To parody one reviewer of this book at the time of its first publication in the Spring of 1940, "The mountain has labored and brought forth wildflowers." Which is to imply that through the mysterious vehicle of words Alan Watts has succeeded in unmasking the mysterious "meaning of happiness," just as a mountain can, mysteriously, bring forth a meadow of beautiful wildflowers where there was once only barren ground.
The original reviewer equated the laboring mountain with the bringing forth of a mouse, by which one may reasonable infer to mean that the voluminous mountain of words amounted to the slightest substantiality of meaning. But nothing could be further from the truth.
Written in 1939 and published in 1940, The Meaning of Happiness, with its annotative subtitle "The Quest for freedom of the spirit in modern psychology and the wisdom of the East," represented a watershed moment in western man's attempt to understand himself and his relationship to the universe and the creative energy of the universe.
At the tender age of twenty-four Alan Watts used all his immense powers of perception and intellect, in this his third book, to draw together seemingly disparate concepts into an organic whole which help to illuminate the genesis of the elusive feeling of happiness. Though the philosophy brought out by Watts' discussion is profound he nevertheless presents it in a simple and easily understandable way, which is perhaps a preview of his uncanny ability to describe the indescribable.
Seen and read today, through the distance of 60 years, The Meaning of Happiness may seem at first to be a bit dated. This is because it was written for a people who were under the influence of a different set of intellectual circumstances than those of us alive today. Back then, in 1940, most westerners had little exposure to the ideas and philosophies of what was then thought of as the Orient, which included the major cultures of Asia -- India, China, Tibet and Japan. Therefore Watts wrote in an effort to help educate as much as to illuminate his Western, predominately Judeo-Christian, audience's understanding of eastern philosophies coupled with the parallels of what was at the time known as modern psychology.
What he was in the initial stages of formulating was a synthesis between traditional Christianity and the unitive mysticism of Hinduism and Buddhism, a theme he would explore in more depth in three other books: Behold the Spirit (1947), The Supreme Identity (1950), and Myth and Ritual in Christianity (1953).
Though there are gems of wisdom and insight throughout the book, the chapters which stand out the most are the third along with the last three -- the sixth, seventh and eighth. If you are one who like to read ahead to get to the meat of the message, you will be especially interested in chapter six, The One in the Many. I won't spoil it for you, but you may find yourself in for a surprise and amazed at the depth of spiritual understanding that Watts brings to the concept of happiness.
In today's world of quick fixes and mind numbing psychotropic drugs, like ritalin, the spiritual truths that Watts wrote about at mid-twentieth century are as meaningful and necessary a cure-all for the ills that plague men's minds today as they were then, in 1940. The lessons are as wise and practical as they are timeless. Here, in the brief span of two hundred pages, Alan Watts has managed to decode an ancient holistic plan for attaining not only mental well-being but for capturing that elusive feeling of bliss.