiness. Is the Stoic concept of being aware of how we will lose everything eventually and so not getting too attached what will help us be happy? Or is it a spiritual connection to the divine? Is it self-knowledge and self-improvement? Is it serving others? Does our disposition lead to some self-fulfilling prophesies – are optimists happier because they are optimists?

Lenoir offers up support for all of these ideas, examining the regulars (Aristotle, Kant) while also bringing in some who might be lesser known even to those who study philosophy. I found that the book got me to thinking even more about what I value and the decisions I make each day about how I choose to live my life. It is not a guide to becoming happy, at least not directly; instead it is a meditation on what happiness looks like, whether it is even worth striving for, and what it takes to retain it.

This would have gotten four stars except for one glaring, frustrating issue: save a brief discussion of his enjoyment of Indian sage Ma Anandamayi near the very end, Mr. Lenoir does not bring any women philosophers into the discussion. As someone who chose to take on this project, ostensibly with fairly limitless boundaries (he has published many books previously and so is a known entity), he could have taken the time to explore some of the lesser known philosophers who are women. The book isn’t about which thinkers influenced the philosophy of happiness so much as a discussion of the validity or import of their thought; as such I think there was a ton of space for him to bring in much more interesting individuals than the usual parade of dead white guys.

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