Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews
Daniel M. Haybron, The Pursuit of Unhappiness: The Elusive Psychology of Well-Being, Oxford UP, 2008, 357pp., $55.00 (hbk), ISBN 9780199545988.
Reviewed by Neera Badhwar, University of Oklahoma
'There are many good reasons not to write a book on happiness,' says Daniel Haybron in the Preface to his book. It quickly becomes obvious to the reader, however, that there are many good reasons to read it. There has recently been a spate of books and articles on well-being, the good life, and happiness understood as well-being, that which benefits a person. Haybron's book is the first book-length philosophical treatment of happiness understood as a psychological condition rather than as well-being. This in itself is a significant accomplishment. But the book is also an original and thorough investigation, richly informed by empirical psychology, of almost every topic connected, or seen as connected, with happiness: the self, well-being and virtue, and the good society. It is written in an engaging, often humorous, sometimes poetic, style, and contains a wealth of illustrations from life, literature, film, science, the arts, the news media, and Haybron's own prodigious imagination. Because the topic is so new, and the phenomenology of happiness so elusive, Haybron uses what he calls 'an elaborate form of ostension, pointing to the phenomenon without fully elucidating it' (42). He engages with both the latest science and ancient philosophy in elucidating the nature of happiness. Haybron's grasp of the relevant literatures is nothing short of astonishing. The scope of the book may be gleaned from the following overview.