A Prescription for Happiness

“The reason why so few good books are written is that so few people who can write know anything.” – Walter Bagehot

Adam Phillips is a fully fledged ETR. He gets up at 4:30 a.m. every morning to do research and work on a massive project: a digest of the 24-volume “Complete Works of Sigmund Freud.” He does that till 8:30 or so, when his regular working day — seeing patients — begins.

According to the newspaper account KFF read to me, Phillips, as was Freud, is a practicing psychologist and prolific author. Also like Freud, he is a man of “self-discipline, habit, and routine.” As an aside, I like what he has to say about Freud’s ideas.

He says that Freud’s theories are in some ways no more scientific than those of Henry James (the philosopher) or Wallace Stevens (the poet). Freud found a way to explain human behavior that makes sense on many levels. But, for Phillips, it is more a metaphorical approach than a scientific one.

So … back to happiness. What does this Freud scholar say about happiness?

“My life is small, but not solitary. Life is friends, family, and my partner. I write and read. That’s it.”

When asked if he “studies” his adopted daughter, he replies: “I’m not like that. I simply want her to get pleasure from life, not to become a thoughtful, deep person.”

But isn’t he a thoughtful, deep person?

“I’m not pretending there’s nothing in my mind, but I’m aware of the fact that I’m happiest when I’m least self-conscious. For me, psychoanalysis is about enabling people not to know themselves but to forget themselves. One’s happiest when one is absorbed in whatever it is.” (I guess he means “whatever it is that one is doing.”)

As for his books, he writes because it gives him pleasure.

“I love writing,” he says. “It’s as easy for me to write books as it is for other people not to. I wouldn’t do it if it were a struggle.”

As for others struggling to read his books, he advises against it. “If you didn’t like it, I would want you to ditch it.” Books are like jokes, he says. “If you don’t get it, you don’t get it. It sort of doesn’t matter.”

I’m intrigued. Makes me want to read his books.