Study Guide

Walden Happiness

By Henry David Thoreau


<em>Walden </em>is a joyful book. It's easy to get distracted by Thoreau's sometimes bully-like, preachy moments, but, if he's preaching, he's preaching the joy of life. He wants to jolt his readers out of their despair, dejection, and anxieties. Happiness can't be found in luxury or power, he tells us. These things can only distract from the true source of happiness, the inexhaustible beauty of nature and of the human spirit. The pages of this book are filled with Thoreau's sensual delight in nature: every sound is music, every sight is a work of art, and there isn't a berry or a chipmunk in the area that he isn't willing to taste. If <em>Walden </em>is an experiment, it's an experiment to discover whether a man who has little more than a one-room cabin and some not-so-profitable beans can find joy. And, of course, the book answers with a resounding yes.

Questions About Happiness

  1. According to Thoreau, what are the primary causes of unhappiness in the world? Why are people anxious or depressed? Is depression widespread? If so, why?
  2. Take a look at some scenes where Thoreau takes pleasure in his surroundings. Find a scene that focuses on each of the five senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch. What kind of language does Thoreau use to help his reader feel what he feels?
  3. What is true happiness for Thoreau? Do you think he's discovered true happiness by the end of the novel? Explain why or why not, using specific quotes.

Chew on This

Thoreau is right; modern life is the primary cause of unhappiness in America.

Thoreau is wrong; most people in the world are not unhappy.

Thoreau discovers true happiness in the simple life he leads at Walden Pond.