Review of "The Origins of Happiness"

By Andrew Clark,, Sarah Flèche,, Richard Layard,, Nattavudh Powdthavee, George Ward
Princeton University Press, 2018
Review by Brian Morreale on Feb 19th 2019
The Origins of Happiness

How can an individual become satisfied and happy in their life? Many researchers, within the last 80 years, have conducted extensive research on what influences happiness. Happiness is the combination of external stimuli that make up the life of an individual. Additionally, overall health of an individual also indicates happiness. Although happiness is an abstract idea, everyone can feel it and know what it is. Everyone experiences happiness for different reasons. Therefore, finding an objective definition is difficult. However, Andrew Clark, Sarah Fleche, Richard Layard, Nattavudh Powdthavee, and George Ward try to define the encompassing influences of happiness over a life-time. In the book, The Origins of Happiness: The Science of Well-Being over the Life Course, the authors expand on what makes individuals happy and support their argument through statistical evidence across decades of research.

The authors divided the book into three separate parts: happiness in adults, successful children, and the meaning of happiness. In the first portion of the book, income, education, work and unemployment, family, mental and bodily health, crime, social norms, and aging are all variables that are identified to have an influence on happiness in adults. Each variable was supported by statistical analysis from the British Cohort Study (BCS), which surveyed these different aspects of happiness nationwide throughout England. The BCS was informative and surveyed how the population felt about the different variables of happiness. There were not many problems with the research. However, the authors failed to consider the idea that happiness from old age could be a result of older people knowing they will “live on” within their family’s memory. Despite the lack of consideration, the other variables were extensively surveyed. Part one of the book described happiness for adults, but the following part indicates what determines the overall well-being and success of a child.

Part two of the book identifies how the variables associated with happiness can negatively or positively impact the success of a child. Additionally, most adults do not realize how their personal problems can affect their children. The authors support their claims using the BCS and data from an American consensus, which strongly support their arguments. 

The final portion of the book was the shortest chapter and it summarized, as well as explained the findings in previous chapters. The authors give brief proposals on how a government can improve the lives of their citizens, but they do not go into depth. Albeit the authors did not provide solutions to improve happiness within a society, the reader can improve his/her happiness through interpretation of the evidence stated. This book was more informative and was not written to provide a resolution. However, it did identify what influences happiness across the span of a life-time and is useful for counselors, psychologists, and anyone in the healthcare field. The variables were explained in general terms; moreover, the origins of happiness were presented in a way that the reader could get a general view about how different influences can impact an individual’s life.


© 2018 Brian Morreale  


Brian Morreale is a student at Daemen College



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