Thursday, July 14, 2005

Science of Happiness


D. Nettle's book "Happiness" [4].

From the title of this blog you might think that this is a story about a new religion, but it is not. I have learned the followings from Dylan Evans's book review in the latest issue of Nature [1]: Many of the founding fathers of psychology, such as William James (1842-1910) and Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), regarded happiness as their central concern. However, it seemed that psychologists forgot this theme for much of the twentieth century. We have long waited for a book about the scientific study of happiness, and then three [2-4] have come along at once. — Evans compares this happening to our experience in waiting for a bus. —

Reviewing the three books on happiness, Evans first writes several things they have in common. Thus we learn that any one of them is good to get knowledge about a summary of the field at the level of general public, i.e., various different meanings of happiness, the way to measure happiness, main factors of happiness (money, life events, personality, genes, etc.), the relation between happiness and health, contradictions between scientific research and commonsense intuitions about the best method of obtaining happiness, etc.

Next, Evans writes about differences among the three books. However, it would suffice for many readers to note his words in the final paragraph (it is often useful to read a book review from the last paragraph): "If I had to recommend just one of these books, it would be Nettle's, because it conveys about the same amount of information as the other two books in about half the number of words."

An individual person's feeling of happiness, i.e., subjective happiness, might be a problem in the field of psychology. In this age of frequent terrorism outrages, however, the objective happiness of every person, i.e., the happiness of the human being as a whole, is considered to be an important problem. This should be studied by cooperation of many fields including sociology, political science and anthropology.

References
  1. D. Evans, "A happy gathering," Nature Vol. 436, p. 26 (2005).
  2. R. Layard, "Happiness: Lessons from a New Science" (Allen Lane/Penguin, 2005).
  3. P. Martin, "Making Happy People: The Nature of Happiness and Its Origin in Childhood" (Fourth Estate, 2005).
  4. D. Nettle, "Happiness: The Science behind Your Smile" (Oxford University Press, 2005).

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