You can now purchase The Descent into Happiness on Amazon by going here.
I have mixed feelings about marketing the book on Amazon. People expect to find it there, and I want them to find the book, buy it, and read it. I must admit that I’m a heavy Amazon Prime user. But I know that the ease with which we can purchase books (and just about anything else) on Amazon hurts local businesses.
I think they’re both right. And I like the idea of having readers buying the book in local bookstores. But if you don’t live near a local bookstore that carries the book, Amazon may be the best option.
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to present to 300 high school students representing 22 different countries at the World Affairs Seminar. It’s a Rotary International event designed to enact the seminar’s motto: Peace through Understanding. I talked about The Descent into Happiness as it relates to the concept of going on a journey. I experienced the journey of going on a long bike ride, and these high school students are on the journey of the seminar. Along the way, you meet new people and have new experiences, in the pursuit of learning about others and about one’s self.
Each student participating in the seminar received a complementary copy of the book. It was rather cool, seeing all these people walking about with my book in hand. It may sound contradictory, but it was a humbling experience.
I love coffee shops. Especially empty coffee shops that serve great coffee and have amazing breakfast burritos. I gave a presentation at Carroll University this morning and will give another this evening; but in the meantime, I’m hanging out at Mama D’s Coffee shop in downtown Waukesha.
At first, the coffee shop served as an “introvert’s oasis” because I was around people all morning, and I’m an introvert, so I needed time to regain myself after engaging in sustained interpersonal discourse. As a result, it’s turned out to be a great chance to journal, read, and work on the “new manuscript” (something I’m excited about).
Last Monday, I asked Carrie Hogan to present to my Social Problems class. It’s an interesting class: we talk about various social problems, on local and global scales, and try to come to terms with why we have problems in society–and what we can do about them.
Carrie’s topic was poverty. She’s qualified to speak on the topic, because she was a first-generation college student who successfully graduated and served as an AmeriCorps volunteer, working with College Possible. After that, she was employed by the YMCA of Downtown Milwaukee, helping coordinate their Sponsor-A-Scholar program.
She talked to my students about how working with low-income, minority high school students transformed her. How the high school students she worked with simply came from poverty, and her job was to help brake that cycle of poverty through the vehicle of education. Specifically, she made sure the students she worked with had good writing skills, helped them prepare for their ACT exams, introduced them to the colleges they could attend, helped them get scholarships that would enable them to attend college… the list goes one.
In my book, The Descent into Happiness, I write about Nishida Kitaro, my favorite philosopher, and how he distinguishes pleasure from happiness. I write about it within the context of biking up and down mountains. To quote the book: “If Nishida distinguishes pleasure from happiness by saying that we suffer for what makes us happy, then descending the mountain pass gave pleasure. Climbing it allowed for happiness.” I was reminded of this quote on Saturday when my friend Jackie and I did The Horribly Hilly Hundreds, a bike ride that took us on a 150 kilometer journey through southwestern Wisconsin. We climbed 9,300 feet, and it made us happy.
How’s that, you may say? It had to do with embracing the hard work of riding uphill. Going downhill was fun; it was fun that we were able to descend 9,300 feet. But going up was when we were able to encourage each other, to go slow enough to look around and take in the beautiful views. But most importantly, climbing allowed us to summit–again and again. Every time we had a big climb, we had the opportunity to summit, and then descend, and then climb again. From happiness to pleasure and back to happiness, all day long.
We were especially happy at the end of the ride, to make the final two and a half mile climb up a 10% grade to the finish, the final ascent, where the beer and burgers and cookies were waiting for us. Where we could sit down and talk with others that did the ride about everything that happened. All of us, exhausted, exhilarated, and happy.
The night before I got married, we had a reception for family and friends. I don’t recall many of the details of that event (so enamored was I with my soon to be bride), but I do remember a friend of my soon to be father-in-law wandering up and offering me a gin and tonic, along with some advice. “David,” he said, “if you want your marriage to last, then never have more than 29 feet.”
I wasn’t exactly sure what he was talking about, so I asked my fiance what it was about. She told me that this long-time friend of the family had a wife who loved animals. Apparently, she was in the habit of always bringing a new animal home. So he made a rule: they could not have more than 29 feet in the house.
I had no idea at that time what good advice this was. It turns out that my bride-to-be would eventually become a veterinarian. And there was a time, about 8 years into our marriage, when we had 2 children, 2 horses, a pony, 3 dogs, and 6 cats. Including the two of us, that added up to 56 feet (well, feet and paws and hooves, etc.). Too many.
Eventually, we got rid of the horses and the pony. Over time, the number of dogs and cats diminished. We still have 2 kids, but one is in Japan and the other is about to leave for college. Once he’s out of the house, we’ll be down to 1 dog and 3 cats. Including the two of us, that makes for a total of 20 feet. Seems manageable.
I’m currently teaching a course in Social Problems. The class enables us to talk about the difference between culture and society, and from there how the individual is connected to larger societal norms, events, issues, etc. It’s a fascinating class, one that enables discussion on a range of topics: physical and mental health, the changing American family, sex and social norms, prejudice and discrimination, and so on.
Last night, I started class by asking for a response to the recent shooting in Orlando. I then shared a video with the class on “sociological imagination”; you can view it at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BINK6r1Wy78. The idea driving the video is that we need to use our imagination to connect one’s sense of individual self to a larger social problem; in doing so, we better understand how we are connected to the problems that society faces. It’s critical to engage in this mental activity because, if we don’t, we are disconnected from the social problems we face. And that sense of disconnect disables us from acting accordingly.
How do we act in response to the mass shooting in Orlando? How do we understand our personal, individual connection to this social issue? Well, it begins with empathy. That’s what we’ll talk about when class meets on Wednesday.