I’ve been thinking about the concept of happiness quite a bit lately. Maybe it’s because I’m growing older and wondering what it’s all about, or because I lost my father-in-law this year, or because the world becomes more complex and demanding by the minute. The good news is that science has revealed that we can actually change our brains, making happiness attainable. Two good books about how our brains adapt are The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr, which is pretty scary, and The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor, which is truly hopeful. The bad news is that when I was looking over the list of books I’ve read, it took forever to find any happy books among them!
As human beings we seem to spend a great deal of time examining all of the things that make us unhappy. We grouse to our spouses and friends about our jobs; we blame our parents for all of our shortcomings; we focus on the negative until we are filled with anger and spite. And as it goes in our real lives, so it goes in literature. Apparently no one (including me) wants to read about happy people. They’re boring. As Tolstoy said, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
However, in my quest to identify some happy books, I offer up the following:
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, a delightful escape into the English countryside, where young Cassandra Mortmain journals about her eccentric family.
A Room with a View by E.M. Forster, an Edwardian comedy of manners in which love and passion for life triumph over convention.
Attachments by Rainbow Rowell, a sweet, yet completely believable contemporary love story told through office emails.
The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson, a memoir about growing up in the 50s that is both a brief overview of the dichotomous history of the time and laugh-out-loud funny.
The Family Man by Elinor Lipman, which proves that loving modern families come in all varieties.
Anything by Alexander McCall Smith, who may be the happiest, most delightful man on the planet.
My mother, who is 82 and an avid reader, told me recently that at this stage in her life she wants to read books with happy endings. She said she’s had enough strife in her life; she’d rather be comforted now. Sounds pretty good to me.