Seven Pleasures

BOOK REVIEW by Willard Manus

"I believe...that an informed sanguinity stands a chance. With some effort, one can find contentment, happiness, call it what you will, without the consolations of religion and without the help of psychotherapy and pharmacology. In a secular age, or within a secular disposition, cheerfulness may finally win out over its sibling humors."

Thus comments Willard Spiegelman in SEVEN PLEASURES--ESSAYS ON HUMAN HAPPINESS (Picador). Spiegelman, an English professsor at SMU and editor of The Southwest Review, is an optimist when it comes to happiness, a human condition he has thought long and hard about, always in a down to earth, un-New Agey way.

"At its most distressing, the pursuit of happiness leads to the equation of satisfaction with instant gratification, or to sudden religious conversions, the joy of accepting Jesus as one's personal savior," Spiegelman writes.

His goal in life, as the book's essays confirm, has been to find the secret of happiness in ordinary human activities: specifically reading, walking, looking, dancing, listening, swimming and writing. Spiegelman analyzes the satisfactions that such activities offer, emphasizing that they demand "some quotient of leisure as well as concentration. A sense of humor--not taking oneself too seriously comes in handy as well. One forgives oneself in the pleasure of doing something 'useless'; dreaming over a book and becoming part of it; losing oneself in writing words, which, although chosen, still manage to have an independent life and their own seeming volition; focusing through the eye and ear on the seen or the heard; living through the body in acts of walking, swimming, or dancing, in which the small ego has been vanished or or been transcended."

Mixing autobiographical elements (taking up ballroom dancing, attempting to play the piano, etc.) with quotations from the numerous writers, poets, artists, composers and teachers he admires, Spiegleman has not only put together a guide to a civilized life but a celebration of all the blissful things the world has to offer.