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Book Review - Happiness on Seven Dollars a Week

I discovered Happiness on 7 Dollars a Week by Harley B. Bernstein in the self help section of the library, however it’s very different from other books in the genre. There are no bulleted points at the ends of chapters and there’s no step by step process for happiness and healing. The book reads more like a story than anything.

Happiness on 7 Dollars a Week revolves around Harley Bernstein’s father, Al Bernstein, who spent 50 years writing down his philosophy for life. When Al decided to throw his work away, Harley intervened. Harley read boxes and boxes of handwritten pages and then interviewed his father while taking long meandering walks through their old neighborhood in Maine.

When the story opens Harley has come back home to support his parents. His mother was dieing of cancer at the time. Yet even while going through this hardship, the Bernstein clan remained close knit and were kind to one another. Their family seemed to be devoid of any child/parent resentments, no sibling rivalries etc.

As I was reading, Tolstoy’s quote about families came to mind. Despite what Tolstoy said about happy families all being alike, I found the story of the Bernsteins to be very interesting and unique. While the screaming Jerry Springer type families are entertaining, I think most of us would rather have our home lives be quiet and ordinary like the Bernsteins.

Al Bernstein was a career salesman and army veteran who wrote passionately in his spare time while raising three sons who adored him. Reading Happiness on 7 Dollars a Week made me think of the everyday heroes and sheroes who don’t make headlines yet they are quietly shaping lives.

“…I thought about my parents,” wrote Al Bernstein. “They had spent most of their adult lives in the small town of Bangor, Maine. They hadn’t set the world on fire, weren’t world leaders, not even local leaders. But underneath there was so much to think about…”

This was by far my favorite quote from the book. It reminded me of the Kennedy Fraser quote I found one day in my Franklin Planner. “Even the most ordinary life is a mystery if you look close enough.” Happiness on 7 Dollars a Week was a close look at a life well lived. It’s about a thoughtful man who tried his best everyday to be a better person, husband, father and friend.

“Not everyone has the discipline of a Mahatma Gandhi nor should that be expected,” Harley Bernstein quoted his father as saying. “I haven’t changed much in my lifetime, yet I’ve witnessed the difference between having peace of mind and not having peace of mind just from some very subtle modifications.”

Through hours of reading and more time spent in quiet contemplation, Al Bernstein became his own self help expert and passed his wisdom on to his son. And you know what he paid himself for his efforts?

“…I’ve decided to give myself a raise,” Al Bernstein said to his son. “That’s right. I’ve raised my allowance from seven dollars a week to ten.”

“I couldn’t believe it,” wrote Harley Bernstein. “For all of those years, the happiest man I knew had an allowance of seven dollars a week!”





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