chestnut book blog

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A Private History of Happiness No. 1

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I’ve been thinking a lot about happiness this week as I have been reading A Private History of Happiness by George Myerson. What makes me happy and why? How do I feel when I am perfectly happy? Is it when I have those occasional heart-flutter moments or is it the deep, calm peaceful feeling I have when snuggled up with a good book on a cold evening or when eating with friends? Or all of those things?

A Private History of Happiness is a collection of ninety-nine short written extracts from many different people in many different times. These extracts are accompanied by a short analysis from Myerson that draws out the nub of the happiness in each section. They are loosely themed in the cycle of a day, from early morning to evening. This works well as it echoes that fact that so many of these observations of happiness are about the small, mundane details of nature and nurture. This book is not only heart-warming but also, as Myerson points out in the introduction, shows us that over the centuries, human happiness is a thread that unites us:

As these people from many ways of life wrote down their experiences, there was an inner core that said, “This was a moment when I was glad to be alive.” Reading their words now, even centuries later, we can feel immediately how their happiness filled passing moments, creating occasions that needed to be recorded.

This book made me feel happier and more peaceful just reading it so if that is not a recommendation, I don’t know what is! I also read it all in one go as I was enjoying it so much, but if anything, it is more suited to reading a small bit each night before going to bed I think. The joy of savouring a beloved book just before bedtime is actually one of the extracts appropriately!

George Myerson commenting on an extract from George Ridpath, historian and vicar, writing in his diary, December 13th, 1755.

For George Ridpath, it was a real treat to settle down with a good book on a wintery evening, his sermon done for another week, his thought free to wander as he drifted towards sleep. It was the perfect end to the day and also the best of ways to welcome the night.

Interestingly, one of the other extracts that appealed to me most was one of the oldest:

Ptolemy, astronomer, making a note in the margin of his book. Alexandria, Second Century BC

I know that I am mortal by nature and ephemeral, but when I trace at my pleasure the windings to and fro of the heavenly bodies, I no longer touch earth with my feet. I stand in the presence of Zeus himself and take my fill of ambrosia.

Isn’t that beautiful? It sums up more elegantly than I ever could exactly how I feel when I take the time to look properly at the stars. The feeling of being pleasantly small and insignificant, but also in the presence of something much greater.

I find reading blogs makes me happy and I definitely gravitate to ones that make me feel peaceful and contented. I thought, because winter can often be a difficult time, I would write about experiences and things that make me happy here as a little mini-series, in the hope that it also makes you think about happiness through the dark winter nights.

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