Happiness: 25 Ways to Live Joyfully through Art


Summary ofHappiness: 25 Ways to Live Joyfully through Artby Christophe André: a bestseller in which the author introduces us to different aspects of happiness through lessons illustrated with paintings by great artists.

By Christophe André, 2014 [1988], 216 pages.

Review and Summary of Happiness: 25 Ways to Live Joyfully through Art by Christophe André


Lesson 1 — The enigma of happiness

In his 1668 painting, The Geographer, Johannes Vermeer (1632 – 1675) depicts a man who seems to be rising above maps of the world to fix his mind on an elsewhere that is more contemplative and meditative than mere scientific analysis.

Christophe André then questions where we should look for happiness.

While men and women go in search of happiness through the external mediation of science and the arts, isn’t happiness ultimately to be found, or rather felt, within ourselves?

The Birth of Happiness by Christophe André

Lessons from Morning: The Birth of Happiness

Lesson 2 — Powerful and fragile like life itself

In his painting Almond Blossoms (1890), Vincent Van Gogh (1853 – 1890) depicts young white flowers, both fragile and vigorous, reaching out from the tips of their branches towards a deep blue sky.

Christophe André sees it as a metaphor for incipient happiness. In his view, the painter has succeeded in putting aside the psychological suffering that plagues him to transpose the wonder he feels at the spectacle of nature.

By connecting with the spectacle of a beautiful, peaceful, and harmonious nature, humans feel these emotions. Why? Because we have a deep need to feel connected to the resources we need to live and rest, [because an obscure and profound sense of belonging to an order that encompasses and transcends us is also awakened.] (Lesson 2)

Lesson 3 – Our earliest happiness

In his 1905 painting The Three Ages of Woman, Gustav Klimt (1862 – 1918) depicts a very young child cuddled up to his mother, who is holding and embracing him. Both appear to be asleep. The mother’s bent head rests delicately on that of her child.

Christophe André sees in this the mystery of an incipient happiness, but also the sharing of happiness between mother and child. The mother transmits her past happiness to the child, who also promises her future happiness.

The psychiatrist then sets out the “lesson in happiness” contained, in his view, in this painting. Happiness is a means to a good life, not an end in itself. When you’ve experienced it from an early age, like learning your mother tongue, it’s easier to come back to it. However, it is also possible to learn it and continue learning it throughout one’s life. Recalling Proust’s experience of being drawn back into deep, happy memories by the touch of a madeleine, the author also shows the importance of willpower in the pursuit of happiness.

By giving meaning to our lives, happiness enables us to resist more negative feelings such as despair and bitterness.

Lesson 4 — The happiness of childhood

In his 1881 painting, The Artist’s Garden at Vétheuil (Le Jardin de Monet à Vétheuil), Claude Monet (1840 – 1926) depicts a garden of tall sunflowers reaching for the sky. In the middle of the avenue, a little boy, the painter’s son, stands motionless. He seems reluctant to take off and continue exploring the path formed by the alley. Another little boy and a woman stand in the background.

According to the psychiatrist, this child is both immobile and anchored, on the one hand, and driven by the desire to explore the unknown world around him, on the other. He represents the subtle balance we seek between [rootedness and flight.] (Lesson 4)

[Preserving this balance will be the great concern of adult happiness. Between, on the one hand, the temptation of immobility and security – with the risk of boredom and erosion – and, on the other, the unbridled quest for novelty – with the risk of superficiality and vacuity.] (Happiness, Lesson 4)

In fact, far from being opposites, the two movements – security and novelty – go hand in hand. In order to discover the world, like this little boy, we also need to ensure a secure foundation on which we can build and return to when we feel the need.

Lesson 5 – Everyday happiness

In his painting, The Falls of Tivoli (Les Cascatelles de Tivoli), painted around 1760, Jean Honoré Fragonard (1732 – 1806) depicts a natural landscape with a village at its center.

In the background, a waterfall cascades abruptly into the stream that runs through the village. And in the background, a bridge is covered with abundant vegetation clinging to its sides. In the foreground, on the right-hand side, washerwomen are busy. Below, some of them are washing clothes, exerting their physical strength. Higher up, on a low wall, others spread out the washing in the sun. The washerwomen on both levels seem to be communicating with each other in a light-hearted manner.

According to Christophe André, the washerwomen in this bucolic setting represent a [happy scene] (Lesson 5). For happiness can be found even where we least expect it.

You need to create the conditions that allow you to welcome those moments of joy and pleasure that appear in the course of daily activities. These moments of bliss – however fleeting they may seem – are, through their repetition, the spice of life.

Happiness by Christophe André

Lessons from Midday – The Plenitude of Happiness

Lesson 6 — Like a force that will

In the painting entitled The Rue Montorgueil in Paris. Celebration of June 30, 1878, Claude Monet (1840 – 1926) painted a multitude of flags flapping proudly in the wind on both sides of rue Montorgueil. A dense, joyful crowd can be seen from the balcony where the painter sat. Like many Impressionist painters, Monet painted popular festivals full of life and joy.

According to Christophe André, this painting represents the power of collective happiness on a sunny holiday. He reminds us that “the pursuit of happiness” is enshrined in the United States Declaration of Independence of 1776.

This means that the role of politicians is to create the conditions that enable citizens to pursue happiness. However, politicians alone don’t have the power to “make happiness happen,” because happiness is experienced individually.  It’s up to each individual to feel it and to be able to say whether he or she is happy.

Some argue that anxiety and stress are sources of motivation.

Christophe André, on the other hand, argues – on the basis of numerous studies carried out in psychology laboratories – that happiness is a far more powerful driving force for progress and creativity.

[Happiness, like all forms of well-being, is an inexhaustible source of the desire and pleasure to act, altruism, creativity, openness, and curiosity about the world…]

(Happiness, Lesson 6)

Admittedly, negative emotions such as anger at injustice can lead us to revolt and fight for good causes. However, it is the search for living conditions conducive to happiness that drives us.

Sometimes people don’t appreciate the dreams of happiness that collective movements bring, and seek to destroy them through terror, but happiness always resurfaces in small, everyday moments. After all, it’s an impulse shared by the greatest number.

Lesson 7 – What makes for happiness?

In the painting Peasant Life (1925) by Marc Chagall (1887 – 1985), we see a Russian peasant in the foreground, feeding his horse leaves and small flowers.  In the background, inside a small red house, men are chatting around a table under a lamp. Further to the right, a horse pulls a small cart. A couple is dancing. The sky is dark, gray-black. This suggests that it’s nighttime, especially as small garlands are lit.

According to Christophe André, Chagall here represents the material foundations of happiness:

What sustains and nourishes it. To be happy, we don’t have to try to satisfy all our desires. We must also learn to give up unnecessary pleasures and accept that some cannot be completely satisfied.

The philosopher Epicurus (342 BC – 270 BC), who opposed Stoic philosophy, advises us to concentrate on “natural and necessary” pleasures (Lesson 7): food, shelter, clothing, freedom, friends, discussion, and reflection. Other sources of pleasure are lures and prove toxic when too many people give them importance.

These include power, money, and fame. Christophe André draws our attention to the evils of today’s consumer society. It leads us to believe that buying certain objects and goods will make us happier.

[An exercise in discernment: what do I really need for my happiness? And what are they trying to make me believe I need?] (Happiness, Lesson 7)

Lastly, to conclude this lesson, Christophe André reminds us that, in order to exist, happiness must see fundamental needs assured. If you’re alone and in a precarious situation, all you can do is worry about day-to-day survival: how and where can you feed yourself, protect yourself, sleep, and ensure your safety? He or she won’t be able to truly achieve happiness, even if a few moments of relief appear in daily life.

Happiness by Christophe André

Lesson 8 – The intelligence of happiness

The figure painted by Gaston Chaissac (1910 – 1964) in his 1959 painting Figure on a Blue Background (Personnage sur fond bleu) looks distressed. He has a slender body, no arms, and a round head with no hair. He’s painted in a sketchy way. But his features, especially his smile, symbolize a kind of hope in the midst of life’s torments.

According to Christophe André, this “figure” represents the struggle we all face to achieve happiness despite difficult times. He speaks of the [intelligence of happiness.]

Christophe André distinguishes two types of happiness.

The first is spontaneous happiness, which comes without any effort on our part. The author hypothesizes that this idea comes from the original image of Adam and Eve. Indeed, before they touched the forbidden fruit, they lived free, happy, and light in paradise, without having to work. This idea also has to do with the idea that children are spontaneously happy to live, and that we need to go back to the roots of childhood to rediscover joy.

Then there would be a second type of happiness, acquired through regular, daily work on and with ourselves. This would also be the meaning of the divine punishment launched by God once Adam and Eve had eaten the forbidden fruit: we must work and struggle to ensure our survival, but also our happiness: [you will earn your bread by the sweat of your brow.]

It’s dangerous to believe only in the first form of happiness. If you do, you run the risk of becoming a victim of life and turning away from people who could offer you advice and support. When, in reality, you can always decide to seek more “emotional light.” Of course, it’s hard to feel happy every day.

You can say to yourself:

[I’m going to devote time and energy to thinking and acting to increase my chances of feeling happiness as often as possible. Not to be happy, now, right away, to summon happiness like a dog whistle. But to prepare myself to be happy, to open my eyes and my mind, as when I go for a walk in the forest, I make myself present to my walking, instead of absorbing myself in my worries of yesterday and tomorrow.] (Happiness, Lesson 8)

Lesson 9 – The breath of love

In On the Sailing Boat, painted between 1818 and 1820, Caspar David Friedrich (1774 – 1840) depicts himself and his young wife. Both are seated in front of a sailboat. He is from behind, while the young woman’s profile can be seen.

Dawn or dusk? The viewer, who stands at the helm, doesn’t know. The sailboat sails towards what appears to be a large city. In the distance, buildings stand out against a coastline. We don’t know if the two lovers know this shoreline, or how long they’ve been away.

According to Christophe André, this painting invites us to experience the different emotions that surround a couple bound by love:
  • The shadow in the foreground, over the boat, and behind the two lovers.
  • The tormented and threatening sky.
  • The light of a sunrise or sunset illuminating the city in the distance.

Friedrich invites us to reflect on the place of love in happiness. Some thinkers see love as a danger that blinds and loses those it reaches. Romantics, on the other hand, value the extreme happiness brought about by an emerging love that brings goodness and gentleness.

This intense feeling that follows the start of an encounter is ephemeral, since the bond of love is bound to change over time. But it plays an essential role: it shows us what happiness brings and invites us to seek it out.

To ensure that love and happiness continue to rhyme over time, Christophe André argues that we need to add conditions. He suggests taking up the components of the French Republican motto “ Liberty, equality, fraternity” (Liberté, égalité, fraternité) (Lesson 9). But how can these values be applied to married/couple’s life?

  • Freedom: accepting that each person has his or her own thoughts and feelings and is free to move about without necessarily having to share everything with the other person. These elements are important to allow each partner to breathe.
  • Equality: balancing the tasks and constraints inherent in daily life over the long term. This is necessary to avoid the build-up of unpleasant feelings that could lead to greater dissatisfaction.
  • Fraternity: accepting to limit your own desires at times, in order to look after your partner’s happiness too.
Using Friedrich’s painting as a starting point, Christophe André adds the element of joint action.

[Love is not played out entirely in the fusion of face-to-face contact, but in joint action and construction. Sailing together…]

(Happiness, Lesson 9)

The author then recalls the three forms of love defined by philosophers, for love is not just passion.

  • Eros: this is the love-passion that corresponds to the nascent phase of love.  It is passionate, intense, and a source of great happiness if shared, but also of great suffering if not. It is not destined to last. However, it can reappear at several points in time, either for the same person or for others.
  • Philia: this is love-friendship, more enduring than love-passion.  It is also a component of the couple and complements Eros. Philia allows the other person to live as far away from us as possible and does not demand permanent fusion. Friendship is above all an affection based on [reciprocity, esteem, and sharing.] (Lesson 9)
  • Agape: this is the love we have for every human being, even those we don’t know and who are far from us. It’s the Christian love of neighbor. This love can be difficult because it seems contrary to our instinct, which leads us to love only those we know and with whom we have created a bond of attachment.

The author concludes this lesson by advising us to try to move towards a stronger and deeper connection to what surrounds us: [to move away from ourselves, little by little, and open up, in order to give.] (Lesson 9)

Lesson 10 – Only connect

His painting Portrait of Iseppo da Porto and his son Adriano Paolo Caliari, known as Veronese (1528 – 1588), depicted a father and his young son posing in Florence’s Palazzo Pitti. Christophe André sees in this the complexity of the ties that bind human beings.

Father and son are richly dressed in dark colors. However, a few elements stand out and shine: a rich fur ensemble on the little boy; the father’s gloved hand holding a sword; the father’s other hand resting on his son’s shoulder in a mixture of “authority and affection.” The father appears to guide and protect the child, who, in turn, feels relaxed and confident, ready to discover the world and be happy.

The central idea of this painting is that happiness is given, shared, and passed on. For Christophe André, when we give someone affection, we accept them as they are, wishing them the best, without trying to exert power over them. In this way, we bring them happiness.

However, some relationships can be disturbing and cause suffering

This is the case when, contrary to affection, someone seeks to suffocate the other or to possess them, to make them their object.

This is why you may be reluctant to accept any form of attachment. And this is because it takes you back to fears caused by traumatic events in the past. For example, the fear of abandonment, of suffering, of not being loved in return for the love we give.

However, it is possible to combat these fears and move towards more trusting, happier attachments. This can be done simply by doing the “gratitude exercises” recommended by doctors.

Gratitude can be expressed towards all the people who have helped us, at one time or another in our lives, to grow, to feel better, and more in tune with ourselves. It can also simply be expressed in small moments of everyday life, towards strangers who have smiled at us, shown us respect, or a small gesture of humanity. Scientific research has shown the positive effects of expressing gratitude for patients.

[Research in psychology seems to show that whatever is given to us by others generally brings more happiness than what we have acquired ourselves.]

(Happiness, Lesson 9)

Gratitude for all that we owe to others contributes to our happiness. It requires us to be humble.

Lesson 11 – Happiness beyond ourselves

In his painting, The Gift of the Mantle (1297 – 1299), Giotto di Bondone (1266 – 1337) depicts St. Francis of Assisi donating his cloak to a poorly-dressed, fallen nobleman he meets along the way. This episode marks the beginning of the enlightened life of St. Francis, who soon afterwards renounced all his possessions to devote himself to the poorest of the poor. He shared his happiness with as many people as possible through simple gestures.

Happiness is made up of humble and generous attitudes towards others. Selfishness and pride stand in the way of true happiness. Christophe André speaks of happiness as “wealth,” which has nothing to do with material wealth or money, but which can also offend people who don’t feel happy. To boost happiness when it’s lacking, start with a few simple gestures (smiling, thanking, giving).

In addition to bringing you well-being and meaning, these attitudes have a social and ecological impact; they enable you to exercise a form of citizenship.

By being associated with fraternity and giving to others, happiness also becomes a political struggle. What can we do collectively to act on the social conditions of existence of the greatest number of people and ensure the prerequisites for happiness?

[For there is indeed an ecology of happiness – maintaining an environment that enables it to flourish – which is also a political act. As Gide said, ‘Accept no happiness that is not obtained at the expense of the greatest number’.]

(Happiness, Lesson 11)
Happiness by Christophe André

Lessons from Evening – The Twilights of Happiness

Lesson 12 – The melancholy of happiness ending

In his 1977 painting, The Embarkation for Cythera (Le Pèlerinage à l’île de Cythère), Antoine Watteau (1684 – 1721) depicts the final moments of an open-air celebration in the late afternoon light. The figures make their way down the hill and away into the distance.

Three couples remain near the bust of Venus on the right. Each occupies a posture that might be associated with a question about a happiness that seems to be fading at the end of the day.

  • First couple: the man is still trying to seduce the woman, seemingly unaware that it’s time to go. But should we feverishly cling to happiness?
  • Second couple: the man helps the woman up from the lawn where she was sitting, accepting the departure. This attitude invites us to ask ourselves: isn’t it better to peacefully accept what seems to be the end of a joyous moment?
  • Third couple: the man is already standing with his back to us, ready to descend the hill, while he wraps an arm around the woman, who turns to us one last time with a melancholy smile. Should we mourn in advance the end of a happy moment?

Pleasure, melancholy, and concern for the future seem to mingle in these three couples. These fleeting moments when we feel happiness waning are certainly necessary to make happiness live and relive. They allow us to become aware of it and appreciate it more fully. They can be expressed furtively.

[A cloud passing in front of the sun, conversations growing languid, a veil of sadness in the eyes.]

(Lesson 12)

Commenting on this painting by Watteau, Christophe André invites us to accept the decline of these joyous moments and “let go.” The last moments of happiness and sadness are certainly preferable to destructive anger.

Lesson 13 – Every happiness has an element of darkness

In 1901, John Sargent (1856 – 1925) painted Ena and Betty Wertheimer, a picture now on display at London’s Tate Gallery. Two beautiful young women look at us. Betty, in the foreground, the younger of the two, is dressed in a sumptuous red gown.

Her sister, Ena, in a light-reflecting white satin dress, embraces her with one arm as she places her left hand on a Chinese vase belonging to her father, a wealthy art dealer. While Betty appears motionless and candid, Ena appears more lively and proud, as if subtly provoking her admirers.

Through this seemingly radiant happiness, Christophe André senses a disturbance. The background, while revealing a rich bourgeois interior, actually appears dark and heavy, suffocating perhaps. Ena, with her arm embracing her sister, seems to be urging him to go elsewhere.

For the author, awareness of happiness enables us to feel it.

It also enables us to accept that it is ephemeral, that it contains an end.

[We are thus intermittents of happiness, condemned to experience it only in alternating appearances and disappearances, ebbs and flows.]

(Happiness, Lesson 13)

But just because all happiness comes to an end doesn’t mean you shouldn’t indulge in it for fear of suffering when you no longer feel it. Conversely, it’s not advisable to embark on a feverish, obsessive pursuit of happiness either.

According to psychiatrist Christophe André, in either case, aversion or obsession, you’re heading for exhaustion and waste. It’s better to accept that happiness comes and goes, and that the sadder moments are also those that make us appreciate joy.

Positive and negative emotions, linked to happiness and sadness, are part of life itself, which is undeniably marked by disappearance and death. Happy moments give us the strength to face unhappy times. They bring lightness and energy to our daily lives, which are often marked by hardship and suffering.

Lesson 14 – The temptation of sorrow

Paul Gauguin (1848 – 1903) painted Faaturuma (Woman in a Red Dress, or Melancholic) in 1891 during his first visits to Tahiti, depicting a young woman in a red dress, seated on a rocking chair. Her head slightly bent, and her sad, melancholy gaze is directed at the ground.

Her left hand holds a white handkerchief, perhaps used to wipe the tears from her eyes. Paul Gauguin Western-style dress was certainly imposed by the missionaries.

Faaturuma seems cut off from the world, absorbed in her own private suffering. Is she, like Gauguin, regretting an art of living lost through the fault of the missionaries?

To interpret this painting, Christophe André starts by looking at what it represents: a young woman indulging in melancholy and sadness. Happiness in adulthood is not easy to achieve and requires daily work.

The author identifies three major illusions that lead us to indulge in the temptation of sadness.
  •  Identity: it’s a deceptive feeling that consists in believing that we can better discover ourselves in suffering and obscurity. In reality, this search for identity leads us to withdraw into ourselves, shutting us out from others and from life.
  • Autonomy: based on the idea that we can create our own sadness by being alone with ourselves.  Happiness, on the other hand, requires us to reach out to others.  We can therefore be frightened by what seems to us to be dependence on others.
  • Lucidity: scientific research shows that the most pessimistic and sad people are also the most lucid.  However, they are less able than others to adapt to their external environment and give up the struggle to improve their existence. This posture, valued by many writers and philosophers, entails a considerable degree of danger since it leads to nihilism and misanthropy.

Does this mean we should try at all costs not to be sad? No, because sadness is as much a part of life as happiness, as the author pointed out in the previous lesson.

Moments of sadness also allow you to withdraw into yourself for a short time, to rest, to introspect, and to question the causes of your unhappiness. This can enable you to make decisions and take action to combat the causes of sadness.

What you must try to avoid, however, is sinking into a state of lasting sadness that leads to depression and giving up the fight for happiness.

[Sadness is only a tool for questioning the world.  Listen to it, then dismiss it. Without adulating or admiring it.]

(Happiness, Lesson 14)

Lesson 15 — Entering the winter of happiness

In 1565, at a time of great political and religious tension in the Netherlands, Pieter Bruegel, known as Bruegel the Elder (c. 1525 – 1569), painted The Return of the Herd (Autumn). The painter lets us feel the first chill of autumn, already heralding winter.

The sky is dark, the trees bare of their fallen leaves. The shepherds, one leaning forward on his horse, seem to be struggling against a cold wind. The cows are on their way to the barn, where they will spend the winter locked up. Men and beasts are in the foreground, while the countryside of a stream and rocks stretches out in the background like an ominous horizon.

The happiness brought by summer and early autumn seems to be slipping away. Bruegel seems to rely on the seasons to represent states of mind. Winter foreshadows the decline of happiness in life. It heralds moments that are heavier and harsher than those allowed by the atmosphere of summer, of separations and departures. We must accept that time passes while we work to sow the seeds of happiness’s regeneration.

Christophe André observes that Bruegel’s characters don’t seem to complain despite the adversity of the political and social conditions and climate they face. [Yet the temptation is great to turn one’s troubles into misfortune.] (Lesson 15)

When we are faced with difficult times, he advises us not to give in to fear, but to take a step back and reflect. It’s better to reflect and act, so as not to let a lasting feeling of inner suffering take hold.

By acting together, we can get through the sad phases and cultivate the seeds that will grow into beautiful plants come spring. [Just as exercise warms us in the cold, action makes us experience the life within us.] (Lesson 15)

Happiness by Christophe André

Lessons from Night – Vanished Happiness

Lesson 16 – The dark night of the soul

New Snow in the Avenue (1906). Two faceless women walk along a snow-covered path. They are about to disappear out of the picture, while trees in their winter outfits seem to sway ominously amid snowflakes and a dark sky.

Do these two women represent the painter’s mother and sister, who died of tuberculosis? The painter is Edvard Munch (1863 – 1944), whose life was marked by suffering and anguish. There seems to be no positive horizon in this scene marked by anxiety and misfortune.

According to Christophe André, there are two kinds of suffering:

  • Suffering that has an end: for which there is a solution, a remedy.
  • Infinite suffering: for which there seems to be no remedy.

[Adversity implies a way out, it gives hope. Unhappiness does not. A feeling of distress arises when no more happiness seems possible or thinkable. It is no longer a passage, even a bad one, it is a state, a duration that announces itself with no visible end.]

(Happiness, Lesson 16)

The author advises us to keep moving forward, like the two women in Munch’s painting. Keep moving, even if the light – and therefore hope – is very dim. These two women in motion, walking in the cold, remind us – as in Bruegel’s earlier painting – that action is an antidote to the darkness that threatens to invade our souls.

Lesson 17 — The incandescent solitude of pain

In Red Figure, painted between 1928 and 1932 by Kazimir Malevich (1878 – 1935), a standing woman, painted entirely in red, seems to embody intense suffering. The surrounding countryside – sky, fields, river – is depicted in large, strident, distorted strokes.

There’s every reason to believe that the painter was trying to represent the woman’s state of mind in this landscape. Not that the landscape itself is sad and suffering, but it is through this prism that the woman perceives it. A cheerful person might perceive the same landscape in a completely different way.

Christophe André comments on this picture directly from his experience as a psychiatrist dealing with the emotional pain of his patients. When we feel intense suffering, it can quickly begin to take over completely. It’s as if it takes possession of us.

Patients can no longer perceive hope or meaning in their lives. The risk of numbness, then of a suicide attempt, looms large.

[How can we preserve, deep within ourselves, the possibility of happiness returning, how can we give a chance to ‘that passion for life which grows in the midst of great misfortune’?] (Happiness, Lesson 17)

The author quotes people who experienced the concentration camps. And some of them, despite the horror they endured, drew from deep within themselves a profound desire to live.

Lesson 18 – Stars in the night

In his painting, The Starry Night of 1889, Vincent Van Gogh (1853 – 1890) painted a superb starry landscape beneath the Provence countryside. The stars and moon, surrounded by a halo of warm light, are depicted in motion, as if making concentric figures in the night sky.

Beneath this starry sky stands a sleepy village with its bell tower and hills in the background. Van Gogh painted this picture while confined to an asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence.

Christophe André sees it as the meeting of darkness and light. The only happiness perhaps still accessible to the painter, who can no longer feel happy in the reality of everyday life.

Once again, he cites the experiences of concentration camp survivors and the hero of a novel imprisoned in the Gulag. Despite the horror they experience and the suffering they endure, they manage to find, in the midst of the darkest shadows, tiny shreds of happiness.

As a psychiatrist, Christophe André believes that it’s not necessary to suffer intensely in order to create great creative works, as Van Gogh did. Van Gogh, being happy, could, he believes, have created, albeit differently, but with just as much genius.

In fact, it’s because Van Gogh aspired to happiness and never stopped imagining it that he painted so much light in his paintings. [He was also nourished by his dreams of happiness, whether approached or disappointed.] (Lesson 18)

Christophe André recalls the aforementioned importance of sharing happiness and connection in the quest for happiness. Van Gogh had great difficulty in living them. However, through his art and the gatherings he organized, he worked towards this goal and demonstrated great generosity.

Lesson 19 – Reasons to fight on

In his last painting, Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, painted between 1855 and 1861, Eugène Delacroix (1798 – 1863) depicts, in a large fresco, Jacob fighting with an angel. Jacob, absorbed in the fight, looking down at the ground as he strikes, doesn’t seem to know that he’s fighting an angel.

He has dropped most of his outfit to the ground and is fighting shirtless. In the background, we see the rest of his clan, who have managed to cross a torrent while he remains alone on the riverbank.

As the angel finally delivers a stronger blow, Jacob realizes it’s an angel. He gives up the fight and asks the angel to bless him, which the angel does. Jacob emerges from the battle wounded, but “ transfigured.”

For Christophe André, Jacob represents the man who maintains the strength to fight throughout the night, even though he doesn’t know how the battle will end or whether he will win. He is the bearer of a great zest for life, the one who maintains constant effort. In the end, he emerges transformed and happy from this long struggle.

[Action is always psychologically life-saving: it gives meaning to the present, a grip on our survival.  It channels us, offers a framework and a limit to our temptations to despair.]

(Happiness, Lesson 19)

The strength that animates us certainly comes much more from the memory of our battles against misfortune than from the memory of our suffering itself.

Admittedly, the psychiatrist recognizes that it’s difficult to find the strength within oneself to fight when misfortune seems so great and insurmountable. But fighting is essential for survival and for regaining happiness. Without fighting, we risk letting negative feelings such as resentment, brutality, and misanthropy take over our lives.

Lessons from Dawn – The Return of Happiness

Lesson 20 – Happiness grows stronger

L’Amandier en fleur (Almond Tree in Bloom) was the last painting by Pierre Bonnard (1867 – 1947) until his death in the spring of 1947. It depicts a magnificent almond tree in bloom, bursting with white against a deep-blue sky. He shows us the present spectacle of radiant nature, the eternal rebirth of spring.

This living, present beauty, to be breathed in and admired, is there to remind us that happiness is reborn, reborn anew. In the last days of the painter’s life, the almond tree blossomed like never before. As if to say that happiness grows with each rebirth.

By painting this almond tree on the threshold of his death, Bonnard sought to show that he was in a state of joy that enabled him to capture the wonder of life and nature. Perhaps he also sought to make eternal the spectacle he wanted to retain for his final moments.

Bonnard also shows, fortunately, that happiness is not the prerogative of youth. Indeed, it can be experienced at any age.

Lesson 21 – Happiness regained

In his painting, Le Bord de mer à Palavas (The Beach at Palavas) (1854), Gustave Courbet (1819 – 1877) depicts a man in the foreground, his back all in black, waving his raised left arm at the sea stretching out before him.

In waving to the sea, the man is demonstrating his joy at rediscovering a past happiness. The feeling of happiness can become stronger and more intense when we rediscover a joy that has faded. In this way, distance can heighten our awareness of happiness.

Christophe André remembers very well the beach where he spent every summer since childhood, and where he accompanied a very sick friend. He invites us to focus on the present moments of life and happiness, to savor them as they arise, and to remember them.

Lesson 22 – Happiness is a long story

The Return of the Prodigal Son (painted around 1669) is the last painting by Rembrandt Van Rijn (1606 – 1669), after his son had died a few years earlier and he had retired to a simple, spiritual life.

In the left foreground of the painting, a son is shown from behind, kneeling before his father. This son has returned home after a long absence. While his brothers, in the background, seem threatening towards him, his father, with his aged face, welcomes him with kindness.

This son, who left to discover the world and squandered his share of the inheritance, recounts the terrible ordeals he endured to survive. He feared rejection by his family on his return. Instead, his father comes to embrace him and grabs his shoulders with joy and compassion. He’s overjoyed to have found the son he thought he’d lost. By being forgiven for his past mistakes, the son is once again able to enjoy happiness.

Christophe André invites us to reflect on the power of forgiveness. Mistakes and wastes of time and experience are part and parcel of our lives.

Observing our past actions and their results, with discernment and kindness, is essential to our well-being. It enables us to choose the moments that brought us joy and that we wish to relive. It also enables us to remove the causes that led us to experience negative feelings such as unhappiness, anger, and resentment.

Lesson 23 — The wisdom of happiness

In 1768, Jean-Siméon Chardin (1699 – 1779) painted Le Gobelet d’argent (The Silver Goblet), depicting a silver goblet and a bowl with a spoon protruding from it on a table. In the foreground, in front of the first two objects, are three apples and two chestnuts.

According to Christophe André, this imperfect still life teaches [us to see the silent, secret life of things. It incites us to meditation.] (Lesson 23) He invites us to see strength and enchantment in the small details of our daily lives.

[Happiness is an ideal that we can only gently strive to approach.] (Lesson 23) Happiness is not so much knowledge as practice. It is by practicing, every day, through daily gestures and small efforts, that we can gradually achieve happiness.

The psychiatrist goes on to explain how doctors are increasingly turning to meditation, in its Eastern form, as an effort to pay attention to the present moment and detach oneself from all forms of judgment.

The patient is encouraged to return to the present moment. This is done whenever the mind wanders to other thoughts that generate negative emotions. Meditation accompanies action, first by preparing for it, then by providing a break from it.

Lastly, the author goes a step further. He argues that Chardin’s painting invites us to contemplate, an object of study currently favored by psychologists.

Lesson 24 – Eternal happiness

In the painting Soirée d’octobre (October Evening) (1912), Léon Spilliaert (1881 – 1946) painted the dark silhouette of a woman stepping away in what appears to be a shower of intense orange light.

Christophe André sees it as representing a passage between two universes, which could be life and death, or the material and the spiritual.

[Happiness is a transcendence that often leads us to the border between two worlds. It’s a suspension of time, a plenitude or oblivion of self, an awareness of place, of belonging to something that transcends and encompasses us.]

(Happiness, Lesson 24)

For Christophe André, happiness is much more than a simple gain in comfort and well-being. Above all, it enables us to cope with our awareness of our finitude, of the fact that we know we’re going to die one day. Feeling joy enables us to face difficulties and suffering, and sometimes even to feel as if we’ve reached paradise on Earth.

Lesson 25 — Taking Flight: In the Great Wind of the World

Lastly, Christophe André concludes the book with a brief 25th lesson based on a painting by Impressionist painter Claude Monet (1840 – 1926). This 1886 painting is entitled Woman with a Parasol, Facing Left (Femme à l’ombrelle tournée vers la gauche).

It depicts a standing woman whose face is not visible. Wearing a hat and a long dress, she holds a parasol in her right hand, protecting her from the sun. The wind blowing behind her back blows the cloth hanging from her hat in front of her.

We don’t know who this woman is, enjoying the warm air around her. Monet’s style opens up a space in which we can let our imaginations run wild.

[In reality, nothing is important except this: this moment is a moment of happiness. Just a little happiness, in the great wind of the world…]

(Happiness, Lesson 25)
Happiness by Christophe André

Conclusion to Happiness: 25 Ways to Live Joyfully through Art by Christophe André:

A book that features masterpieces for reflection on happiness:

The author, Christophe André, is a psychiatrist. He works at the Hôpital Saint-Anne, in a unit specializing in the treatment of emotional, anxiety, and depressive disorders.

Drawing on his professional experience and his knowledge of works of art, Christophe André offers a set of thoughts and advice on happiness. The starting point for each of the 25 “lessons in happiness” is a commentary on a specific painting by a great artist.

The author varies his writing styles. He uses poetic metaphors, philosophy, and current scientific research in psychology and neuroscience.

The paintings are reproduced in different sizes and from different angles to illustrate each lesson. Each painting is accompanied by a caption describing its history and the life of the painter. This edition also includes a CD in which the author provides an audio presentation of each lesson.

The book is divided into five main sections (morning, midday, evening, night, and dawn) referring to each of the stages of happiness (birth, fullness, twilight, disappearance, and return). Each part is then divided into chapters illustrated by a specific painting.

The key takeaways from Happiness: 25 Ways to Live Joyfully through Art by Christophe André:

Christophe André suggests that happiness can be learned and practiced every day, starting with small, simple gestures. Observe the beauty of certain objects. Giving and receiving gratitude through a smile or a small gesture of generosity. It can also be felt when we marvel at the spectacle of nature.

At times, happiness also requires us to take the time to reflect on the causes of our suffering. It requires discernment.

The quest for happiness is essential to life and to combating the difficulties and suffering that can arise in everyday life. However, this quest must not be obsessive.

We must also accept that moments of bliss come and go. They are destined to drift away, then disappear, only to reemerge at last.

Strong points:

  • The originality of the book, which uses commentary on paintings to develop thoughts and advice on happiness.
  • The beauty of the illustrations in the paintings.
  • Short quotations from famous men and women that punctuate the lessons and are a source of inspiration.

Weak point:

  • Some repetition of ideas throughout the lessons, but this helps to reinforce them.

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The Handy Guide to Christophe André’s book Happiness

Key Takeaways from Happiness 

In his book, the author presents 25 masterpieces based on 25 paintings that suggest ways of thinking more clearly about happiness and unhappiness, and striving to get closer to the former and further away from the latter.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) concerning Christophe André’s Happiness

1. How has the general public received the book?

Happiness has been very well received by the public. It quickly became a bestseller, with 100% positive reviews and strong recommendations on Amazon.

2. What has been the book’s impact?

Thanks to this book, readers have learned how to recognize happiness, how to become aware of it, and how to prolong it. It also shows how to manage its absence without falling into despair, and how to prepare the conditions for its return.

3. Who is the target audience of Happiness?

This book is for anyone in search of happiness. Anyone who wants to be accompanied in their understanding of happiness and its seasons, and to be guided in their search for it.

4. What does the author see in Gustav Klimt’s 1905 painting The Three Ages of Woman?

Christophe André sees in this the mystery of an incipient happiness, but also the sharing of happiness between mother and child. The mother transmits her past happiness to the child, who also promises her future happiness.

5. What are the different emotions surrounding a couple bound by love, according to Christophe André?

  • The shadow in the foreground, over the boat, and behind the two lovers.
  • The tormented and threatening sky.
  • The light of a sunrise or sunset illuminating the city in the distance.

Values for married/couple’s life vs. illusions that lead to the temptation of sorrow

Three values for married/couple’s lifeThree illusions that lead to the temptation of sorrow

Who is Christophe André?

Christophe André

Christophe André, born in Montpellier on June 12, 1956, is a psychiatrist at the Hôpital Sainte-Anne in Paris, specializing in the psychology of emotions. His books have won over many readers: Imperfect, Free and Happy (Psychologies Magazine 2006 award for “l’essai qui vous aide à mieux vivre votre vie” (‘the essay that helps you live your life better’), Self-Esteem; Power of Emotions; Happiness…

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