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February 25, 2007

Happiness: A History By Darrin M. McMahon

In olden times, McMahon observes in his engaging book, happiness was deemed a transcendent, almost godlike state, attainable only by the few. These days, the concept has become democratized, not to say vulgarized (think of that ubiquitous smiley face): It is more about feeling good than being good. With happiness supposedly in the reach of everyone - especially in the United States - it is pursued with a frenzy that, perversely, gives rise to its opposite: unease, discontent, even guilt. We might be better off returning to the classical Greek ideal of happiness as a life lived according to reason and virtue - so, at least, McMahon, a professor of history at Florida State University, sometimes seems to suggest. At other times he appears keener to follow Nietzsche and ditch happiness altogether.

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