Editors: Susan A. David, Iona Barnwell and Amanda Conley Ayers
Publisher: Oxford University Press (Oxford Library of Psychology) – 1097 pages
Book Review by: Sonu Chandiram

There are many pathways to happiness, depending on which happy person you ask and what makes you happy.

What is your own value system, what components of happiness do you need in it, and how would you rank each component in importance in terms of how much happiness it brings to you?

In this lengthy but highly practicable book of more than a thousand pages with 79 chapters organized into 10 sections – 121 contributors from around the world who are “forward-thinking experts in their fields” on what constitutes happiness – provide you five approaches to happiness: economic, evolutionary, philosophical, psychological and spiritual.

As an additional treat for you, the Foreword to this book was written by King Jigme Kesar of Bhutan, where the term ‘Gross National Happiness’ (GNH) was coined in 1972 by then King of Bhutan Jigme Singye Wangchuk who contended that it was “more important” than the Gross National Product (GNP).

The GNH, the former king of Bhutan asserted, is an indicator that measures quality of life or social progress in more holistic and psychological terms than only the economic indicator. He opened the ancient kingdom of Bhutan to modernization after the death of his father Jigme Dorji Wangchuk. He used this phrase to signal his commitment to building an economy that would serve Bhutan’s unique culture based on Buddhist spiritual values.

This book is described on the back cover as “a commanding and powerful review of the field” of happiness which is “written in a scholarly but accessible tone.” We agree wholeheartedly with this description.

The editors of this book point out that more and more scholars – especially in the fields of economics, education, philosophy, psychology and social policy – have in recent decades become engaged in the serious study of happiness as a discipline. There are four reasons behind this exciting, new scientific development:

  • The growing field of positive psychology, which researches the conditions that make people flourish
  • Advances in the affective and biological sciences which have contributed to the understanding of positive emotions
  • Positive Organizational Scholarship, an emerging discipline aimed at investigating and fostering excellence in organizations
  • Findings from economics indicating that traditional markers of economic and social well-being are insufficient.

This book therefore, “offers readers a coherent, multi-disciplinary and accessible text on the current state of happiness research,” the editors write.

The ten sections of this book lay out respectively: the psychological approaches to happiness; the psychological definitions of happiness; the philosophical approaches to happiness; the spiritual approaches to happiness; happiness and society; positive education; happiness and organizations; relationships and happiness; development, stability and change of happiness; and lastly, happiness interventions.

The editors also provide an article at the end of the book “The Future of Happiness” as their Conclusion. There is a useful Subject Index if you want to read more on a topic of particular interest to you, as well as author and contributor indices if you want to read what a particular person has written.

This volume is a product of three years of work by its editors, decades of research and centuries of thinking and finding answers to a large range of questions.

Many synonyms come into people’s minds when you ask them to think of words closest to their understanding of what happiness is, many of which we have heard before, such as: joy, positive expectation, well-being, and so forth.

But one word many of you may not have heard of is ‘eudaimonia’ (sometimes spelled as eudaemonia), a Greek philosophical term that Wikipedia defines as “human flourishing.” This is a combination of the Greek words “eu” which means “good” and “daemon” that refers to “spirit.” Personally, I find this to be closest to my own idea of happiness. People are happy for many reasons – good family, income, wealth, friendships, security, etc. – but the end result is manifested by their being in “good spirits,” exhibiting smiles.

Some people relate happiness to hedonism or the pursuit of pleasure by engaging in activities that give them feelings of physical well-being.  However others with a particular religious or spiritual orientation contend that a hedonistic frame of mind is self-directed in which the feeling of well-being is temporary, and their belief and experience is that happiness is best attained by serving others, with their suggestion to “help ever, hurt never.”

But instead of relying upon others’ opinions and advice on what makes them happy, or trying to figure out for yourself how to find happiness, I believe that a better method is to look at the facts and research outcomes presented in this book.

This book contains up-to-date information from “happiness research;” provides descriptions of the various components of happiness including importantly, eudaimonia; uses a multi-disciplinary approach to what constitutes happiness; gives you the theoretical basis of happiness, as well as how it is measured and developed; and offers suggestions on how you can apply the findings from research to your own personal situation. Finally, we have a science of happiness revealed in this book for your benefit!