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There are a slew of books on happiness lately:…

Many years ago a colleague of mine, dissatisfied about the mismatch between his potential and his actual rank, asked the firm we were working at to give him a coach. This was in the days when corporations enthusiastically hired psychologists of various kinds to help “treat” the organization and its members.

With the permission of my colleague, his coach sent me a multitude of forms requiring me to appraise him (my colleague) on various psychological or pseudo-psychological scales. After I’d completed them, the coach flew down from Maine to speak with me in person. Somewhere into the conversation, the coach told me that if I too was really serious about getting ahead, I too would overcome my reluctance and ask the firm to provide me with a coach.

I know you can get tennis coaching, and it works, though it depends very much upon the nature of the coach. Some of them really have the knack of translating into words the corrections you ought to make to your body as you hit a backhand; others can talk till you’re blue in the face and can’t quite get their words to transmute your actions. But there is something objective and measurable (if qualitative) about tennis skill and success, and so it makes sense that someone perceptive can teach it to you.

But can you get happiness-coaching? There I’m sort of agnostic:

– It seems reasonable that someone who knows how to handle the complexities of life and interactions can teach you something.

– But anyone sufficiently interested in teaching happiness must have been kind of unhappy to start with. Does a once-bad swimmer make a better swimming coach?

– Being good at being happy is very different from being good at dribbling or topspin — happiness is an internally perceived state, not objectively measured. It’s not a thing, it’s a meta-thing.

No conclusions, but I’m somehow reminded of two remarks:

One by Schopenhauer, who wrote you shouldn’t read except when you are tired of thinking for yourself.

Another by a physics professor in graduate school who said that he preferred to read the results of new papers and then try to derive them on his own rather than read the paper and its proof carefully.

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