A Private History Of Happiness: Ninety-Nine Moments of Joy from Around the World Hardcover – 26 Sep 2013
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'George Myerson has come up not with momentous revelations but small moments of joy' Harry Eyres, Financial Times.
'This book gives delightfully fresh perceptions of where happiness can be found' Professor Clare Brant, KCL.
'This is more than a book, it is a celebration, a bouquet, an energizing holiday' Dr Phyllis Tickle.
'Bursting with feel-good factor' The Lady (5 stars).
'It seems a pity that we should need reminding of these pleasures; this charming book does so admirably.' Times Literary Supplement.
About the Author
George Myerson has written a number of books on ancient and contemporary culture, modern thought, and the philosophy of everyday life. He holds a PhD in English from Cambridge and was a Lecturer and Reader at King's College London.
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Before I ramble on too much, let me say that whatever my feelings about "happiness" books in general, I'm going to make an exception for this one, A Private History of Happiness by George Myerson.
The book is simple in concept. It contains 99 written accounts of times or things which made people happy, the "people" in this case being a wide and highly eclectic range of historic characters such as Robert Schumann, Anna Seward, John James Audubon, Montaigne, Horace, Walt Whitman, Dorothy Wordsworth and Anselm of Canterbury. Each episode is followed by a short commentary by George Myerson who tells his readers a little about the writers and fills out the context of the short pieces with information about what was going on in their lives at the time.
The result is rather like reading many short diary extracts, and reminded me a little of John Sutherland's excellent anthology Love, Sex, Death and Words which provides a daily snapshot of an equally varied set of people (I have this book on my Kindle and often look up the entry for the current day). But with this Happiness book, I find that it does actually remind me to look for those little episodes in the day when everything comes together in a brief moment of calm.
The message of this book is that happiness is to be found in spontaneous appreciation of the present moment, those little epiphanies which crop up in all our lives, usually unexpectedly. The art of happiness consists of recognising these moments and realising that life is not all struggle.
I've enjoyed my time in this book and it's definitely one which will remain on my shelves, to be dipped into again and again. It would make a fantastic Christmas present for someone who like reading snippets of diaries or perhaps someone who is going through a difficult time.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
"A Private History of Happiness" is a pleasant, joyful, wonderful collection of excerpts from writers worldwide over thousands of years. Most of these original entries are less than a page long, and each is followed by the author's commentary, usually of slightly greater length. Each commentary is mostly a summary or synopsis of the original brief selection. At first I didn't quite appreciate why the author added commentary rather than just serving as an editor for a collection of the original excerpts, as in most cases the commentary was essentially a rephrasing without adding much insight in terms of contextual background. However, I eventually began to appreciate the meditative value of the commentary portions. Also, in many cases the commentary did provide some valuable insight into the character of the excerpt's author which helped convey just how relative happiness can be: although most of the pleasures recounted are simple ones, an account of a routine occurrence that many may take for granted becomes all the more remarkable, significant, and infused with meaning when one realizes its author normally had a taciturn or even depressed disposition, or had experienced much hardship.
The excerpts are grouped by subject. A few groupings -- such as Friendship, Family, and Love -- clearly emphasize relationships, and it would have been nice if a section on "Pets" were included. But it's nice that plenty is included regarding fulfillment found in pursuits that aren't relationship-based: Morning, Garden, Leisure, Nature, Food and Drink, Well-being, Creativity, and Evening.
The text is basically cheerful and upbeat, and especially pleasant to read because most passages are sourced from intimate and casual writings such as letters and diaries. Given the impressive span of time and geography represented, this collection is remarkable for choosing men and women who have an impressive talent for using the written word well.
There is a bibliography that lists publication information for all original sources, and a helpful index.