Just Finished Reading: The Age of Absurdity – Why Modern life makes it hard to be Happy by Michael Foley
I really liked this book, partially because it quickly became obvious that it was the kind of book I would have written if I’d had the opportunity and I often found myself agreeing with the majority of what he had to say. This was actually one of those rare books that I started reading almost as soon as it arrived from Amazon. In fact the only reason I didn’t start it right away – which I was tempted to do so after skimming the highlights – was that I already had too many books on my reading ‘plate’ at the time.
The author’s idea – which unsurprisingly I agree with – is that the way we live today in the West is pretty much designed to make us unhappy or at the very least is dedicated to making it difficult to attain any kind of happiness beyond the most fleeting kind. Like the self-help books he despises, and who in their right mind doesn’t, he divides his book into three main parts. The first part identifies the problems: the way advertising feeds on the insatiable appetites of the human Id, the growth of an entitlement culture, the delusion of status and so on. The second part identifies where these problems lead: to an undermining of personal responsibility, the constant emersion in an ever demanding 24 hour world leading to a lack of healthy detachment, the rejection of the idea that things can be and should be difficult to obtain or overcome, the weakening of the thought that experience is both necessary and required and the desire for instant on-demand transcendence. All of this, the author believes and I largely join him in this, leads to an unhappy existence – because real life just isn’t like most people would like it to be. Reality has a way of treating delusions – either individual or cultural - very badly indeed. In a straight fight the smart money is on reality because reality bites!
In the final section the author applies the wisdom of the Stoics, Buddhists, Existentialists and others to address the problems outlined in the first two sections in regard to practical every day aspects of life – in this case work, love and age. The author basically argues, very successfully I think, that life is generally absurd. The trick – if I can use such a word – is to recognise this absurdity and then work with it. Full of interesting ideas and observations from some of the worlds deepest thinkers this is a delight for anyone with an interest in philosophy and a desire to see its practical application to problems in modern living. There is much food for thought in this book and I fully intend to read it again in the future once it’s filtered down and percolated in my brain for a little while. A most enjoyable read (with a few very minor niggles) that may just nudge your life in a slightly different and slightly happier direction. Highly recommended.