What does it mean to be happy? Americans have had an obsession with "the pursuit of happiness" ever since the Founding Fathers enshrined it--along with life and liberty--as our national birthright. Whether it means the accumulation of wealth or a more vaguely understood notion of self-fulfillment or self-actualization, happiness has been an inevitable, though elusive, goal.
But it is hard to separate "real" happiness from the banal self-help version that embraces mindless positive thinking. And though we have two booming "happiness industries"--religion, with its promise of salvation, and psychopharmacology, with its promise of better living through chemistry--each comes with its own problems and complications.
In Seven Pleasures, Willard Spiegelman takes a look at the possibilities for achieving ordinary secular happiness without recourse to either religion or drugs. In this erudite and frequently hilarious book of essays, he discusses seven activities that lead naturally and easily to a sense of well-being. One of these--dancing--requires a partner, and therefore provides a lesson in civility, or good citizenship, as one of its benefits. The other six--reading, walking, looking, listening, swimming, and writing--are things one performs alone. Seven Pleasures is a marvelously engaging guide to the pursuit of happiness, and all its accompanying delights.