The Barnabas Ministry
Book Review


Happiness is a Serious Problem: A Human Nature Repair Manual
By Dennis Prager, Harper Books, New York, NY. 1998)

Happiness is a Serious Problem addresses the question of personal happiness in an easy, straightforward manner. This has the potential to be one of those books that can have a significant impact upon our lives.

His first point is that people have a moral obligation to be happy.

We owe it to our husband or wife, our fellow workers, our children, our friends, indeed to everyone who comes into our lives, to be as happy as we can be. This does not mean acting unreal, and it certainly does not mean refraining from honest and intimate expressions of our feelings to those closest to us. But it does mean that we owe it to others to work on our happiness. We do not enjoy being around others who are usually unhappy. Those who enter our lives feel the same way (p. 3-4)

Prager rightly observes that happiness makes life for our spouses, families and others closest to us much better. He also observes that people act more decently when they are happy, and this is good for society. The book also discusses how people of faith are also obliged to be happy, lest they portray their faith and God himself in a bad light (God does not want us to be unhappy).

Prager discusses various observations about acquiring this disposition to happiness. He speaks of self-control and how we must work to be happy, as being negative or unhappy takes very little work or discipline.

For those with negative church experiences, unhappiness lingers as a result of deep disappointments, behaviors and treatments that need to be forgiven, a propensity to have high expectations, or having a tendency to focus on the negative instead of the positive. Each of these inhibits happiness. Prager's treatment of these topics is outside of the spiritual abuse and recovery genre. It is pleasantly refreshing, stimulating and helpful without being overbearing for those in the midst of pain.

Each chapter of the book is relatively short, which makes for easy reading. In this format he weighs in on various other matters that affect happiness-- such as comparing ourselves with others, dealing with unmet expectations in life, focusing on what is present rather than what is missing.

Along the way, I recognized similarities in the discussion with pieces of M.Scott Peck's "The Road Less Traveled" and Frankl's "Man's Search for Meaning" as Prager discussed maturity and our response to difficult and challenging times in our lives. While Prager's writing is not as in-depth or analytical as those books, he brings these various ideas together with a view towards personal happiness in a practical way.

We also often mis-define happiness, and as a result remain unhappy when we achieve things that we expected would make us happy. Prager rightly recognizes that happiness is a by-product of a meaningful, well-understood, mature life. Pursuing happiness for the sake of happiness is empty and will result only in more unhappiness.

Happiness is a Serious Problem is recommended as an easy-to-read resource that will help the reader have a better perspective on the question of happiness. It can help you take many practical steps towards overcoming whatever obstacles there are towards happiness. You, and those around you, will benefit from it.


Copyright © 2009 John Engler. All rights reserved.

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