Monday, October 9, 2006

Ideas of happiness

This is an extract from Why Lawyers Should Surf co-authored with Dr Michelle Tempest which is now available on Waterstone's website here or can be ordered from XPL Publishing on 0870 079 8897 (p&p is included). Further extracts can be found here. To see a review of the book in The Independent click here.

In That Oceanic Feeling, Fiona Capp reports a conversation she had with Cambridge don and author of surf books Walking on Water and Stealing the Wave, Andy Martin. In particular, he had been explaining how the modern concept of happiness had its origins in the discovery of Polynesian culture in the eighteenth century. She reports him as saying, “Happiness, le bonheur, was a universal human right for the revolutionaries. Reports about Tahiti…gave the idea of paradise substance.” The contrast between this and the life back in France in his view “underlay the French revolution.”
It is often this hedonistic view of happiness which still unsettles people in modern times, and which has skewed much of modern society’s view. Yet happiness is in fact in the small things in our lives. The routines and the familiar. It is the contact with family and friends, the sharing of our time and our experiences and not forgetting to appreciate the simple things in life. Some might highlight evolutionary factors in this respect, forged down the generations. For example, in On Whales, Roger Payne suggests that the sensation of being happy, “must have been triggered for thousands of generations by very simple things…that were common to the lives of ancestors…things like good health, enough food…or a sense of well-being that comes from being surrounded by troop mates…”

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