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INPURSUIT

    The desire of happiness in general is so natural to us that all the world are in pursuit of it; all have this one end in view, though they take such different methods to attain it and are so much divided in their notions of it.
                    -Benjamin Franklin, On True Happiness, 1735

Lapham's Quarterly: Happiness, Volume XII, Number 3
edited by Lewis H. Lapham
The American Agora Foundation, Summer 2019
ISSN: 1935-7494
$19.00, 224 pp

Lapham's Quarterly is published four times a year by The American Agora Foundation, each issue focusing on a specific theme. Then the magic happens. Drawing from writing across the ages, it presents varying perspectives on the theme of choice. For the Summer issue of 2019, the theme was Happiness. Emblazoned on its cover is a smiling ceramic Mesoamerican figure from seventh or eighth century Mexico. With hand held aloft as if in anticipation of a "high-five", the figurine sports a wide grin, like a New World version of the Buddha. The cover art - like all the art smattered throughout - offers a timeless visual representation of the theme: Happiness.

All Inclusive
The scope and distance Lapham's goes to bring writings on happiness is breathtaking. Between its covers, the editors have reached as far back as 390 BC Athens, to a satirical piece by the playwright Aristophanes titled Women at the Ecclesia, in which its characters argue traditional methodology as the path to happiness. "[I]f [Athens] didn't take delight in ceaseless innovations, would not its happiness be assured?" Praxagora, the play's antagonist, asks. Women, he reasons, are better at sticking to tradition than men, therefore Athens' women would be better at directing her affairs. While it sounds like progressive - even feminist - championing, bear in mind that by asserting tradition came easier for women than for men, Aristophanes insults an entire gender. He was, after all, a satirist.

Divided into sections and subheadings (which are meant to be helpful, but how they determine if a piece is destined for Contentment, Satisfaction, or Ecstasy is anyone's guess), Happiness begins with a section titled Introductory which contains the Preamble, a space usually reserved for the magazine's editor. Containing one of the few contemporary pieces in this volume, The Impossible Dream by David Wootton, Anniversary Professor of History at the University of New York, is the author's attempt at defining happiness by deconstructing the words of Thomas Jefferson:

    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Happiness as a right, of course, is ludicrous. No governing body can guarantee it. But the pursuit of happiness - pursuit of a thing so varied as happiness - that can be guaranteed. Or can it? Aldous Huxley found Jefferson's words elusive, writing "The right to the pursuit of happiness is nothing else than the right to disillusionment phrased in another way."

Jefferson wasn't the first to conceptualize happiness as a process of pursuit. Writing in 1690, John Locke asserted in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding that there can be no right to pursue happiness because man will pursue it regardless. As a law of human nature, he reasoned, it can't be granted as a right. Therefore, if you follow his logic, it is no more necessary for a person to have a right to its pursuit as it is for a river to need a right in order to follow the riverbed. Touche'.

Different Strokes
In her 2005 essay Happiness, Dubravka Ugresic' points out the inconsistencies in our pursuits to be happy. She notes that happiness means different things to different people. In some cultures, the deliverance of happiness is left to the gods. In others (take note America) happiness is left to marketers, supplying an endless list of products and services in juxtaposition with images of smiling people, implying the promise of happiness. Blaise Pascal wrote in 1658 in his apologia for Christianity Pense'es, that "the sole cause of man's unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room." He goes on to compare the pursuit of one's happiness with turning a blind eye to the suffering of others. It's a moral statement. Morality is commonly connected with the topic of happiness. What are blessings, after all, but happiness bestowed by God in approval of an individual's righteousness? Therefore, one could conclude, there is no happiness without righteousness. Benjamin Franklin, writing in On True Happiness (1735), supported this notion with warnings against passion, living in the moment, and materialism. In their stead he offers virtue; virtue seated in morality. "Virtue," Franklin writes, "is the best guard against the many unavoidable evils incident to us." Be careful how you happy.

Individual happiness is a fairly new concept. Ancient cultures directly connected happiness with a society's success. In City of God (426 AD), Saint Augustine argues Rome's happiness never matched her grandeur because the founders failed to establish a cult of Felicity, the Roman god of happiness. Instead, at the time of Rome's founding, Jupiter - a sociopath among gods - was the deity of choice. As recently as the seventeenth century, it was accepted that an individual's happiness was not of his own making, but dependent on the suffering of others. Writing in 1651, Thomas Hobbes redefined happiness by gearing it to satisfy man's most base desires. Constructed on Machiavelli's theory that humanity's appetites are insatiable, Hobbes applied it across the board from politics to morality to human psychology. He saw happiness as unattainable; pursuit as non-extinguishable. Happiness, if it could be achieved, was fleeting, and could only be measured against the misfortunes of others. A mounting death toll from a global pandemic, for instance, by Hobbes' thinking, would result in bringing us pleasure because we're not one of them. That might explain the recent response (or lack of) to the coronavirus.

"The right to the pursuit of happiness is nothing else

than the right to disillusionment phrased in another way."

Lapham's doesn't limit its essays to just mulling over the nature of happiness. Nigerian writer Efua Traore' reveals his thoughts on happiness with a story about a thirteen year old boy in True Happiness (2016). E'meric Bergeaud expresses his thoughts on the subject with a poignant account of Haitian emancipation from 1793. In Prozac Diary (1988), happiness is a drug. Ecstasy - both the drug and the feeling - are addressed in Escape from Spiderhead (2010) and TESTAMENTS BETRAYED (1993) by George Saunders and Milan Kundera, respectively. Other contributors seek to define happiness by what it is not, while Roy Disney, Walt's less famous brother, approaches the subject head-on with a description of the happiest place on earth in a prospectus for Disneyland from 1953.

The goal of Lapham's Quarlerly is not to to offer a rigid definition of happiness. Rather, it's to provide a clearinghouse of ideas on the theme, which they do wisely and well. As Ben Franklin pointed out in 1735, our approach to happiness takes such different methods to attain it and we are so much divided in our notions of it, a simple one-size-fits-all definition continues to elude us, like happiness itself. Perhaps, Aldous Huxley had it right.


How to Get Happily Published: A Complete and Candid Guide
by Judith Appelbaum and Nancy Evans
New American Library, 1982
ISBN: 0-452-25332-2
$6.95, 271 pp

Originally published in 1978, How to Get Happily Published: A Complete and Candid Guide by Judith Appelbaum and Nancy Evans is just that. With over 30 years publishing experience between them, Evans and Appelbaum put their expertise to use. Beginning with tips on writing: write what you know, and write it well. Or, in the words of Canadian critic and theorist Northrop Frye (1912-1991), "[Write prose that] is not ordinary speech, but ordinary speech on its best behavior, in its Sunday clothes, aware of an audience with its relation to that audience beforehand." Easy, right? Most people who fancy themselves as writers think they know how to write. Some even do. However, some will need classes, but the authors warn, "writing cannot be taught. It can only be learned." If you do pursue a writing class, find a teacher who believes that, and you'll probably be in good hands. Bear in mind, you're the best gauge of your own skill.

How to Get Happily Published covers all aspects of publishing from magazines to periodicals to books, providing tips on networking, retaining rights, query letters and agents. They also cover vanity presses (don't use them), steering hopeful writers instead toward self-publishing. The big difference between the two comes down to marketing. Vanity presses generally can't be bothered.

Appelbaum and Evans have a disarming writing style. What could have turned out a disinteresting book of advice, instead jumps to life with conversation. Filled with anecdotes and analogies, the information in Happily Published leaps from its pages. Written before the internet, it contains none of the digital wunderwerkzeuge of modern publishing, and suffers none for it. Getting happily published relies on good relationships - even in the digital age. While many of the authors' suggestions seem archaic (in-person visits to prospective publishers), their tips are easily applicable in the digital age. Still, eventually you will want to meet the publisher/editor/ marketer in person, if for nothing else but to establish a chemistry with them that may be lacking in on-screen communications.

As publishers, Appelbaum and Evans have a solid track-record. However, anyone can write a "How To". The best proof the authors have going for them that they are indeed the real thing, is their product. Following their own advice, they accomplished the promises of their book: they got published.


Happy Birthday to Me!
by Valrie M. Selkowe
HarperCollins, 2001
Illustrated by John Sanford
ISBN: 0-688-16679-2
$15.95, 25 pp

Valrie M. Selkowe and John Sanford teamed up to produce a celebratory book called Happy Birthday to Me!. With text by Selkowe, and illustrations by Sanford, it's a winning story that follows Rabbit, the story's protagonist, through his morning routine. But this day, Rabbit's birthday, is anything but routine.

Upon rising, Rabbit finds a key, and sets out to find the lock it opens. He's lead through a gate, down a path to a great pink house where a surprise party is afoot.

It's a simple story narrated by Rabbit, with bright illustrations that draw out the personalities of the managerie of farm animals in attendance. The dolls are positively creepy. The dancing joyous. Suitable for ages 3 and up, this short, adorable picture book makes a perfect birthday gift (or card) for any age.

posted 11/23/20


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