In his review in the Times on “The Politics of Happiness” by Derek Bok Alan Wolfe asks an old but still valid question: ‘One final policy recommendation Bok makes struck me as particularly inappropriate. I am not sure any behavioral economist has studied the issue, but my guess is that reading “Othello” or “Crime and Punishment” does not make one happy. Bok wonders whether our colleges and universities ought to do more than just assign such materials, no matter how great their literary merit. We need to teach students to appreciate more fully what makes them happy. So let’s teach them . . . happiness research. “A number of colleges are doing just that,” he notes, without any apparent dismay. “Indeed, if interest in Great Books courses has declined, the opposite is true of offerings by behavioral scientists on happiness.” I’d rather have sleepless nights.’
Why read literature when it doesn’t make you happy?
Some would argue that even a suicide bomber blows himself up because it makes him happy. Even the quest for unhappiness is a quest for happiness in disguise.
But that answer may be too easy.
It must be for a reason that the classics teach us more about unhappiness and suffering than about joie de vivre.