Is happiness a modern invention?

Prof. Darrin McMahon

Today, we tend to think about happiness as a right: a natural goal all humans strive towards. How could it be possible that this idea came into being just two hundred years ago?

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Has happiness as we think of it today only been around since the eighteenth century?

In classical times, a happy life was a virtuous and honourable one. Later, happiness became a transcendent state, attainable by only a few during their lifetimes (and a few more as a reward in heaven). Today, happiness is seen as within the reach of anyone, and for most people, we spend our lives in pursuit of it. What caused this dramatic revolution in what humans expect from their lives?

Darrin McMahon is a professor and a historian of ideas at Dartmouth College, and he has looked back through over 2,000 years of thought to explore our changing beliefs around happiness. Darrin joins us in The Garden to investigate humankind's most elusive yet most sought-after goal.

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Talk outline


50 minutes

What to expect

30 minute talk

20 minute Member Q&A

Prof. Darrin McMahon

Darrin McMahon is a special kind of historian: a historian of ideas. His work explores how concepts like happiness and genius have changed over time and why.

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