Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Book Review: "Made For Happiness" (Jean Vanier)

I reviewed this book today and posted on Amazon.com.

Title: Made For Happiness
Author: Jean Vanier (translated by Kathryn Spink)
Published: Toronto, ON: Anansi Press, 2001.

Aristotle, the ancient Greek philosopher writes that the fundamental human quest is for happiness. In other words, man is made for happiness. He possesses an innate desires to do good, to enjoy life as well as to pursue happiness. This quest takes in the form of friendship, pleasure, and a search for truth, justice and freedom. It is based on Jean Vanier's doctoral thesis entitled: "Happiness as Principle and End of Aristotelian Ethics." In it, the author shares his insights about Aristotelian understanding of the fundamental makeup and purpose of man: Toward Happiness.

Vanier points out how messed up our contemporary world is, to find meaning in life through materialism, money and power. He argues convincingly that these things do not necessarily bring happiness. Instead, they only add more stress and pressure to an already frantic soul in an increasingly anxious world. More disturbingly, man has confused what true happiness is. Enters Aristotle. Enters hope. Enters the masterful guiding hands of the founder of L'Arche. Vanier helps us link together the many different expressions of being human. Marrying the psychological, the ethical, the morality and spirituality of being human, Vanier illuminates the Aristotelian observation that man is made to be happy through `logos,' `virtue' and `activity.' `Logos' as the reason, the initial impetus of how and why man does certain things; `virtue' being the desire to want to do good in this world, and `activity' as an outward expression of this happiness quest. This is all part of being human.

What makes this book particularly helpful is that it does not lock the reader into the metaphysical realm of philosophy or intellect as the author works through Aristotelian ethics. Using examples, anecdotes and frequent quotations from primary sources, the author applies ancient philosophy with contemporary applications. Thus, Vanier has helped to connect intellectual with the affectual, the head with the heart. This is the single most valuable reason to read this book. I especially appreciate the tribute Vanier renders to this great philosopher, especially after critiquing certain parts of Aristotelian Ethics.

"Aristotle is a wise man. He seeks to reinforce all the positive energies that might help the men of his time to become more human, more just, more open to others, and by virtue of this very fact, to be happier, or to rediscover the fact that they were made for happiness." (198)
Rating: 4 Stars out of 5


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