‘Happy’ by Derren Brown

A while back, I reviewed Sarah Millican’s brilliant book “How To Be Champion“, which was part autobiography, part joke collection and part self-help book. On a similar theme, I’d like to discuss another book I’ve been reading recently; “Happy” by mentalist, illusionist and warlock Derren Brown. Or, to give it it’s full title: “Happy: Why More Or Less Everything is Absolutely Fine”.

As I have explained before, I have been trying to find more time to read (and to write) over the last couple of years. I do a lot of my reading on the Metro on the way to and from work, but I didn’t just want to read sci-fi and fantasy novels. I wanted to try new things, to find stuff that amused or educated me and, where possible, to find stuff that would help me to live a happier life. That’s why I read Sarah’s book and that’s why I started this one too.

Happy: Why More Or Less Everything is Absolutely Fine

As the title suggests, the book is Derren’s attempt to explore happiness and, in particular, to look at the work of philosophers from throughout history in order to understand what makes us happy (and what prevents us from being happy). His main focus is on the stoic philosophy and how that can be applied to live a happier life.

It’s hard to talk about philosophy without sounding wanky and pretentious (and even Derren can’t manage it), but there are some interesting ideas in there. He summarises some of the key points from the book in the video below: the stories we tell ourselves, the tennis player analogy, strategic pessimism and accepting that some things are beyond our control. He also talks a lot about how it is our reaction to an event that makes us unhappy, rather than the event itself. I found them to be useful tools for managing happiness and my mental wellbeing, so I thought I’d share them with you.

He goes into a lot more detail in the book, obviously, including (frankly) a little too much on the history of philosophy and how it has changed and evolved over the years. As in the video, he talks about how Christianity and later ‘Positive Thinking’ diverge from the Stoics’ philosophy and how that kind of thinking can cause more harm than good, before talking about how learning from stoicism has made him a happier person. If you struggled to get through that last sentence, this book may not be for you, but if you can persevere through all that background stuff, there is a point to it and he does have some very good tips and advice to offer at the end of it.

Final Thoughts

Not everyone will like or agree with what Derren is saying here, but a lot of it resonated with me. It was stuff that I had already been thinking about as part of my writing on the subject of mental health, but I didn’t have the knowledge of philosophy or psychology to explain a lot of it before I read this book.

Despite the heavy philosophy, it’s humorous, honest and informative, and well worth a read if you are interested in living a happier and less anxious life.