This sweeping book chronicles the evolution of happiness over two thousand years of Western culture and thought, and argues that our modern belief in happiness--that happiness is a natural right--is a relatively recent development. It is a product of a dramatic revolution in human expectations carried out since the eighteenth century.
Central to the development of Christianity, ideas of happiness assumed their modern form during the Enlightenment, when men and women were first introduced to the novel prospect that they could--in fact should--be happy in this life as opposed to the hereafter. Ultimately, the Enlightenment's recognition of happiness as a motivating ideal led to its consecration in the Declaration of Independence and France's Declaration of the Rights of Man. McMahon follows this great pursuit through to the present day, showing how our modern search for happiness continues to generate new forms of pleasure, but also, paradoxically, new forms of pain.
In the tradition of works by Peter Gay and Simon Schama, "Happiness" draws on numerous sources, including art and architecture, poetry and scripture, music and theology, literature and myth to offer a sweeping intellectual history of man's most elusive yet coveted goal.