by Nathan Carlin and Donald Capps
Praeger, Santa Barbara, Calif. 210 pages
Reviewed by John Huh
Unlike the popular self-help books on happiness, this book does not promise readers a happiness upgrade. It does not offer ten simple steps to happiness, nor does it offer pioneering techniques for a happier life. In fact, the co-authors of the book, Nathan Carlin and Donald Capps, admit upfront that their book is “not original.” They do not make a particular argument on the topic of happiness. They simply invite you to join a symposium on happiness alongside a group of experts on the topic.
Nevertheless, their invitation to this symposium is itself an original one. Carlin and Capps satisfy the readers’ desire to participate in a conversation among experts on the topic. Like a time machine, the book goes back a century and moves forward to current time, picking up thirteen experts on happiness. The company includes well-versed scholars on
the subjects of philosophy, law, health food and diet, sociology, history, mathematics, economics, medicine, literature and psychology.
The book is divided into three parts —insights about happiness offered by philosophers, findings about happiness provided by researchers and questions about happiness presented by scholars who take a critical look at the contemporary writings on happiness. The authors’ intention, through these chapters, is to encourage the readers to gain helpful knowledge on the topic of happiness and develop their own perspective about happiness in regards to their personal lives. As the co-authors found this project personally rewarding, the book is engaging enough to nudge the readers to examine their personal understanding of happiness. In the last chapter, Carlin and Capps reflect on seven keys to their own happiness, without offering these to be prescriptive for others. What the book motivated its own authors to do is exactly what it will do to the readers — to gather quality information and then use it to explore one’s own happiness (or lack thereof).
The book should have a warning attached to it: This book is for those who are mature enough to pay attention to what the experts are saying and formulate one’s own thoughts about what makes you and others happy. If you are busy trying to be happy and do not have the time to read the massive collection of books on happiness, this is a great place to start. And for that reason, this book may be a very helpful resource for ministers and academics who want to learn more about what it means to live and flourish. Perhaps, the book will also inspire some readers to explore the theological and spiritual significance of happiness. For example, the book encouraged me to ask the following questions: If obtaining happiness is that important in our lives, what does God say about happiness? Is God happy, and if so, what does it mean to worship a God who is happy? What does the Bible inform us about happiness and the pursuit of it? These are not the kinds of question that the authors raised in this book, but the symposium they offer here will surely make the readers examine their own questions about happiness and help generate their own thoughts about it. Hence, the book doesn’t necessarily make you happy, but it gives you a solid foundation in how to think about this popular topic
JOHN HUH is currently working on his doctorate in pastor counseling and is pastor at New Mercy Community Church in Hackensack, New Jersey.