Sunday, April 24, 2005

National Post

National Post

Surprised by happiness
Why are the middle-aged happier than the young?

Robert Fulford
National Post

Saturday, April 23, 2005

. . . Myers and Diener left the impression that everyone cares about this subject except psychologists. "Books, books and more books have analyzed human misery," they wrote. "During its first century, psychology focused far more on negative emotions, such as depression and anxiety, than on positive emotions, such as happiness and satisfaction." Couldn't psychology discover something about happiness?

Since then, researchers have been trying to explain the state of happiness in various countries and age groups. Why are the Dutch quantifiably much happier than the Portuguese? Why are the middle-aged happier than the young? Something called "positive psychology" has produced several popular books aimed at increasing human happiness.

But who in the world would have expected to come upon a serious and widely praised novel focused on this subject and linked to contemporary geopolitics? Not me. Novelists normally write as if happiness were immoral, as well as unlikely. Still, this season's most discussed novel, Saturday (Knopf), by Ian McEwan, concerns happiness --where it's found, who has it, what it feels like.

There's much else in Saturday, but no one will miss that theme. McEwan even has his main character's thoughts echo the Myers-Diener essay:

"For the professors in the academy, for the humanities generally, misery is more amenable to analysis: happiness is a harder nut to crack." . . .


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