Happiness; Essays on the Meaning of Life - Book Review

As with all reviews on this website, our goal is not to provide a complete overview of the book; rather, it is to examine how the book relates to the meaning of life.

About the Book: Happiness; Essays on the Meaning of Life was written by Karl Hilty (1833-1909) and translated by Frances Greenwood Peabody (1847–1936). The book consists of a collection of essays by the famed Swiss philosophy and winner of the best 19th-century beard and mustache competitionKarl Hilty.

The essays included in this book are:

1. Art of Work

2. How to Fight the Battles of Life

3. Good Habits

4. The Children of this World are Wiser Than the Children of Light

5. The Art of Having Time

6. Happiness

7. The Meaning of Life

In the introduction of the book, Peabody has what could be considered the best lines of the book on the topic of meaning.

They observe that happiness often eludes those who most eagerly pursue it; and that the meaning of life is often hidden from those whose way would seem to be most free.

Here also the fever of commercialism threatens the vitality of idealism, and here also the art of life is lost in the pace of living.

And yet, in region of experience which no one fails sooner or later to enter,— regions of great joy and sorrow, experiences of serious duty and bewildering doubts of the meaning of life,—many a mind that has seemed to itself to have outgrown religion looks about for a religion that is real. Such a mind will not be satisfied with a left-over faith; it will not be tempted by an ecclesiastical omniscience. It demands sanity, reserve, wisdom, and insight, a competent witness of the things of the Spirit.

With that said, Hilty gives excellent advice on a number of topics, e.g., meaningful work, incorporating good habits, and happiness. However, one must consider that this information is given in respect to Christianity; and ultimately Hilty would answer the meaning of life in connection to believing in Jesus. With that said, let's take a look at some of Hilty's thoughts.

Work/Happiness: In regards to working and happiness, Hilty believes the two go hand in hand. That is, if a person does not have work, it would be considered the greatest unhappiness. Furthermore, he believed that if one came to the end of his or her life without really accomplishing anything of significance, it too would lead to terrible unhappiness.

Hilty also believed that there was valuable work, and work that was "fictitious." For Hilty, "fictitious" work included art, sewing/embroidering, sports, etc. This work was not considered of significant value. But for those that engaged in "non-fictitious" work, the happiest of those people would be those who would "lose themselves in their work." This reminds me of the recent review of Ikigai, where the people believed that finding a reason to stay busy was integral to seeing one's purpose in life. In finding your niche, Hilty states the following, The best principle is to be completely master of a relatively small region of research; and to deal with the larger inquiries only in their essential features. He who tries to do too much usually accomplishes too little.

Hilty also outlines that to be happy, a person must cultivate good habits. If a person has unhealthy habits, those habits will continue to get worse. In his words, The real problem of life is simply and solely one of habit, and the end of all education should be to train people to inclinations toward good. Naturally, Hilty talks about good habits with respect to Christianity. Interestingly, Hilty dismisses things like wealth, power, etc. being factors in happiness, and rather pushes ideas, e.g., finding purpose in one's work, love, and good habits. In the end, he concludes that courage in life is the most essential quality to lead to happiness.

The best possessions one can have in life, and the things which, with reasonable sagacity, are the easiest to get, are these: firm moral principles, intellectual discipline, love, loyalty, the capacity for work and the enjoyment of it, spiritual and physical health, and very moderate worldly possessions.

If the lower desires have been cast out and no higher impulses enter, then we have simply an unendurable emptiness in life.

If, still further, one commit himself, as is so often the case, to that philosophy if materialism in which this brief life is the end of opportunity, so that but a few years are ours for the accomplishment of all which the pitiless and endless struggle for existence and the survival of the fittest permit, then there is an end of all restfulness and blessedness in work.

Among the best sources of happiness is the enjoyment found in small things and among humble people... The best way to have permanent peace with the world is not to expect much of it... evil defeats itself.

Meaning of Life: On the meaning of life, Hilty notes that it cannot be found in philosophy, rather it simply must be experienced. It must be experienced through religion and through Jesus. Although he discusses that one cannot prove the existence of God, he notes the following as all the proof one needs, Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. If one is not pure in heart, they will not see God. Expanding on this, A God who could be explained would not be God, and a man who could explain God would not be man. The legitimate aim of life is not to see God as He is, but to see the affairs of this world and if human life somewhat as God might see them.

Hilty states that, A man must be wholly superficial or wholly animal who does not at some time in his life ask what is the meaning if his life. As noted above, meaning is found through the act of living and through faith.

Overall, the book provides some solid advice on how to live life. That advice, however, is given in regards to having faith in God, and more specifically, in Christianity. In the last chapter, Hilty talks about how the "Hebrew people" could not accept Jesus out of formalism and could not rise to worship in "spirit and truth." As such, the guidance that is given, although enlightened in some places, is held back in others by a belief in a superior faith.

We rate the book the following: Overall - 5 Meaning of Life Relevance - 4 Uniqueness – 3 What did we miss? Do you agree with the author that meaning can only be found through the act of live, and living through faith? If you like the site, help support us by purchasing the book on Amazon.