What is the handbook of happiness about

Dieter Thomä, Christoph Henning and others (eds.): Glück. An interdisciplinary manual

Dieter Thomä, Christoph Henning, Olivia Mitscherlich (eds.): Glück. An interdisciplinary manual. J. B. Metzler‘sche Verlagbuchhandlung and Carl Ernst Poeschel Verlag GmbH (Stuttgart, Weimar) 2011. 466 pages. ISBN 978-3-476-02285-1. D: 49.95 EUR, A: 51.40 EUR, CH: 77.00 sFr.
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Happiness - a topic that has preoccupied thoughtful people for ages. It seems as if it was the same with him as with time, at that time Augustine once remarked that as long as you don't ask him what it is, he knows what it is. What is the relationship between the number of publications about happiness and the actual feeling of happiness? In any case, there is a lot to be done when it comes to publishing a handbook on happiness. Metzler-Verlag, very experienced in the publication of handbooks, has dared to put together the countless aspects of happiness from many different disciplines. The result is an extremely multifaceted picture - does it make you happy? Adorno once noted that whoever said he was happy was lying. What's it all about?


  • Dieter Thomä is a professor at the University of St. Gallen.
  • Christoph Henning is Dr. phil. and head of a research project on political philosophy at the University of St. Gallen.
  • Olivia Mitscherlich-Schönherr is Dr. phil. and coordinator of the graduate school “Life Forms and Life Knowledge” at the University of Potsdam.


The manual begins with a ten-page introduction by the editors. This is where the most important aspects of the topic come up for the first time.

The first chapter then goes into the "Semantics of Happiness" in ten languages. This leads beyond the current Central European languages ​​into antiquity. Russian, Arabic, Hebrew, Persian and Chinese are also examined for their happiness meanings. While the German language uses the same word "Glück" to describe both chance happiness and the feeling of happiness, other languages ​​differentiate between luck and happiness, chance and bonheur, eutychia and eudaimonia, fortuna and beatitudo.

The “system of happiness thinking” is the subject of the second chapter. Happiness is located between sensuality and spirit, is located in work and leisure and is related to morality, beauty, meaning, time, fate and chance, love, society and politics, sport and finally to utopia.

The following four chapters are no longer primarily semantically and systematically oriented, but historically. They are divided into antiquity, the Middle Ages and the early modern period, the 18th and 19th centuries, and the 20th and early 21st centuries. Here happiness is dealt with especially against the horizon of the occidental philosophical tradition. The discussions come to an end Plato one, and individual sub-chapters always apply to certain authors, such as the philosophical "giants" Spinoza, Kant or Nietzsche. Other sub-chapters are devoted to philosophical directions or schools, epochs, or they are kept thematic, for example when it comes to «calculating», medieval and early modern everyday culture or revolutionary thinking. Different literary genres are also examined. The closer you get to the present, the more even advisory literature, pop music, film and contemporary art come to the fore.

The problem of geographical and cultural omissions is solved insofar as the following chapter focuses on "happiness in religions". Religions seek to surpass happiness with bliss. Here, too, the editorship had to impose a certain restriction. Taoism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam are discussed.

Finally, the last chapter gives an insight into thirteen “current debates”. On the one hand, there are disciplinary discourses, namely from biotechnology, neurosciences, psychopharmacology, social psychology, economics, organizational theory, consumer sociology, architecture, pedagogy and theology. On the other hand, the happiness of the animals is discussed and research results are presented on happiness as subjective well-being. In this last chapter, empirical findings are included in the texts.

The appendix then contains a bibliography, a list of picture sources, information on authors and a register of persons. A subject index is missing.


John Stuart Mill once stated that one can get by without luck, there is no doubt, because "nineteen twentieth of humanity can get by without luck". In light of this, the editor asks in their introduction why one should even concern oneself with happiness. Especially since: "Anyone who deals with happiness feels the sting of oppressive living conditions, threatening future prospects or devastating wars" (p. 1). And still would, so fine Aristotle at the beginning of his Nicomachean Ethics, all people strive for happiness. “Happiness is stubborn, almost indestructible,” says the introduction to the manual (p. 1). Aristotle It did not go unnoticed that different people have different ideas about happiness, yes, that even the ideas of one and the same person can change over time depending on their circumstances. The Roman philosopher Marcus Terentius Varro is said to have already counted 288 determinations of happiness. Paradoxically, happiness threatens to slip away the moment one tries to determine it, to experience it consciously and to hold onto it. And yet: "Fortunately, it is part of bringing it up, that you, to a certain extent, ensnare it with language, communicate it and share it with others" (p. 2). Whether and how happiness arises from the interplay of external circumstances and internal dispositions is controversial. Some rely on - certain - external influences, while others rely on their own attitudes and desires. Many distribute the influence equally on both sides, the cooperation is the decisive factor. «Happiness is given to people who live in one world; Accordingly, it is necessary to describe their peculiarities - for example their spirituality and sensuality, their temporality, their meaningfulness - at the same time it is a matter of locating the people in their context, which ranges from loving relationships with others to political order »(p. 8th).

Happiness has its place in human experience. "Happiness is not something that is given or tangible, it is just - 'experienced'" (p. 4). It is limited in time, can refer to short or long periods: the - episodic - moment of happiness is offset by the - holistic - happiness in life, the happiness of a successful life. Temporality doubles, as it were, by adding that of before and after to the distinction between moment and duration. “Fortunately, a drama belongs in the moment and duration, the change in life clashes with changes for the better and the worse” (p. 4).

Even when people strive for happiness, it is not easy for them to achieve it through their actions. They are more likely to be given happiness. Happiness human doing is more like a how Martin Seel it expresses doing. However, the ideas of the feasibility of happiness are as varied as the ideas about happiness. In our time, this ultimately results in the thought that everyone should be happy according to their own style. Empirical research now examines the sources of subjective well-being. With this individualization of happiness, there is also a turning away from happiness on philosophical grounds. This has above all Kant to be responsible for using freedom and not happiness as the highest ethical criterion. Due to the demoralization of the ideas of happiness, however, the question of the relationship between individual and collective happiness, of the well-being of the individual and general welfare, arises. Happiness then appears "as relief from suffering, sensual experience, lust, enjoyment, joy, self-forgetfulness, self-determination, contentment, peace, harmony, reconciliation, well-being, common good, welfare, chance happiness, etc." (P. 7).

At the end of their introduction, the editor announces that they had to make painful decisions when choosing the content. In particular, it was a great temptation to publish an “intercultural handbook”. After all, the intercultural moment comes into its own with the consideration of numerous languages ​​in the chapter on semantics and with the presentation of some world religions.

So much for the introduction. The contents of the manual are indicated up to then, but of course they cannot be referred to. But let me pick one example: the critical theory of the Frankfurt School. The ideas of happiness are exciting and tense here, because after all believed Adorno It is well known that there is no right life in the wrong one, and that also means that there is no right consciousness in the wrong life. Compared to Adorno and Horkheimer were Marcuse, Fromm and Benjamin far less attached to the principle of negativity. «I profess critical theory; that is, I can say what is wrong, but I cannot define what is right », this is how this principle once said Horkheimer. However, one encounters ideas of happiness with all critical theorists: being different without fear, sensual fulfillment, sexual union, lying on the water and gazing peacefully at the sky, circumference - after-image of the security in the mother (Adorno); unhindered development, free development of individuals (Horkheimer); the productive realization of one's possibilities, being one with the world, preserving the integrity of oneself (Religious); to be able to perceive oneself without fear, the unheard of, the unheard of (Benjamin); Self-determination, experience of a libidinal unity (Marcuse). Such paraphrases of happiness can be found in the texts of the Frankfurt School. To the extent that the right life will preoccupy the critical theorists of future generations more than the good life, the subject of happiness disappears more and more from their reflections.

In the end, however, the secret should be revealed, why lies, who says to be happy, according to the assessment mentioned at the beginning Adornos. Nice Schiller states: «When the soul speaks, ah speaks! Already the soul no longer ». That's what it's about too Adorno. Only fragments, but not the whole of the following quote from his “Minima Moralia” can be found in the manual: “It is no different with happiness than with truth: you don't have it, you are in it. Yes, happiness is nothing other than being around, after-image of the security in the mother. But that is why no one happy can ever know that it is him. In order to see happiness, he would have to step out of it: he would be like someone who was born. Anyone who says they are happy is lying by conjuring it up and thus sinning against happiness. Loyalty only keeps him who says: I was happy. The only relationship between consciousness and happiness is thanks: that is what constitutes its incomparable dignity ». If such quotes don't make you happy! But wait!


Well-known contributors could be found for the manual. (Martin Seel one would have liked to see among the authors.) The fact that several authors are responsible for several contributions is an advantage for the publication. The contributions are tight and competently written. So the manual is still manageable in size. In the chapter on current debates, one would have liked a text from the perspective of sexology. The opportunities for happiness on the fringes of society and on the fringes of global society are also not illuminated.


The handbook on happiness is a handbook of happiness, a godsend. It would be invaluable if the mentioned intercultural gaps could be closed in future publications. Reading the manual promises a lot ...

Review by
Prof. Dr. Gregor Husi
Professor at the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences (Switzerland). Co-author of "The Spirit of Democracy - Modernization as Realization of Freedom, Equality and Security". Current publication (together with Simone Villiger): "Social work, social pedagogy, sociocultural animation" (http://interact.hslu.ch)
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Suggested citation
Gregor Husi. Review of April 27, 2012 to: Dieter Thomä, Christoph Henning, Olivia Mitscherlich (Eds.): Glück. An interdisciplinary manual. J. B. Metzler‘sche Verlagbuchhandlung and Carl Ernst Poeschel Verlag GmbH (Stuttgart, Weimar) 2011. ISBN 978-3-476-02285-1. In: socialnet reviews, ISSN 2190-9245, https://www.socialnet.de/rezensions/11960.php, date of access May 22, 2021.

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