From beginner-friendly introductions to comprehensive textbooks on happiness, this page features books to suit any learning style. It’s important to note that there is no single best book on happiness. The best book for you will depend heavily on your preferred learning style and the amount of time/energy you’re willing to spend reading.
It’s also worth noting that it is not a list of personal recommendations. Personal book recommendations tend to be highly subjective, idiosyncratic, and unreliable. This list is part of a collection of over 100 philosophy reading lists which aim to provide a central resource for philosophy book recommendations. These lists were created by searching through hundreds of university course syllabi, internet encyclopedia bibliographies, and community recommendations. Links to the syllabi and other sources used to create this list are at the end of the post. Following these links will help you quickly find a broader range of options if the listed books do not fit what you are looking for.
Here are the best philosophy books on happiness in no particular order.
Happiness: A Very Short Introduction – Daniel M. Haybron
Publisher description: Happiness is an everyday term in our lives, and most of us strive to be happy. But defining happiness can be difficult.
In this Very Short Introduction, Dan Haybron considers the true nature of happiness. By examining what it is, assessing its subjective values, its importance in our lives, and how we can (and should) pursue it, he considers the current thinking on happiness, from psychology to philosophy.
Illustrating the diverse routes to happiness, Haybron reflects on the growing influence of secular Western ideas in the contemporary pursuit of a good life, and considers the influence of social context on our satisfaction and well-being.
What is This Things Called Happiness? – Fred Feldman
Publisher description: According to an ancient and still popular view — sometimes known as ‘eudaimonism’ — a person’s well-being, or quality of life, is ultimately determined by his or her level of happiness. According to this view, the happier a person is, the better off he is. The doctrine is controversial in part because the nature of happiness is controversial. In What Is This Thing Called Happiness? Fred Feldman presents a study of the nature and value of happiness. Part One contains critical discussions of the main philosophical and psychological theories of happiness. Feldman presents arguments designed to show that each of these theories is problematic. Part Two contains his presentation and defense of his own theory of happiness, which is a form of attitudinal hedonism. On this view, a person’s level of happiness may be identified with the extent to which he or she takes pleasure in things. Feldman shows that if we understand happiness as he proposes, it becomes reasonable to suppose that a person’s well-being is determined by his or her level of happiness. This view has important implications not only for moral philosophy, but also for the emerging field of hedonic psychology. Part Three contains discussions of some interactions between the proposed theory of happiness and empirical research into happiness.
Oxford Handbook of Happiness – Susan David et al.
Publisher description: In recent decades there has been a shift in focus from psychological and social problems-what might be called the “dark side” of humanity-to human well-being and flourishing. The Positive Psychology movement, along with changes in attitudes toward organisational and societal health, has generated a surge of interest in human happiness.
The Oxford Handbook of Happiness is the definitive text for researchers and practitioners interested in human happiness. Its editors and chapter contributors are world leaders in the investigation of happiness across the fields of psychology, organizational behaviour, education, philosophy, social policy and economics….
Theories of Happiness: An Anthology – Jennifer Wilson Mulnix & M.J. Mulnix
Publisher description: Theories of Happiness: An Anthology introduces readers to many difficult philosophical questions surrounding the concept of happiness. With historical and contemporary readings in philosophy, psychology, and the social sciences, the anthology reflects a dialogue between ideas, providing for a rich conversation that brings out the key insights and strengths of several competing views. Each of the included readings is contextualized by the editors and situated to speak to the larger issues, including the value of happiness and its connection to well-being, the relationship of happiness to morality, whether happiness can be accurately and meaningfully measured, and whether there are universal standards for a happy life.
The Pursuit of Unhappiness – Daniel M. Haybron
Publisher description: The pursuit of happiness is a defining theme of the modern era. But what if people aren’t very good at it? That is the question posed by this book, the first comprehensive philosophical treatment of happiness, understood here as a psychological phenomenon. Engaging heavily with the scientific literature, Dan Haybron argues that people probably know less about their own welfare, and may be less effective at securing it, than common belief has it. This is largely because human nature is surprisingly ill-suited to the pursuit of happiness. For the happiness that counts for well-being is not a matter of what we think about our lives, but of the quality of our emotional conditions. Yet our emotional lives are remarkably difficult to grasp. Moreover, we make a variety of systematic errors in the pursuit of happiness. These considerations suggest that we should rethink traditional assumptions about the good life and the good society. For instance, the pursuit of happiness may be primarily a matter of social context rather than personal choice. …
The following sources were used to build this list:
University Course Syllabi:
- The How of Happiness – Sample Course Syllabus
- Seminar in Ethics: Happiness – PHIL 6100 | University of Colorado Boulder
- Happiness and the Good Life – PHI 2990 | Saint Mary’s College
- I’m looking for a good read on happiness, as I’m lacking it at the moment.
- Books on happiness as good life?
- What are some good philosophy reads on happiness?
If you want to learn more about happiness, you can find a collection of free articles, videos, and podcasts here.
You might also be interested in the following reading lists:
- The Best Introductory Philosophy Books
- The Best Books on the Meaning of Life
- The Best Books on Well-being and the Good life
Or browse this collection of over 100 philosophy reading lists to find more philosophy book recommendations.
The Daily Idea aims to make learning about philosophy as easy as possible by bringing together the best philosophy resources from across the internet. To get started, check out this organized collection of 400+ articles, podcasts, and videos on a wide range of philosophical topics.
A Collection of the Greatest Philosophical Quotations.
A History of Western Philosophy in 500 Essential Quotations is a collection of the greatest thoughts from history’s greatest thinkers. Featuring classic quotations from:
- Aristotle on happiness
- Epicurus on the fear of death
- David Hume on beauty
- John Stuart Mill on freedom of speech
- Friedrich Nietzsche on the death of God
- Sigmund Freud on unconscious desires
- Michel Foucault on power
- plus many more…