I picked out this book because I was curious about the title. I didn't know what it was about, exactly. But I was really curious. So I brought it home from the library and it set there waiting for me to pick it up. Days later I did.
As it turns out it is truly a surprise. The last person I would have thought would provide useful and relevant guidance for human happiness is an economist from the 1700's!
The book is How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life, an unexpected guide to human nature and happiness by Russ Roberts. I had never heard of Adam Smith. And when I learned who he was I was pretty skeptical about him leading me to happiness. I'm not out to get rich, and I thought that was what economists were about.
What a surprise. For Smith, happiness was about so much more than accumulation of money. He published The Theory of Moral Sentiments in 1759. It is pretty much a forgotten text. His famous work was An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations published in 1776. And I doubt if anyone I know ever read either book. I know I wouldn't have been interested in either. But now here I am reading a book that explores his first book and really liking it!
Part of why no one reads his work now is that the language is rather stilted and not easy for 21st century readers. For instance the first sentence is forty-two words! So one might have to read it several times to get the gist of what he is saying:
How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles to his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it.See what I mean? But basically it is a very hopeful and positive perspective. He posits that human nature is basically generous, that we want happiness for others and that it is necessary for our won happiness to contribute to their happiness.
I'm only about a quarter of the way through the book. But I will be sharing more of it as I go along. I find it interesting that he believes we naturally do things for the good of others without expecting anything in return. It is human nature.
We need to get back to acting from that nature to find happiness. So, yes, I guess Adam Smith can change our lives!
Check back Wednesday for more about human nature and happiness.