Written by Thomas Hylland Eriksen
Original Language: Norwegian
Read from 2013-01-19 to 2013-01-21
Read in Norwegian
Review: Storeulvsyndromet is probably not a book I would normally read, but I make a point of reading books that are given to me as Christmas-presents. It’s a Norwegian book discussing the concept of happiness in a society where everyone pretty much already has everything. Before reading it I was a little nervous that this book would just be the stream of consciousness of a social anthropologist summarising his personal thoughts on his research. The first couple of chapters justified my fears. Sure, many good points were made, but these were repeated and overstated to the point where it felt like the target audience was a lecture-theatre full of sleepy students. Fortunately the book only went uphill from there.
As it progressed, the book started discussing more complex aspects of life, satisfaction, and happiness in general. It is easy, as I often do, to consider these kind of discussions irrelevant. (Sure, I already know that I’m an ungrateful, thankless, spoilt brat who should be a lot happier than I am. What else is new?) It impressed me the point to which the book managed to discuss these seemingly obvious things (happiness is relative, stupid!) in a way which didn’t bore me. Sure, the final destinations of the trains of thoughts were familiar, but some routes were used to get to them which I personally hadn’t previously explored. The title is a reference to a recurring story in the Donald Duck comics, apparently a highly respected source when it comes to philosophy, and one this book cites a lot, of the bad wolf which spends all of his time trying to catch some pigs. At one point the wolf catches the pigs, but he then lets them go after realising how empty his life would be if there were no pigs for him to hunt down. This nicely sums up what I see as the theme of the book. Happiness is having a perceived purpose in life, an ambition to strive for, and goals to be met. Of course, some people are more disposed to be happy than others, and it is likely that this will be the deciding factor of whether someone is happy or not. Along with how happy and successful, relative to themselves, they perceive everyone around them to be.
This being a philosophical book rather than a self-help book, I expected it to be gracefully inconclusive and vague when it came to actually making claims as to what would make you happy. However, a bunch of surprisingly tangible suggestions are made. (Take a swim once in a while! You will rarely see as many happy people in one place as on beaches and by pools!) The book also ends on a more general note discussing the meaning of life, or rather, the discussions around the meaning of life. One unfortunate element throughout the book is the inclusion, sometimes subtle, sometimes blatant, of political views which take the form of sentence-long digressions. I don’t mind politics being included, I happen to agree with most of them, but when they are injected into a larger, more general argument I feel that they distract from the point rather than add to it. However, I do like the fact that the book concludes with a purely political chapter. It puts the mostly abstract content of the book into a context of what we can, and arguably should, do to make the world a happier place for everyone else living in it. It is not unlikely that a happy coincidence of this added happiness might be that we make ourselves happier in the process.