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How Kingwall Searches for Human Happiness in Pursuit of Happiness

Mark Kingwall wrote the article In Pursuit of Happiness in his 1998 book In Pursuit of Happiness: Better Living from Plato to Prozac. In writing this article, he explains that even though it seems the search for happiness can be futile, it is something that people need that is essential, and how happiness varies from person to person. His thesis states that happiness is always different and therefore cannot be defined in just a few sentences, but people still base their lives around finding happiness and trying to define it. The intended audience for this dissertation is more than likely college students majoring in philosophy, as the author is a college professor in Toronto. The author effectively argues his point in three ways: good organization, an unbiased tone, and the research and textual support that gives credibility to his ideas, effectively arguing his point.

Kingwell begins the article by talking about human’s needs to understand happiness and why it affects us so much in our everyday life. He also goes into a lot of detail about how people try to define happiness; even though in centuries past philosophers have almost always come up empty in that endeavor. He goes so far as to state that searching for a one sentence dictionary definition of happiness is “a mugs game” (Kingwell, 248)

In the article, the first thing that I noticed was that the author was well organized in their thoughts and in their execution of the paper. He very clearly states all of his ideas up front, then the ideas of others before him, and then the scientific evidence that he uses behind all of his claims. He not only keeps all of his facts in one place but he also does not flip flop around and stray from what he is talking about like some authors do. When reading the essay, I could very clearly see where every single one of his thoughts was ending and where the new ones were beginning and, in addition, each place where his thoughts or the research he provided was. There was a clear cut reason that it was there such as when he transitions from his first few paragraphs into his next idea: “No sentence beginning in ‘Happiness is…’ is likely to do us much good.” This directly transitions into the next paragraph with “This is also a related and a larger problem…” (248) This creates a very smooth and well organized transition into his next idea, and while it did not pause the current thought; it gives room to transition into the next. This is a clear sign of a clear, organized writer which is important in an exceprt like this. Another way that he does this is his example of his way he transitions from talking about philosophical to scientific studies, and how he seamlessly organized his thoughts without completely halting his previous one. This is important because this shows a sign of a truly good writer.

In the second part of the excerpt, Kingwell talks about great thinkers and philosophers who had studied happiness and tried to find the root of it. He uses many quotes given by authors and philosophers who were well known about their ideas on happiness, and the general search for it. He uses a quote from John Stuart Mill from his autobiography to show that there were a lot of complications that come from the search for happiness. “Ask yourself whether you are happy, and you cease to be so.” (Mill, 249) Kingwell goes on to use many different quotes from other famous authors, some that are very similar to the first quote, and others that are fairly different to what had previously been said.

Throughout the text, Kingwell keeps a very unbiased tone in the excerpt. He never goes out of his way to say that the other philosophers were either right or wrong, or what he believes about the things that they have written. He never truly states his opinion either way throughout the whole text, meaning he never really says what his ideologies are when it comes to attaining happiness, and whether or not it is actually feasible or not. There are very few times that the author states his opinion in this excerpt, which leads to his writing having an unbiased tone. It makes him proving his point a lot less pushy with opinions and sets a much more relaxed tone for the audience. Another time you can see that the Kingwell is unbiased is when he talks about what the author’s before him said, and he reiterates it in a way that we as an audience can understand, but there is still an unbiased air around what he is writing, even though there could be a lot of room to place it.

One of the final points the author makes in the essay, is about how genetics and rank in society can play a crucial role with how happy you are. He backs his theory up with data that he obtained from studies done by scientists and geneticists, such as behavioral studies, and surveys of different individual. He uses a quote from David Lykken, a behavior geneticist at The University of Minnesota “People who have to go to work in overalls on a bus can feel just as happy as people who wear suits and ties and drive a Mercedes” (Lykken, 249) It all depends on your disposition as a person, and as some studies that the author presents, your entire genetic makeup and personality can affect how happy of a person you are. In addition, Kingwell presents another study seems to think that you are born one way or another, and no amount of searching or change that you make is ever going to change that.

This shows evidence within the text to further push the author’s argument. When an author not only has strong arguments, but also good organization, an unbiased tone and strong supporting evidence backed up by facts, it makes what the author is saying so much more persuasive. In addition to this, it is not just one branch of science or medicine the author is bringing evidence from, which makes his essay all the more credible. Even though the data is inconclusive and does not answer all of the questions that we have, it certainly does fill in a few gaps in the authors writing and creates a more persuasive platform than it would without it.

While I do believe the author is effective in making their point in most of the essay, I do not believe they are effective in making their point in one part of the excerpt. In the middle of the first paragraph, he says “Everyone thinks that they know something about what happiness is; very few people manage to convince anyone else that they are right” (248) I do not see that to be all the way true, as there are millions of people who listen to others and their way of happiness, and a lot of that is through social media or written word, such as someone saying that going on a TV diet will make you happy. A large number of people are going to agree with that statement, or even try it. Now, I agree with the author in the sense that not everyone is going to agree with that idea of happiness or even follow it down to the last detail. However, people are going to agree with many of the same details that others express when it comes to theirs or anyone else’s personal opinions about happiness.

I detested the article the first time that I read it, I wanted so much to one hundred percent disagree with the negative notions about happiness in the article. However, within a few times of reading it I came to understand that the author made many valid points within the article, and as did the many that contributed to it. The article was not only valid, and had excellent data to back up its sources, but it was incredibly persuasive and it managed to change my opinion on the idea of happiness and where it truly comes from.

In conclusion, the excerpt from Mark Kingwell’s In Pursuit of Happiness: Better Living from Plato to Prozac to persuade others to understand that happiness is a very complicated ideological factor. I say complicated because there are so many reasons that happiness is either considered being unattainable or too much of an abstract thought or idea to be applied to real life situations. The author uses criteria, research, organizational skills and an unbiased tone to create a valid point when it comes to happiness and how hard it is to find a concrete way to express, define, and even create it.

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