Zen and the Art of Happiness
Power Press (2006)
Chris Prentiss opens Zen and the Art of Happiness by writing, “there is only one way to achieve lasting happiness. That way is simply: be happy.” It’s a great opening that made me eager to read on. Unfortunately, the rest of the slim 145 page book left me with the feeling of being ripped off.
The book’s basic thesis is as follows. The universe is a living breathing organism. It is perfect and it doesn’t make mistakes. The reason we know the universe is perfect, Prentiss explains, is because it has been around for so long. (huh?) Because the universe is perfect, everything that happens in our lives is the best possible thing that can happen. If your dog is run over by a car, that’s the best possible thing that can happen. If you get cancer and die: best possible thing. If two planes happen to crash into the World Trade Center killing 3,000 people, you guessed it, it is the best possible thing that could have happened. The universe doesn’t make mistakes. By viewing every event this way we will achieve happiness, Prentiss argues.
Honestly, I kind of like this philosophy. As far as delusions go, it’s a pretty good one. But the title of this book is quite misleading. Zen and the Art of Happiness has absolutely nothing to do with Zen. Prentiss spends a few pages in the beginning explaining his superficial definition of Zen Buddhism and a few pages toward the end giving a primer on Zen mediation.
“The Zen of doing anything is doing it with a particular concentration of mind, a calmness and simplicity of mind, that brings the experience of enlightenment and , through that experience, happiness.”
His is more of an action/results philosophy: if you view the universe this way you will be happy. You will also get more friends, achieve more professional success, and make more money. Not very zen.
But success and money is something Prentiss knows a lot about. He, along with his son, are the co-founders of “Passages Addiction Cure Center,” a cushy rehab resort in Malibu, California that charges it’s guests $67,550 a month to get “cured.”
Prentiss writes a lot about his rehab center in this book. He also makes it a point to mention his other books several times throughout the text. He could have effectively shared his philosophy of the universe with the world through a short essay. Instead he chose to stretch it out into book-length with the end product reading like a big advertisement for the Prentiss empire.
In his teens and twenties, Prentiss writes that he “had no moral code whatsoever.” His mom taught him to shoplift when he was four and brought him up to “never tell the truth.” “When I grew older,” he writes, “my business dealings were always shady.” But after reading “many hundreds of books,” he resolved to change his ways. I sincerely congratulate Mr. Prentiss on turning his life around, but I’m pretty sure there is still a bit of shadiness left in him. Don’t buy this book.