Happy by Derren Brown – Book Review
I have watched Derren Brown on the television and always thought “how does he do that?” and never worked it out. Now I have read this book I am still thinking “ How does he do that”? To change from being a… Mentalist and illusionist … to a serious author of what is a really intriguing book. I have found myself asking quite a few people if they have read Happy by Derren Brown. I can’t find anyone who has which is a shame as I like to talk to someone else who has read the book and another opinion on Happy.
Let’s get straight to it, I believe that Derren’s latest book could be truly life-changing. There’s very little about magic or illusion in here and when it arrived I opened the package and was a bit taken aback by its size 500+ pages. It is a commentary on the ancient Greek and Roman philosophy of Stoicism, and how we might usefully and practically apply it to our own lives in order to help bring about that most elusive of goals: Happiness.
Derren Brown’s success is in taking the teachings of Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, and the other Stoics, and making them understandable today. His method for doing this (the “trick,” if you will) gets you to understand that your life is a story; one that we tell ourselves about ourselves, and one which ultimately shapes our self-perceptions and worldviews. He says we have a choice of what we tell ourselves and what we believe in and so what we take notice of and the story of our life. This is what makes us happy or unhappy.
Self-help books are causing more harm than good
He says that all the self-help books are actually causing harm as they are telling us to set goals, think positively be strong minded and if you can’t-do that you fail. We aren’t in control of it and trying to have control is actually counterproductive. Many of the principles which can be found in the Stoic philosophy are very simple, it is the execution that is hard. Brown explains in great detail how supposedly negative events themselves rarely hurt us; it is usually our beliefs, feelings, or judgments concerning those events which do. If you have ever read or watched Daniel Kahneman who talks about our lives being shaped by memories, this part reminded me of him.
The book dwells on fact that material goods, money, and other immediate pleasures rarely bring true lasting happiness. Brown talks about the reasons why this is, mentioning a great deal of scientific research in addition to quoting other authors on the subject of happiness. He also discusses helpful, practical ways in which we can deal with anger, hurt, aggression, addiction, and the ever-present fear of death (the book ends with a section on how to die well?).
The book can also be seen as an attack on the multi-billion dollar industry of self-help and positive thinking. Derren reserves much of his anger for fads such as The Secret, and details extensively how “the power of positive thinking” can actually be harmful to us. Take the well-known example of the U.S. airman captured by enemy forces during the Vietnam War. Many of the men who did not survive their brutal captivity were optimists by nature, and insisted on thinking positively: “We’ll be out by Christmas…OK, we’ll be out by the 4th of July…OK, we’ll be out by Thanksgiving…” When holiday after holiday rolled around and they found themselves to be still incarcerated, many of these POWs began to literally curl up and die…whereas the officer who fell back upon the principals of Seneca and the Stoics made it through eight years of hell, ultimately surviving to regain his freedom because all they did was get through each day.
So it is clearly about living on the here and now and not trying to gain external hardware to make yourself happy. It is all down to us and I would say… read the book, give it a go and let us know what you think.