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The Happiness Trip: A Scientific Journey.

THE HAPPINESS TRIP: A Scientific Journey by Eduardo Punset. White Rivers Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2007. 160 pages. Paperback; $12.95. ISBN: 1933392448.

"Be warned: the writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body" (Eccles. 12:12, NASB). Such would seem to be the case with books on happiness. PSCF has printed reviews of three recently: Happiness Is a Problem by Dennis Prager; Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert; and The Pursuit of Happiness by David Myers (ASA member). The books by Gilbert and Myers are based on scientific research. There is not much to be said about the benefits of religion in the book by Gilbert or The Happiness Trip by Punset, but Prager and Myers credit faith with considerable power to contribute to happiness.

But, alas, it would be a mistake to think history has sacrificed many trees to provide paper for books on happiness. In The Happiness Trip, Punset notes that concerning happiness, with the exception of the Declaration of Independence, "there is no organized inkling of such a birthright in the history of political or scientific thought ... Being happy would thus appear ... a human concern of relatively recent vintage" (p. xi). Punset has a very high view of science; he writes that "the penetration of scientific knowledge into popular culture will prove to be the most revolutionary event of the last two centuries" (p. 85).

What is happiness? Punset thinks happiness "may be an unconscious recognition, felt physically and emotionally, indicating an organism's synchrony with itself and its environment, its living and nonliving surroundings" (p. 88). What is the road to happiness? Punset suggests that a clue can be found in amoebas, reptiles, and nonhuman mammals. What is learned from these life forms is that with plentiful resources, happiness may be more easily achieved independently; when a scarcity occurs, happiness (well-being) may be more easily obtained in the organized groups which can provide safety, relative conformity, and increased efficiency (p. 16).

Punset also points out that, with so many lethal threats looming, leading scientists think the odds of finding happiness are only fifty percent. Since happiness is an emotion, it is always in a transient state. For most people, happiness is not related to work, health, money, family, education, or ethnic group membership (p. 70). This is contrary to what most people believe, which is why Punset labels them as myths related to happiness. For example, while most people claim children are a great source of joy, on the parental activity preference scale, raising children comes after social life, eating, watching television, taking a nap, and many other activities. Another example: People who live in India, despite their poverty, are happier than most Europeans (p. 88).

Punset affirms the age-old maxim that happiness lies more in anticipation than in the act of achievement, based on the fact that in Pavlov's dog and human's experiment, the hypothalamus fires during the search, not during the conquest (p. 17). "Getting there is the lion's share of the fun. Happiness is hidden in its waiting room" (p. 18). Another conclusion: The absence of fear augments the increase of happiness (p. 22). Novelty often interferes with happiness, because it requires new rules of the game and potential loss of control (p. 23).

A person who is happy has a tolerance for ambiguity and ambivalence, and possesses the courage to question personal convictions (p. 31). In the final chapter, the author gives a formula for happiness. Factors that destroy happiness include fear, unnecessary conscious processes in decision-making, not accepting that happiness is ephemeral, idealization of objects and people, prejudices against oneself that distort reality, loss of control, and hormone fluxes (p. 59). Some readers may question the wisdom of seeking happiness. Punset does not advocate seeking it; he is merely examining the factors correlated with it. Solomon valued happiness and virtue: "I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live" (Eccles. 3:12, NIV).

Dan Gilbert has high praise for this book: "I dare anyone to read a single page without learning something new." The author of The Happiness Trip, Eduardo Punset, is a professor at a Barcelona, Spain, university. In addition, Punset directs and hosts a TV program on science broadcast throughout the Spanish-speaking world. This book has an index and a recommended reading list for each of its nine chapters.

Reviewed by Richard Ruble, John Brown University, Siloam Springs, AR 72761.
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Author:Ruble, Richard
Publication:Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 1, 2008
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