Coen Simon

Waiting for Happiness

A philosophy of desire

‘Whenever I go away for a few days, I leave a little drawing behind for the children.’ The intimacy of these opening words is typical of Waiting for Happiness. Philosopher Coen Simon has a delightful and playful personal tone. Everyday life, the objects, circumstances and events that seem so familiar to us, astonish him and lead him into philosophical contemplation. In Waiting for Happiness he investigates the nature and effects of wishing, hoping and waiting.

Life is an endless succession of desires, of periods spent looking forward to specific events, acquisitions or changes. But do we really know what it is that we anticipate at the expense of so much time and emotion? We may yearn to be someone else, or to share a special moment with as many people as possible. We long for love, for sex, for home. All this seems entirely natural – but how exactly do we experience such desires? Simon describes his own sense of expectation during his wife’s pregnancy and remarks: ‘I can’t say that I knew what I was waiting for before I became a father.’

Although powerful longing can be experienced as torment, we ought perhaps to learn to value it more than we do. Desire and yearning are not merely about feeling deprived; they give shape to our days. Longing persists until satisfied, but its ultimate resolution never lives up to expectation. Simon shows that it is not the fulfilment of our desires but desire itself that lends our lives meaning. Perhaps it is precisely this waiting for what we feel to be missing that constitutes happiness.

Apparently small shifts in ways of thinking about desire have large effects on individual and social behaviour. In a society of supposedly unlimited choice we feel obliged to reflect on who we are and what we really want out of life. We assume that enjoyment lies only in the outcome, not in the longing, but if we take no pleasure in it, our waiting will be in vain.

What makes Simon’s book so remarkable is the sharp but unprejudiced eye with which he looks at the things we seem to take for granted. His attractive way of recalling personal memories prompts us to remember past events of our own lives. This innovative and accessible book presents a truly original type of philosophy, one that is close to everyday life and discovers big questions in small observations.

  • Starting from personal experiences, Simon investigates twelve desires that are characteristic of human beings, from homesickness and nostalgia to the need for closure.
  • Looks at social issues, such as loneliness, as well as current controversies in philosophy, including the existence or otherwise of free will.
  • Simon’s personal approach is not merely a stylistic device, it is at the core of his approach to philosophy.

Coen Simon is a meticulous observer and he writes evocatively. He also switches effortlessly back and forth between literary narrative and logical analysis.

de Volkskrant

Simon writes with graceful elegance. He touches his subject without subsuming it, dances around it without ever holding it too firmly in his grip.

De Groene Amsterdammer

Combines sobriety with suspense. This is indeed literary philosophy.

Het Parool

Coen Simon

Coen Simon is a writer and philosopher. His essays in NRC Handelsblad, and Trouw *have been the stuff of public debate. He is the author of books including *Why We Seek But Cannot Find Ourselves (2008), That’s How Every Visionary Begins (2010) and Then We Knew Everything (2011) which won…

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Wachten op geluk. Een filosofie van het verlangen (2012). Non-fiction, 167 pages.
Words: 44,000

With references


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