The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living
The Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler
Before this, I have never read a self-help book. I see it as desperate optimism–there’s nothing wrong with reading such books, but I don’t see myself as someone needing self-help. I think I’m doing okay. I don’t throw temper tantrums or get angry. I’m not depressed and I’m not annoyed that often. But I set about procuring a copy of The Art of Happiness. Bud had recommended it and I figured there must be something in it if someone liked it.
The book itself was quite elusive for the past couple of months. (Is this trying to tell me something, that happiness is hard to find?) After putting a request at the college library, a librarian e-mailed me back informing me that it was stolen. The copies at the public library were perpetually checked out until last week when the large print one became available. So I snatched it (along with the new biography on Ben Franklin, but that’s another story).
To say the least, I was disappointed. Perhaps the Dalai Lama really is an enlightened and wise person, but I’ll never know as the book itself was really written by Cutler who is a Western psychiatrist. Most of it was interviews interspersed with Cutler’s commentary and anecdotes of his own which I just found bizarre. The interviews themselves seemed guided and forced as if Cutler had selective hearing as well as thinking.
The Art of Happiness is basically a book on common sense for people who’ve forgotten there’s such a thing. If something bad happens, remember that things could be worse. One shouldn’t confuse happiness and pleasure. Loneliness can be combated by realizing that one shouldn’t follow society’s ideals about what a real relationship is. People add to their own suffering by focusing too narrowly on certain things. Extremism of any sort is bad. Getting angry doesn’t bode well for yourself as well as the people around you.
So maybe it’s useful–as a jumping off point to particular philosophical subjects–but I wouldn’t say it’s brilliant or life-changing. Otherwise, I’d say Cutler should stick to his psychiatric practice and let a better writer interview the Dalai Lama.