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The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom

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In his widely praised book, award-winning psychologist Jonathan Haidt examines the world’s philosophical wisdom through the lens of psychological science, showing how a deeper understanding of enduring maxims-like Do unto others as you would have others do unto you, or What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger-can enrich and even transform our lives.


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In his widely praised book, award-winning psychologist Jonathan Haidt examines the world’s philosophical wisdom through the lens of psychological science, showing how a deeper understanding of enduring maxims-like Do unto others as you would have others do unto you, or What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger-can enrich and even transform our lives.

30 review for The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom

  1. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    When pitching Jonathan Haidt's "Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom" to friends, I often find myself explaining away the title -- no, it's not another self-help book and yes, it's about more than just plastering a silly smile on your face. With that said, the title is appropriate; Haidt is chiefly concerned with what's responsible for making humans happy. The title fails, however, to convey the breadth and depth of Haidt's search, which touches on philosophy, psychology, When pitching Jonathan Haidt's "Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom" to friends, I often find myself explaining away the title -- no, it's not another self-help book and yes, it's about more than just plastering a silly smile on your face. With that said, the title is appropriate; Haidt is chiefly concerned with what's responsible for making humans happy. The title fails, however, to convey the breadth and depth of Haidt's search, which touches on philosophy, psychology, economics, evolution, and cognitive science, and skips effortlessly across the centuries, from the Stoics' philosophical minimalism to Ben Franklin's pragmatism to Robert Cialdini's work on Influence. Haidt documents the evolution of the human mind, producing an overarching narrative that explains everything from the use of gossip and prozac to mental tendencies that steer men away from their stated values and towards self-destruction. Along with Kluge, this book has profoundly shaped the way I view my brain. Before Haidt, I was aware that our brains appeared to systematically work against our best interest, and that these tendencies manifested in more general cognitive biases. Haidt, however, takes you behind the curtain, and provides a look at what exactly is going on in your brain and the evolutionary logic behind it. This book provided a more systematic take on cognition than the discrete observational work I had previously encountered. My interest in correcting my cognitive failings largely emanates from my concern with my ability to grasp the truth. Haidt rightly adds that it's profoundly important to happiness in general. Cognitive therapy has allowed many to escape depression by directly attacking distortions in thought. These depressive distortions are direct relatives to those that scare up trouble in all of our lives, and Haidt provides an excellent primer on how to exorcise your cognitive demons through a few different means, thereby improving the way you think and possibly making you happier.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Richard

    As I was reading the first few chapters, I put this book on my “to buy” list, but my enthusiasm ebbed as I finished the book, and my natural inclination not to buy books I never expect to re-read has taken over. But it’s still a book I think I can recommend: it has plenty of interesting and thoughtful points to make, a few that are confusing and disconcerting, as well as some advice towards the front of the book. The early chapters have a bit of a “self-help” feel that dissipates further into the As I was reading the first few chapters, I put this book on my “to buy” list, but my enthusiasm ebbed as I finished the book, and my natural inclination not to buy books I never expect to re-read has taken over. But it’s still a book I think I can recommend: it has plenty of interesting and thoughtful points to make, a few that are confusing and disconcerting, as well as some advice towards the front of the book. The early chapters have a bit of a “self-help” feel that dissipates further into the book. (BTW, A or B ?) But since Haidt substantiates his advice with a great deal of neurological evidence and complements it with some “ancient wisdom”, it isn’t too sappy. For example, he points out that a majority of us “lost the cortical lottery” and see the world through dun-colored glasses for a good reason: pessimism was a survival trait to our paleolithic ancestors. If you hear a rustling in the brush and worry that it’s not a tasty rabbit but a nasty panther, your caution may save your life. Folks too naturally optimistic tended not to survive many of those circumstances, I guess. He tells us why that cortical disability can be ruinous, and then explains why each of the three current prescriptions works: meditation, cognitive therapy, and SSRIs. As a glass-half-empty person myself, I’m cognitively meditating on the appeal of SSRIs after that. Most of the rest of the book isn’t self-help at all, but an extended exploration of the many factors that contribute to what makes us happy. Some of these discussions go far afield, such as into altruism and theories of reciprocity, or into the need for a coherent connection to “something greater”. Near the end of the book, Haidt delves into one of his research topics: the cognitive axis of disgust-to-sacredness. His discussions of how this is related to politic ideology is interesting, but when he seems to be arguing that humans will inevitably suffer if they leave the need for the sacred unattended to, he gets a little confusing. At the end of the book he returns to one of my pet favorite themes, and explores how moral authority and religiosity arose through evolutionary processes. Perhaps the most memorable take-away is the powerful metaphor of “the rider and the elephant”. The rider is our conscious self, our narrator; the elephant is the subconscious, which too often follows a path that ignores the rider’s directions. Well, actually while I’m pretty sure the metaphor is about conscious-vs-subconscious, other readers I’ve discussed this with have argued for other dichotomies: will-vs-instinct, or intellect-vs-emotion. I’m not sure Haidt uses the metaphor precisely the same way all the time — one of the problems with using a metaphor, after all — but I think the first is still the strongest reading. All in all, an excellent addition to the Cognition bookshelf. ­

  3. 5 out of 5

    Kate Savage

    I could probably give this book two stars if I hadn't just got my fill of evo-psy smarm from Steven Pinker. Haidt's got the same penchant to 1) explain away the cultural status quo as a natural consequence of biological human nature; 2) present all of his ideas as scientific consensus, when there are very few non-controversial conclusions in positive psychology (it's fine for him to stick with his theory, but his disinterest in bringing up these disagreements leaves me very distrustful of him); I could probably give this book two stars if I hadn't just got my fill of evo-psy smarm from Steven Pinker. Haidt's got the same penchant to 1) explain away the cultural status quo as a natural consequence of biological human nature; 2) present all of his ideas as scientific consensus, when there are very few non-controversial conclusions in positive psychology (it's fine for him to stick with his theory, but his disinterest in bringing up these disagreements leaves me very distrustful of him); 3) make readers shudder a little bit when they recognize the writer is coming from a space of extreme privilege and remains ignorant of the lives that most people live. He tells us his story of being a kid in Scranton, existentially depressed even though he got to drive daddy's Thunderbird, but don't worry he's found meaning now. And you can too, if you find "love, work, and connection to something larger." That's all it takes, everyone -- what excuse could you have for being sad? The fundamental flaw in the book is the ambiguity between being a science book and a self-help book. It's valuable to point out the science supporting the idea that most happiness depends on the genetic crapshoot, and explain why this is so. But once he begins to tell the losers of this gamble what they can do to be happy anyway, I found myself becoming a crank. It bleeds quickly into the idea that people who are unhappy are 1) a problem to be fixed, and 2) in some way guilty for being that problem. He suggests that Buddhism is right, except for that whole non-attachment thing, because actually people are happier if they have stable relationships. When the entire Buddhist insight, it seems, is that there is no such thing as a 'stable' relationship, and you have to learn how to find internal peace even when death or the other ways of leaving leave you lonely. And if you don't come to peace with that, well -- really, who can? Anyone think it might be fine to be sad about that? Haidt follows Durkheim's idea that "freedom is hazardous to your health," showing how the more social, familial, religious constraints a person has on them the less likely they'll commit suicide. But if happiness is bought only with conformity, at what point does it become irrelevant to living a life? And what if suicide is driven also by persecution directed at nonconformists? A friend sent this timely article to me which further explains why a person would be distrustful of the pursuit of happiness: http://m.chronicle.com/article/Happin... I especially got irritated when Haidt ventured into his exploration of "divinity," as an essential piece for happiness, which he commonly equates with the purity ethic, with a Pinker-esque overemphasis on 'decency' and good manners. Though Haidt repeatedly shows that an ethic of purity is tied to racism and misogyny, he thinks it espouses a crucial 'moral dimension,' and without it it's like we're living in Flatland. He has nostalgia for the time when we had universal moral standards and people were afraid of what their neighbors would say if they stepped out of line. Haidt's happy world is achingly bland. Though he at least proposes we find some balance between keeping ourselves pure and not screwing over the oppressed, I find myself far more interested in all the activities he aligns with the Disgusting. Sex and death and bodies feel plenty sacred enough for me. Large passages of the book are focused on the psychological differences between liberals and conservatives. While I understand the importance of figuring this out, it seemed like a distraction from his topic. It felt like he couldn't create an entire book with his one overwrought metaphor (elephant/rider), and so he took sections from his previous book The Righteous Mind to fill out the pages. Follow that with some repetition of his original ideas, and call it a book.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Trevor

    First of all there is a tone to this book that I thought from the beginning was really going to be a problem for me. I guess that is the tone of self-help books. All the same, this book was much more interesting and much more challenging (at least, to me) than most other self-help books I’ve read. I actually found parts of this book quite confronting. The parts of this book that I liked the most were those where he was discussing his elephant and rider metaphor. Essentially, he believes that we a First of all there is a tone to this book that I thought from the beginning was really going to be a problem for me. I guess that is the tone of self-help books. All the same, this book was much more interesting and much more challenging (at least, to me) than most other self-help books I’ve read. I actually found parts of this book quite confronting. The parts of this book that I liked the most were those where he was discussing his elephant and rider metaphor. Essentially, he believes that we are part instinctual creatures and part rational agent – however, we like to believe that the rational agent (the rider) is in control, whereas the rider is sitting on top of an elephant that rarely sleeps and that has desires and needs that the rider does not always recognise or acknowledge. In the long run the elephant will get its way unless the rider recognises the elephants desires and seeks to redirect them. The rider can only do this, according to this book, by meditation, therapy or drugs. The other bit I found interesting was the stuff on Csikszentmihalyi’s book Flow – which I’ve recently bought, but haven’t gotten around to reading. The idea that if you do what you love (Aristotle’s arête) that you don’t notice time and that this is the source of happiness (Aristotle’s eudemonia). I also really liked that this book presses home the idea that we are a social animal and that as a social animal we really do need to make contact with other animals of our species to be happy. As someone who spends a lot of time alone this was one of the areas of the book that I did find personally challenging. The other challenging bits, as I’ve mentioned, where were he talked about doing work that was not directed towards your main strengths and interests. There were parts of this book that didn’t quite work for me. The stuff on religion in particular. It is an interesting point, of course, that religious people tend to be happier than those without religion, but I didn’t feel I came away from reading this section with anything like a good understanding of why that should necessarily be the case or if seeking to be more like religious people would make people without religion more happy or even if that would be a good thing. As someone without religion I can see how having a belief that there is someone (an infinite father figure, generally) watching over you and who is concerned for your well-being, would be a comfort and would probably promote happiness. But even then perhaps not if life started going badly. Some of the things that happen in life are awful and perhaps I’m better off being able to put those things down to pure chance than if I was religious (and assuming I would also remain logically consistent) also having to blame those things on a God who had it in for me for some reason. Where this book is particularly good is in challenging the movement we have towards working longer hours that seems to have taken over our lives. He points out that people are at their happiest when they are with family and friends, and yet our endless pursuit of wealth and career success takes us away from those we love the most and also where we are most happy. As he points out, this doesn’t make much sense. So, what is the secret to happiness? Well, surround yourself with people you love, find out what engages your interest and do that, have control over what you do, don’t live in the suburbs where you have to commute to work for hours every day, create ‘religious’ spaces in your life where you value things as holy and do things to connect with both your physical self and with society at large. See, it’s remarkably easy… I still think Stumbling on Happiness was a better book, but this one was worth the read.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Nyamka Ganni

    If you are in passionate love and want to celebrate your passion, read poetry. If your ardor has calmed and you want to understand your evolving relationship, read psychology. But if you have just ended a relationship and would like to believe you are better off without love, read philosophy. and if you are unsure about what category falls for you, just read this book! :D

  6. 5 out of 5

    Roy Lotz

    If you read The Happiness Hypothesis after Haidt’s The Righteous Mind, then I think you are bound to be a little disappointed. Whereas the latter is informative, original, and at times challenging, this book waters down Haidt’s genuine insight with a good deal of pop psychology and self-help. According to Haidt, science has finally revealed how to be happy. All of the following factors are likely to boost happiness: enough money, ample free time, short commutes, a loving family, and meaningful wo If you read The Happiness Hypothesis after Haidt’s The Righteous Mind, then I think you are bound to be a little disappointed. Whereas the latter is informative, original, and at times challenging, this book waters down Haidt’s genuine insight with a good deal of pop psychology and self-help. According to Haidt, science has finally revealed how to be happy. All of the following factors are likely to boost happiness: enough money, ample free time, short commutes, a loving family, and meaningful work. Being virtuous and even spiritual can also help; and perhaps a touch of adversity, too. But the biggest advantage of all is being constitutionally—i.e. genetically—optimistic (which is not very useful to people who are not). If you find yourself in the unfortunate position of satisfying all of the conditions and yet unhappy, then the best advice is to meditate, go to therapy, or take antidepressants. It is hard for me to imagine much of this being especially revelatory. Are there people who think that long commutes, long hours, frigid relationships, and meaningless work are the keys to happiness? Furthermore, the potentially more controversial chapters—on virtue, spirituality, and adversity—I thought were fairly weak. Haidt’s insistence that virtue can lead to happiness is undermined by his own conclusions in The Righteous Mind, in which he details how moral hypocrisy is usually the best evolutionary strategy. And while Haidt’s analyses of spirituality and adversity are interesting, they have few practical takeaways. One can hardly choose to have a religious awakening or endure a crisis. Where this book shines is where Haidt focuses on his own specialty: evolutionary psychology. Though much of this material is recapped in The Righteous Mind, some of it was new to me, and quite interesting. Haidt’s insistence on mixing this modern research with “ancient wisdom,” however, had the effect of diluting both. Science is exciting when it gives us counterintuitive answers; if it merely serves to confirm what the Buddha said, then I might as well read the Buddha. And if, as Haidt eventually concludes, the Buddha was only partially correct, and that we need a mixture of attachment and detachment, then I am not sure what wisdom is being confirmed—or what that even means in practice. More generally, this book suffers from a serious case of bothsidesism, which you can see in Haidt’s concluding embrace of the yin yang symbol. He would like to conclude that Jesus, the Buddha, the Stoics, the Romantic poets, modern liberals, and contemporary conservatives are all partially right, and that wisdom lies somewhere “in between” these positions. You might even call Haidt a modern-day Hegelian, for trying to reconcile these through his dialectic. However, this position rings a false note, since many of these values are not truly reconcilable. For example, Haidt is sympathetic to the conservative argument that we should be teaching values in school; and he sees advantages to societies that embrace hierarchy, tradition, and moral order above tolerance and diversity. A world of strong character and tightknit community may sound nice, but this sidesteps the question of how a highly diverse society could agree on a set of values to be taught. Psychologists may, as Haidt says, have discovered a list of “universal” virtues. But “courage” in the abstract, say, does not mean very much, and normally relies on cultural context to give it meaning (is it “courageous” to stand up to your parents and teachers?). Perhaps I am disappointed because I am comparing this book to the short section on happiness in Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow. There, without any pretense of rediscovering ancient wisdom, Kahneman presents some surprising conclusions about what it means to be happy, based on psychological studies. Haidt’s conclusions, by contrast, were either too generic or too vague to be very interesting. And if his conclusions do sound surprising—if, say, the claim that commuting in heavy traffic in a shiny red Ferrari to work 10 hours, and then coming home to an empty mansion, will not make you happy—then I think this is a measure of something strangely wrong with the our world.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Nithya Nagarathinam

    This book starts off as great. It neatly draws from the ancient philosophy and extrapolates the relevance of ancient wisdom to modern life. For example, the elephant-rider analogy, for which it gets one star. But somewhere in the middle, it loses itself in theological arguments. The scope of the book is so broad that the title becomes misleading. The book gets another star for the valuable insights into human psychology, morality and life in general that lie interspersed in between elaborate dig This book starts off as great. It neatly draws from the ancient philosophy and extrapolates the relevance of ancient wisdom to modern life. For example, the elephant-rider analogy, for which it gets one star. But somewhere in the middle, it loses itself in theological arguments. The scope of the book is so broad that the title becomes misleading. The book gets another star for the valuable insights into human psychology, morality and life in general that lie interspersed in between elaborate digressions into religion and drugs. But it gets no more because far from finding modern truth in ancient wisdom, it equates the latter to religion and gets ahead of itself as it delves into the religion vs science argument seeking ,rather circuitously, to derive a common ground between the two without finally offering anything valuable to the reader as a result of this rumination. A book has to be like a discovery, either revealing something new to the reader or making her see what is obvious and plain in a way that it is “elevating” as the author might have put it. The Happiness Hypothesis does that in the beginning but fades halfway through only to end in a whimpering attempt at revival of its initial zest.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jan Rice

    If I hadn't read Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow, first, I may not have been able to get into The Happiness Hypothesis. Although they mine some of the same territory, The Happiness Hypothesis is an ordinary book. Kahneman's book, on the other hand, is a land mine. I think he wrote it using the knowledge that was his subject matter, giving it its penetrating power. Haidt, on the other hand, comes across as attempting to "convert" the reader, which can set up some resistance. Also, while If I hadn't read Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow, first, I may not have been able to get into The Happiness Hypothesis. Although they mine some of the same territory, The Happiness Hypothesis is an ordinary book. Kahneman's book, on the other hand, is a land mine. I think he wrote it using the knowledge that was his subject matter, giving it its penetrating power. Haidt, on the other hand, comes across as attempting to "convert" the reader, which can set up some resistance. Also, while Kahneman speaks of System 1 and System 2 to represent intuitive vs. effortful thinking, he explains that these are not actual physical systems in the brain but, rather, ways of picturing and understanding the way the mind works. Haidt, in speaking of "the rider" (rationality) and "the elephant," is a lot less careful. I think that's one example of why I felt a little as though he was trying to suck me into his way of thinking, while I perceived Kahneman as enlightening me. Also, "The Happiness Hypothesis" strikes me as a title that would tend to attract women readers disproportionately, while "Thinking, Fast and Slow," being more scientific sounding, would not turn off (some) men. Well, fortunately, I had read Kahneman first, so I could take the wealth of information Haidt has to give and plug it in as I liked. Really, all of us could benefit from reading some of these books on cognitive science that are being written these days. Then our inclination to enshrine our intellects and idolize our own rationality might be tempered. We would be more humble and be able to become more wise. Some examples of Haidt's thinking which I love: We need each other because each of us has a blind spot regarding ourselves. As human beings we are expert at seeing the mistakes of others but not our own. We are all hypocrites in that respect. That is how we are made. Listen to others who don't think like we do or like us as well as we like ourselves--that's the ticket. I liked his depiction of our three dimensions of experience--the dimension of closeness/distance, hierarchy (superior/inferior), and, last, the one he says we in the West have forgotten about since, roughly, WWII, the spiritual dimension, the dimension that stretches from degradation to elevation. He says we try to incorporate all our strivings into the rubric of autonomy, which, while maximizing our freedoms, also flattens our experience of the world. He also wrote about the seeming paradox that religions, which teach loving kindness, are also responsible for the greatest outpourings of hate and violence. That is because they do teach loving kindness--to insiders. Outsiders beware! Then there is this: There are four main causes of violence and cruelty. The first, greed and ambition, is obvious, but explains only a small part of the violence that occurs, and the second, sadism, causes little to none of it. A third source of violence is--surprise--self-esteem (especially the kind that is shaky and undeserved). Being easily threatened by reality, such people, whose ranks are often made up of young men, are prone to retaliate against the perceived cause of their angst. Fourth, according to Haidt, to really get a mass atrocity going, you need idealism. Just what we wouldn't expect to hear! You need those who believe they are creating a perfect society or those who believe they are fighting the source of evil. You need the true believer for that, because the true believer believes the end justifies the means, and that his or her group has a "moral mandate" to disregard "ordinary" rules and "do what hast to be done." Good stuff, huh? Oh, and "the myth of pure evil," and the relevance of Manichaean thinking to today's terribly polarized political reality.... And in Haidt, unlike Kahneman, the reader meets illustrious people from history and their ideas--prophets and poets and philosophers. The reader gets to meet Boethius again, he of "The Consolation of Philosophy" whom I'd come across recently in the Odyssey of the West series on medieval times. Not to mention Buddha and Jesus (with obvious relevance to the "blind spot" discussed above--the log in one's own eye) and Thomas Jefferson and Shakespeare and Benjamin Franklin and Plato....

  9. 4 out of 5

    Karson

    The short conclusion at the end of this book was really good. I wish the rest of the book stuck to the author's concise summary a little bit better. In some of Haidt's best advice within the whole book he says, "Just as plants need sun, water, and good soil to thrive, people need love, work, and a connection to something larger." He adds, "You have to get the conditions right, and then wait." There are a lot of other good insights in the book, but I find them to be burried in piles of other not The short conclusion at the end of this book was really good. I wish the rest of the book stuck to the author's concise summary a little bit better. In some of Haidt's best advice within the whole book he says, "Just as plants need sun, water, and good soil to thrive, people need love, work, and a connection to something larger." He adds, "You have to get the conditions right, and then wait." There are a lot of other good insights in the book, but I find them to be burried in piles of other not-so-compelling somewhat dry information. I would prefer something a little more contemplative. Something that quotes the ancient wisdom, but doesn't add as much commentary. Haidt has another insight that jives closely with an insight in another book I reviewed called, "Finding Clarity" by Jeru Kabbal. Basically the observation is that humans are like icebergs. There is a little portion that sticks above the water that we are aware of and in control of, and then there is a huge mammoth of a hunk of ice under the water that we are not aware of or in control of. We would like to think that our awareness steers our ship, but, in truth, it is the huge portion hidden under the water that directs our actions and hardens them into habits that become the building blocks of our personality. The most we can do is become aware of our subconscious selves, accept it for what it is, respect it, and work with it. Twas a good book, if you are willing to wade through some dryness to get to the good stuff.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Michael Johnston

    Finished reading this last night. Two things first - 1) the book is not really about ancient wisdom. It's primarily about current research/thinking in the field of Psychology on emotional happiness. 2) The first third of the book is among the most depressing things I have ever read. The book starts by focusing on the view that humans have virtually no control over our own ability to be happy (or miserable). It's genetic - we are born with an innate predisposition towards personal happiness or mi Finished reading this last night. Two things first - 1) the book is not really about ancient wisdom. It's primarily about current research/thinking in the field of Psychology on emotional happiness. 2) The first third of the book is among the most depressing things I have ever read. The book starts by focusing on the view that humans have virtually no control over our own ability to be happy (or miserable). It's genetic - we are born with an innate predisposition towards personal happiness or misery. In addition, the author focuses on a psychological view that people don't take moral or ethical actions out of an essential human goodness. Rather, we are programmed through evolution only to take actions that benefit us personally and even when we act ethically our moral compass may be off (that is, we may convince ourselves that we are being kind and morally upstanding when our objectively tested actions show that we are not). Haidt cites research that even those accused and convicted of history's most heinous crimes acted only out of the pursuit of some type of twisted greater moral good. At this point, I nearly put the book down. How can one embrace an outlook on life that implies both that we have no choice in how we act and that our actions are entirely self-serving in any case. That is a sad world. Yet, I'm glad that I didn't put the book down. After this worldview was described, the book began to change and some wonderful and powerful images began to surface. For example, Haidt talks about posttraumatic stress growth - a circumstance in which people respond to tragedy and trauma by finding a path to personal growth and in the process change their lives in fundamental ways that allow them to lead happier, more meaningful lives. Even better, he cites research that people who maintain strong social connections, belong to groups, have religious faith, have strong marriages, and help others are more optimistic and happier. Here then, he suggests, are lessons in how we can overcome our genetic limitations. He also touches on virtue and character and poses an interesting idea. The liberals have it right when it comes to diversity. Demographic diversity, as he calls it (diversity of race, sex, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and religious faith), creates a more just society. On the other hand, conservatives have it right on the need for agreement on a set of core societal values because in our effort to embrace diversity, moral diversity has disconnected us from our cultural moorings. He suggests we need a core of moral values and virtues to teach our children if we expect them to live lives of character and value. If you can get through the first third of the book without falling into a deep depression, you will find a truly interesting and valuable read. Both an intellectually interesting view on the personal and societal infrastructure that can make us happier and a world view that refuses to give in to factionalism (he is an atheist, but sees important value in religious beliefs and a liberal who embraces some of the ideas from conservatives). Whether you agree with any of his ideas or not, read it because it will stimulate your thinking and encourage personal introspection.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Masoud

    This book is about the top ten theories of modern research on happiness. Each chapter of the book is an attempt to get acquainted with a theory that has been discovered by a number of world civilizations. Also, with the information we have gained from scientific research today, this book critiques these theories in parts. The author also tries to draw lessons from these theories that are still applicable in our lives today.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Orton Family Foundation

    I’ve often marveled at how seemingly rational people can forgo reason when engaged in public debate over a land use issue. A few years back I was involved in a community meeting about a new village scale project being proposed for the center of a small Vermont town. Even faced with a plethora of facts, figures and testimonials to the contrary, many people held fast to their belief that the project—designed to mimic the design and spacing of the clustered houses already in the village center—woul I’ve often marveled at how seemingly rational people can forgo reason when engaged in public debate over a land use issue. A few years back I was involved in a community meeting about a new village scale project being proposed for the center of a small Vermont town. Even faced with a plethora of facts, figures and testimonials to the contrary, many people held fast to their belief that the project—designed to mimic the design and spacing of the clustered houses already in the village center—would result in traffic congestion, loss of views and lost sleep due to noisy neighbors. People too easily ignored the positive aspects of the project—avoidance of sprawl, better traffic flow from a new street network—and dwelled only on potential, if unlikely, negative effects. It proved difficult for people to think openly and rationally about this project. Thanks to a new book about happiness, of all things, I am beginning to understand why. In his book, The Happiness Hypothesis, Jonathan Haidt (a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia) offers insight into where this type of irrational response comes from and why it is so hard for us to change our opinions and our behavior. Combining the wisdom of the past (from Freud to Buddha, Shakespeare to the Bible) with the latest cognitive research, Haidt engages the reader in an insightful exploration of what makes us happy and how we find meaning in our lives, and offers clues to understanding erratic personal and social behavior along the way. Many of the clues come from an understanding of the workings of the human mind—much of the book is devoted to this, starting with a very readable discussion of brain physiology and its impact on human responses. Throughout the book, Haidt provides a menu of things that we need to consider, work on, and ultimately achieve in order to find happiness. This could have resulted in a “self help” book but, thankfully, The Happiness Hypothesis avoids that fate. Of particular usefulness to the planning field, or at least for understanding the dynamic of the meeting I attended, is the description of how the human mind is divided and often in conflict, resulting in a situation where feelings take preference over reasoning. Haidt uses the analogy of a rider (our rational and conscious self or ego) trying to control an elephant that often has its own desires and agenda (our unconscious, emotional self) to explain why we often have difficulty behaving in a rational way. It turns out it is sometimes very hard to control what our elephant does. Haidt takes this concept further by looking at the evolution of the brain. In order to survive, humans have learned to take quick action when faced with a threat (“that is something that can eat me”) and respond slower when faced with opportunity (“should I catch and eat that frog now or later?”). As our species evolved, the fearful and cautious response was reinforced because it helped us survive and has now been hardwired into our brains. Consequently, our brain’s automatic system, our survival mechanism, is much stronger and more developed than our controlled system which reasons and plans, weighing pros and cons before taking action. The result is that we respond first, and rational thought comes later. We don’t necessarily need such a strong automatic response today, but remnants of it give us what Haidt refers to as a “negative bias” and explain why we react strongly to threats, like a new kind development next door, that we fear may impact our quality of life, even if our reaction is irrational or pre-rational. This makes it difficult for us to engage in new or forward thinking. It also reduces the likelihood that we will be influenced by facts or arguments that speak to the rational rider, but not to the emotional elephant. To make matters worse, our brain is hard-wired to invent a rational argument or justification for our irrational behavior (i.e., the rider will invent an explanation for why the elephant does something that makes no sense). The take-home message—as it relates to planning and bringing about changes in attitude and behavior—is to not focus so much on conscious thought (the rider), and the typical rational analysis of a situation in order to influence a decision, but rather to find ways to train the elephant to think and behave differently. Haidt suggests personal work to understand and improve ourselves as individuals, offering up meditation, cognitive therapy and Prozac as the three main pathways to this retraining. Although a part of me is really tempted to find out what would happen if all planning meeting participants were given a mood altering drug prior to public debate, I think there are less controversial approaches worth exploring first. Perhaps we need to de-emphasize the facts and set the ground work for a better public process by finding ways to help people in our communities understand their social lives, and habitual responses and behaviors, in a way that makes it possible for them to be less influenced by the behavior of their elephant. Then maybe they can engage with others more effectively. Complete Buddhist enlightenment may be too much to hope for, but if everyone worked a little harder to acknowledge and rein in their elephants we’d all be better off. Read more reviews by the Orton Family Foundation in our Scenarios e-journal at http://www.orton.org/resources/public... -Karen Yacos

  13. 4 out of 5

    Mehrsa

    You've heard of every single study in this book--marshmallows, monkeys and moms, etc. But Haidt's book is one of the best in this genre--he mixes modern psychological research (which I think by itself does not lend to a coherent worldview though many have tried to weave one) with some ancient ideas as well as some evolutionary truths. The point of this book, as he says, is not to tell you the meaning of life (why are we here, where do we go, etc), but how to have a meaningful (or happy) life. He You've heard of every single study in this book--marshmallows, monkeys and moms, etc. But Haidt's book is one of the best in this genre--he mixes modern psychological research (which I think by itself does not lend to a coherent worldview though many have tried to weave one) with some ancient ideas as well as some evolutionary truths. The point of this book, as he says, is not to tell you the meaning of life (why are we here, where do we go, etc), but how to have a meaningful (or happy) life. He's very realistic. We all have a happiness setpoint and the only way to move it is through meditation, cognitive therapy or Prozac--though he seems most sold on the latter. That's my one quip on the book--for some reason, it just can't be that Prozac is the secret to happiness. Though I have never taken it myself so I may be missing out.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    My pop-psychology bingo card was full by like page 30 . . . did you know that humans are most comfortable with a social circle of 150 people? Did you know that children who can resist stealing a cookie have better self-control later in life? Did you know that we have two 'minds' that are often in conflict with each other? Did you know that half-assed evolutionary psychology just-so stories can be presented as a plausible explanation for absolutely anything? Well, if you've read Kahneman or Gilbe My pop-psychology bingo card was full by like page 30 . . . did you know that humans are most comfortable with a social circle of 150 people? Did you know that children who can resist stealing a cookie have better self-control later in life? Did you know that we have two 'minds' that are often in conflict with each other? Did you know that half-assed evolutionary psychology just-so stories can be presented as a plausible explanation for absolutely anything? Well, if you've read Kahneman or Gilbert or Gladwell or literally anything else in this genre, then yes, you already knew. I suppose it may not be fair to Haidt that I happened to read the others first, but even so, Haidt's presentation is particularly shallow -- this book convinced me that his later work must be somehow worse than I thought?

  15. 4 out of 5

    Mario Tomic

    5 star, pure wisdom! This book gave me great insights on how our mind works. It's a great combination of scientific research, philosophy and psychology of today diving deep to figure out what really makes us happy. I highly recommended reading this book, if someone would say that I had only 3 books to pick for them this would be one of them. If you're wondering about the reasons for our seemingly never-ending pursuit of happiness and meaning "The Happiness Hypothesis" will give you very solid an 5 star, pure wisdom! This book gave me great insights on how our mind works. It's a great combination of scientific research, philosophy and psychology of today diving deep to figure out what really makes us happy. I highly recommended reading this book, if someone would say that I had only 3 books to pick for them this would be one of them. If you're wondering about the reasons for our seemingly never-ending pursuit of happiness and meaning "The Happiness Hypothesis" will give you very solid answers.

  16. 4 out of 5

    The Pirate Ghost (Formerly known as the Curmudgeon)

    “Do people have a tendency to dump on you? Does your group have more cavities than theirs? Do all the hippies seem to get the jump on you? Do you sleep alone when others sleep in pairs? Well there’s no need to complain We’ll eliminate your pain We can neutralize your brain You’ll feel just fine Now Buy a big bright green pleasure machine! Do figures of authority just shoot you down? Is life within the business world a drag? Did your boss just mention that you’d better shop around To find yourself a more pro “Do people have a tendency to dump on you? Does your group have more cavities than theirs? Do all the hippies seem to get the jump on you? Do you sleep alone when others sleep in pairs? Well there’s no need to complain We’ll eliminate your pain We can neutralize your brain You’ll feel just fine Now Buy a big bright green pleasure machine! Do figures of authority just shoot you down? Is life within the business world a drag? Did your boss just mention that you’d better shop around To find yourself a more productive bag? Are you worried and distressed? Can’t seem to get no rest? Put our product to the test You’ll feel just fine Now Buy a big bright green pleasure machine!...” (The Bright Green Pleasure machine, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, Parsley Sage Rosemary and Thyme) Okay, maybe Johnathan Haidt’s not selling a bright green pleasure machine. Haidt, researcher and social psychologist explains a lot about how people have grown and developed. He gives no preference to any religion, or to no religion but looks instead at the ties that bind relationships together from those of citizens, to genetically linked groups and families, to people of religious faith. Or as he said in his famous “Ted Talk”.. “it explains why would agree that anyone might go to Applebee’s, just not anyone that you know.” It is an insightful read, backed up by empirical data from research, both his and by others. Haidt breaks down how humans have developed and lived together. How we can ascend to great heights or fall to tragic depths. All of this is in search of one question asked two ways, “what is the meaning of life.” For some people that is better asked, “what is the purpose of life,” for others, “how do we get meaning out of the our lives?” Haidt’s a good writer and he has a sense of humor. His description of the human psyche, personality or brain as an Elephant and a rider is based on modern research (1970s and later) but does not ignore our past. It is also a wonderful metaphor that helps understand why people do things as they do them. He works on a macro level to categorize things like virtues that seem to be universal but are not always, and also takes very specific journeys. Perhaps best is that Haidt, an atheist, is incredibly respectful of religion and people of faith. He explores different cultures both in religion and in other developmental aspects and comes up with his own Happiness Hypothesis. If I were to take issue with what Haidt has strung together it is that, though I feel he understands this, what he wrote about genetic behavior does not translate in a way that reflects the science on it. This may because we haven’t learned how to discuss genetic behavior in a way that does not sound “black and white.” Genetic behavior is not characterized by, if you have the gene, you have the behavior. It is more that you have the potential for this genetic behavior to develop. There are also other potentials and the environment in which you live plays a role in activating these potentials. In the grand scheme of things, that should not take away from Haidt’s message. Another issue would be, “how does this help us be happy.” Haidt’s book, if it were intended to be a tool to help people find happiness rather than inform, works by the theory that “awareness is the key to change.” That only works for some people. Though there is plenty of information for those who have to “do to achieve change,” the perspective is more suited to people who are by nature introspective and, willing to challenge themselves and explore new beliefs. Even Haidt discusses in his book how that description does not apply to everybody. Those two things aside, there is much worth reading here about how our cultures and societies formed and what holds relationships together or what is “innate” in the natural make up of Mankind. It’s a good read and I recommend it. It reflects modern thinking, modern science and a modern look at how people, groups and personalities are put together. What comes naturally to us, and what that is based on and what comes through hard lessons? I give it 5 stars as the best short book about social psychology and the meaning of life in a while. Open-mindedness helps.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Kirk

    I was recommended this book by a friend. Going in, I was skeptical - the premise sounded like some sort of self-help hand wavy junk. When I realized the ambition of the book, I got much more interested. To me, the concept seemed great: "here's an ancient theory on life from an important philosopher, here's some modern science that provides empirical evidence for this theory so it seems they were correct and we should follow his / her advice." However, I think this book may have reached too far a I was recommended this book by a friend. Going in, I was skeptical - the premise sounded like some sort of self-help hand wavy junk. When I realized the ambition of the book, I got much more interested. To me, the concept seemed great: "here's an ancient theory on life from an important philosopher, here's some modern science that provides empirical evidence for this theory so it seems they were correct and we should follow his / her advice." However, I think this book may have reached too far and ultimately failed in its intention. First, the book slipped between using modern studies to buttress the arguments of philosophers and using modern studies to extend these arguments. For me there's a big difference between saying 'look! modern psychological experiments suggest that Aristotle was right about X!' and 'experiments say X, when combined with Aristotle's Y we can infer A.' You can't assume that Y is correct! He picks and chooses theories from his favorite philosophers and combines this with science to tell a nice story, but it too often takes these initial unsupported arguments for granted. As someone who also studied some philosophy in college, I can say that ancient philosophers were wrong about quite a lot, and calling it 'Wisdom of the Ancients' doesn't make me any more inclined to accept these arguments at face value. So when Haidt would give a suggestion, I would feel like the premise was still unsupported. So in the end, it felt kind of self-helpy and hand-wavy after all. Second, I just don't like the way the book was written. Haidt tries to take a Gladwellian approach to his book: here's an idea, here's some cherry-picked research, here's an insightful quote, and here's a relevant anecdote to hammer the point home. Without turning this into a rant about the intellectual bankruptcy of Malcolm Gladwell's arguments, Haidt tries to do something similar and ultimately is just not as good at it. Gladwell is a great storyteller. For all the selective inclusion and overlooked counterarguments in his books, he finds some very colorful and engaging stories to include. Haidt attempts to enhance his arguments using personal anecdotes about his own life journey that just aren't as interesting. I think Haidt's arguments may have more intellectual honesty behind them than Gladwell but I'm still not convinced - and at least with Gladwell I got a good story out of it. It's a shame this book was written before "Thinking Fast and Slow" by Kahneman, because there are a lot of overlaps between the two, especially in the first couple chapters. "Thinking Fast and Slow" does a better job of both explaining contemporary research and drawing conclusions from it. Supplementing what is shown in that book with parallels in ancient philosophy could have made this book more of a success. Additionally, Kahneman's heuristic of "System I" and "System II" work so much better for me than Haidt's more forced metaphor of an "Elephant and it's Rider". If you're looking for books to understand the human mind and how we work, I would recommend "Thinking Fast and Slow" (Kahneman), "Predictably Irrational" (Ariely), and "Drive" (Pink) ahead of this book. While none directly address 'life fulfillment', you can use what you learn there to better understand how your mind works, how to interact with other people (hint: give people the benefit of the doubt more), and feel more motivated in your life. These books are backed up by experimental evidence instead of just conjecture and in the end you can leave the philosophy behind.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Tom LA

    I loved Haidt's most recent book, "The righteous mind". This one (written years earlier) contains a lot of fascinating insights, but it seemed to me a little weaker. While "Righteous mind" examines the origins of morality, "Happiness" goes through some studies of happiness that I have already found or heard elsewhere, and it draws pertinent links with some ancient wisdom. According to Haidt, the ones among us who have lost at the "cortex lottery" and are therefore less naturally prone to be happ I loved Haidt's most recent book, "The righteous mind". This one (written years earlier) contains a lot of fascinating insights, but it seemed to me a little weaker. While "Righteous mind" examines the origins of morality, "Happiness" goes through some studies of happiness that I have already found or heard elsewhere, and it draws pertinent links with some ancient wisdom. According to Haidt, the ones among us who have lost at the "cortex lottery" and are therefore less naturally prone to be happy, can greatly enhance their happiness through 1) meditation 2) cognitive therapy and 3) prozac. I do not agree with this view. Like many psychological theories, I find it cynical and de-humanizing, especially the statement that if nature didn't give you a happy-go-lucky personality, you start off your life as a loser. Also, like many atheists, Haidt (in this book) is in love with his own idea of oriental meditation, and never once he mentions that the same neurological benefits can be obtained through prayer. Finally, the thing I liked the least: the value that Haidt gives to behavioral psychology experiments. I cringe at any type of psychological "experiment" or "test", and the book is full of them. You know, when they call you in, put you in a certain situation and measure your reactions, your feelings or your behavior. A long trend of studies, made very popular by Dr. Milgram, the one who asked candidates to administer electrical shocks to a man in the other room. Something pretty much as scientific as Ron Hubbard when he was sticking electrodes into tomatoes and peppers. I just don't buy any of that stuff. The tests always seem to end up 1) proving the ridiculously obvious, or 2) proving whatever the researcher intended to prove from the start. It seems to me that only a culture that is very poor in emotional intelligence would consider these as important or serious studies. For example, somehow I do not picture behavioral psychology tests being taken with the same seriousness in southern Italy, Spain or Greece, where any conclusion that you can draw from the "psychological experiment" is already crystal clear and freely available to anyone, irrespective of education, age or status.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance

    And thus we move, logically, to The Happiness Hypothesis. Ben Tanaka, main character of Shortcomings, could use The Happiness Hypothesis. Ginger Pye and the rest of the Pye family apparently intuitively knew The Happiness Hypothesis. Haidt looks at ancient wisdom and compares it to the result of the new science of positive psychology. Some of the things I learned from this book: *Reciprocity is the best guide to life. This is the classic “Do unto others” thought. *There are three effective ways t And thus we move, logically, to The Happiness Hypothesis. Ben Tanaka, main character of Shortcomings, could use The Happiness Hypothesis. Ginger Pye and the rest of the Pye family apparently intuitively knew The Happiness Hypothesis. Haidt looks at ancient wisdom and compares it to the result of the new science of positive psychology. Some of the things I learned from this book: *Reciprocity is the best guide to life. This is the classic “Do unto others” thought. *There are three effective ways to happiness: meditation, cognitive therapy, and Prozac. *People have good insight about other people, but are terrible in judging themselves. They cannot see their own flaws. *Instead of trying to improve weaknesses, we should work on our strengths. Often we can use a strength to get around a weakness. *The personality is now thought to have three components: (1) our basic and classic traits of neuroticism and extroversion, (2) the ways we characteristically adapt including openness to new experiences, agreeableness, and conscientiousness, and (3) our life story, the way we have made sense of our lives. *It takes adversity to reach our highest levels. Posttraumatic growth is rising to the challenges of problems, which reveals hidden abilities and changes our self-concept.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    Using psychology, philosophy, theology*, and some biology, Jonathan Haidt digs into what brings true happiness and how we define it. I like how intellectually engaging this book was. Most of the studies, philosophies, and ideas he presents should be familiar to anyone who keeps up with the topics. However, I've never seen them combined like this. It really is about "modern truth" born from "ancient wisdom." Now, while I found this book engaging, I did not agree with all of it. This is pretty und Using psychology, philosophy, theology*, and some biology, Jonathan Haidt digs into what brings true happiness and how we define it. I like how intellectually engaging this book was. Most of the studies, philosophies, and ideas he presents should be familiar to anyone who keeps up with the topics. However, I've never seen them combined like this. It really is about "modern truth" born from "ancient wisdom." Now, while I found this book engaging, I did not agree with all of it. This is pretty understandable, considering Jonathan Haidt and I approach the world from two very different worldviews. (He could really do with some C.S. Lewis.) But I respect and I appreciate his willingness to engage with ideas and worldviews he disagrees with and doesn't understand. I find it interesting he looks to The Purpose Driven Life as a sort of "Christian" voice and if I have one critique there, it would be that he seems to consider the "religious right" in a very narrow, 1990s era way. Being seeped in the "religious right", however, I know a shift has taken place generationally in how we talk about faith, politics, and a meaningful life. However, that is not a nuance I would expect from someone looking in. Accordingly, I acknowledge he does the best he can to understand it considering how far he disagrees with it. I do not understanding why he felt the need to repeatedly reference fundamentalist homeschooling their children, but that can be debated another day. I like Haidt's take on wonder. I think he demonstrates a healthy understanding of awe and the role in plays in our world. I particularly appreciate the way he traces science "shift" from awe and move to categorize. It was very intriguing. Overall, I recommend this one. The phrase "intellectually engaging" keeps coming to mind. But perhaps, emotionally engaging too. I didn't discover any new truths within its pages, but I learned to think about things differently and see commonality where previously I might be inclined to make a quick assumption. *I use the word loosely. I don't know that the author would consider it theology, especially as he doesn't seem to understand it (like his description of good v. bad.)

  21. 4 out of 5

    Julie

    I've been slogging away at this book for nearly a month, which is unusual for me. Usually, if I stall on a book (as I did with three other books I started reading over the month of February), I simply put it down with a note that it's been partially read. But The Happiness Hypothesis was so compelling that I kept coming back after putting it down and letting my mind digest the material. It's a book that's designed to be read slowly. I discovered this book through Switch, by Chip and Dan Heath, wh I've been slogging away at this book for nearly a month, which is unusual for me. Usually, if I stall on a book (as I did with three other books I started reading over the month of February), I simply put it down with a note that it's been partially read. But The Happiness Hypothesis was so compelling that I kept coming back after putting it down and letting my mind digest the material. It's a book that's designed to be read slowly. I discovered this book through Switch, by Chip and Dan Heath, who borrow Haidt's metaphor of the mind as a rider on an elephant. Haidt asks us to imagine our mind as a rider (your conscious self) trying to direct an elephant (your subconscious self). To some extent, the rider can manhandle the elephant into doing what it wants, but things work out much better if he can train the elephant into going along the proper path. This metaphor helps explain much of the rest of the book. Later chapters use psychology, neurology, biology, and anthropology to explain the sometimes-confusing world of our minds and our societies. Why do we feel the need to get revenge on someone, even if it doesn't bring us any personal gain? Why are we so likely to see faults in other but not ourselves? How can we find love and happiness? How can we overcome adversity? And, in the pursuit of the ultimate question, what is the meaning of life? This is an absolutely fascinating book, and I highly recommend it. You'll start to see some of the underlying reasons behind things that might previous have been a mystery. I expect I'll come back to this book and reread it every few years, because it's just so rich with information.

  22. 4 out of 5

    jenny✨

    solid connections between history, philosophy, and psychology, bringing up interesting ideas about the utility (to put it clinically) of adversity—the book was more than a little self-absorbed, however.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Phil

    Jonathan Haidt’s The Happiness Hypothesis bears the subtitle Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom. Executives at Basic Books no doubt felt that this was a little too lofty and academic sounding for the average Indigo-browsing reader of pop-psychology, because the book also bears the second, much sexier subtitle Why the Meaningful Life is Closer Than You Think. Each of these three titles seems to point in a somewhat different direction. But whether wittingly or unwittingly, this veritable schiz Jonathan Haidt’s The Happiness Hypothesis bears the subtitle Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom. Executives at Basic Books no doubt felt that this was a little too lofty and academic sounding for the average Indigo-browsing reader of pop-psychology, because the book also bears the second, much sexier subtitle Why the Meaningful Life is Closer Than You Think. Each of these three titles seems to point in a somewhat different direction. But whether wittingly or unwittingly, this veritable schizophrenia of titles actually does a decent job of capturing the eclecticism of Haidt’s method in the book. In fact, he may as well have called it Some Findings of Contemporary Framed by the Thought of Ancient Authors and Packaged for Your Self-Help Convenience. The stated aim of the book is to examine ten Great Ideas articulated in various traditions around the world—Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Western philosophy—in order to “question it in light of what we now know from scientific research, and to extract from it lessons that still apply to our modern lives” (p. ix). Interestingly, this amalgam of serious psychological research and pop-psychological self-help may actually place him a lot closer to some of the Hellenistic philosophers whom he cites than most of contemporary philosophy. The first two Ideas Haidt addresses touch on the nature of the human mind: first, that the mind is divided into parts that sometimes conflict; and second, that it shapes our perception of the world. Haidt begins by describing the various dualisms that fragment human identity: mind vs. body, left brain vs. right brain, old brain (the limbic system) vs. new brain (the neocortex), controlled vs. automatic processes. Against the information-processing models of the mind popularized in the 20th Century, he argues that the majority of our mental processes are automatic, requiring no conscious attention. This gives him the occasion to introduce his now-famous (if overused) metaphor of the human mind as composed of a rider and an elephant: automatic processes (the elephant) are in charge, and controlled processes (the rider) function primarily as interpretive modules with little real power over human action. He then goes on to use this model to explain the manner in which automatic processes colour our perception of the world. Among our automatic processes is what is sometimes called a “like-o-meter”: we have immediate and instinctive like/dislike reactions to phenomena, which unconsciously guide our decisions to approach or to withdraw from them. The way this like-o-meter is calibrated determined our affective stance—that is, how positively or negatively we tend to see the world. Although Haidt argues that our affective stance is to a large extent genetically predetermined, he also outlines methods that have proven successful in modifying it, namely meditation, cognitive therapy, and antidepressants. The second set of Ideas Haidt addresses pertain to our social life. The first of these is the claim, echoed across religions and traditions, that reciprocity is the heart of morality; the second, that human beings are hypocritical by nature. Haidt argues that human beings have an instinctive understanding of reciprocity: the strategy of tit-for-tat—along with the related emotions of vengefulness and gratitude—are “built into” human psychology and form the lens through which we view social interactions. From an evolutionary standpoint, he suggests that reciprocity is the key to our ultrasociality: it allowed us to transcend kin altruism in order to form cooperative relationships with strangers and reap their benefits. However, Haidt points out that there is also a dark side to human ultrasociality. Our need to see ourselves—both as individuals and as a group—as worthy cooperators give rise to marked asymmetries in the standards by which we evaluate our own actions and those of others. Here, our general tendencies toward motivated reasoning and confirmation bias manifest themselves in our aptitude at finding excuses for our bad behaviour while failing to extend the same courtesy to others. It is also reflected in our tendency to look the world through the “Myth of Pure Evil”—that is, our tendency to condemn the faults of others as the product of their inherent wickedness while excusing our own as the results of external contingencies. Here again, Haidt points to meditation and self-scrutiny as ways to undermine these immensely harmful cognitive biases and to forge better relationships with others. The next couple of Great Ideas address the sources of human happiness. The first is the view, commonly associated with Stoicism and Buddhism, that happiness can be found only within, not without; and the second, incompatible, view that human beings find meaning and fulfillment only through their relationships with others. Haidt maintains that the Stoic-Buddhist goes too far: contemporary psychological research suggests that happiness comes, at least in part, from outside yourself. It is true that our happiness depends largely on our genetic makeup and that we tend to adapt to whatever happens to us by recalibrating our goals, hopes, and expectations. Nonetheless, certain factors appear to resist adaptation and to lead to net increases or decreases in our level of happiness. Strong social connections and access to a moderate amount of resources are key to happiness, whereas bad relationships and a felt lack of control have the opposite effect. Particularly important for a sense of meaning is what Haidt calls “flow”—that is, the state of total immersion (of “being in the zone”) that occurs when we are faced with a challenge, when we have the skills to meet it, and get immediate feedback about how we’re doing. In such cases, automatic and conscious processes—the elephant and the rider—are in perfect harmony. Equally important are long-lasting attachment to particular others and the obligations and constraints that they bring with them. These are crucial for providing structure to our lives and to retaining the sense of security and control required for fulfillment. In light of this analysis, Haidt cautions against the misguided pursuit of wealth and passion and the excessive valorization of negative liberty. Instead, he advises us to organize our days in such a way as to maximize flow and to pursue compassionate long-lasting relationships. After the nature of happiness, Haidt moves on to the conditions of human growth and development. Here he considers, first, the idea that people need adversity to reach the highest levels of personal development, and second, the view that cultivating virtue makes us happy. Regarding the former, he defends what he calls a “weak adversity hypothesis”: adversity can lead to growth, e.g. by revealing our abilities, strengthening our relationships, and reordering our priorities. He frames this in terms of a three-level model of personality as consisting of basic traits (e.g. extroversion, openness, agreeableness, conscientiousness), adaptations (personal goals, coping mechanisms, values, beliefs), and a life story that integrates our past, present, and future into a coherent “life myth.” On this model, the key to growth is sense-making at the level of life story. Although adversity is unlikely to be beneficial if it is so major as to be insurmountable or if it occurs too early or too late in life, he argues that moderate adversity, especially in the late teens and early twenties gives us a chance to reevaluate our goals and change our adaptions in order to establish coherence between the various levels of our personalities. Regarding what he calls the “virtue hypothesis,” Haidt sides with the Ancients against the Moderns in emphasizing good character over right action. In his view, modern moral philosophy errs in divorcing morality from happiness and in overestimating the power of reason to bring about desired conduct: “Trying to teach children to behave ethically by teaching them to reason is like trying to teach a dog to be happy by wagging its tail” (p. 165). As Haidt understands it, virtue consists in a “well-trained elephant,” i.e. in the taming of automatic processes via habit. It is primarily in this ancient sense of ἀρετή (arete, excellence) that virtue is its own reward. The final two chapters pertain to the nature of meaning itself. The first Big Idea Haidt considers in this connection is that there is something divine in human beings, and the second, that meaning is achieved through unity with a larger whole. He begins by advancing the view that the human mind perceives three dimensions of social space: in addition to the vertical and horizontal dimensions of hierarchy and closeness, we are intuitively aware of a third (diagonal?) dimension that he calls divinity or sacredness. The perception of sacredness is associated with a special emotion, which we might call elevation or uplift. It is characterized by the sense of oneness with and love for everything captured in the Christian concept of agape. He argues that, whether or not we believe in God (or other supernatural entities or planes), human life is impoverished when we lose sight of divinity and let the world collapse in two dimensions. Then, he moves on to what is arguable the central thesis of the book, namely, that happiness comes from between. That is, it comes from a variety of conditions, some of which are within us, and some of which are without. We are social creatures who need long-lasting attachments and strong communal ties. We are industrious creatures who need the satisfaction of self-directed labour and who thrive as part of a larger whole. We are also deeply divided creatures who need to establish coherence between the various levels of our personalities. Happiness comes when we get these conditions right. The Happiness Hypothesis is an excellent book: intellectual but accessible, eminently readable, very well researched, and immediately relevant. Admittedly, the book isn’t perfect. Haidt does have a bit of a tendency toward evolutionary “just-so” stories that push the bounds of the plausible—his discussion of the evolution of language as a vehicle for gossip here being a case in point. His treatment of morality also often runs into contradictions at the meta-normative level. Although he frequently speaks as though there were nothing to moral discourse apart from rationalizations of fundamentally irrational intuitions, he at the same time wants to speak about cognitive biases impairing our moral thinking—the first being a distinctly anti-realist view, and the second having inescapably realist implications. Relatedly, he falls prey to the insidious disease of moral psychology that consists in jumping from factual premises about the human mind to normative conclusions— as if, for instance, the fact that we tend to be more altruistic when experiencing a feeling x (e.g. elevation) makes irrelevant the question whether there are reasons to be altruistic, whether or not we are currently experiencing x. However, these flaws are relatively minor. The book as a whole is a triumphant achievement in our understanding of ourselves. Perhaps most enlightening is that it highlights just how much modern Western society fails miserably to secure those things that are most important to human well-being. There can be no denying that modern democratic societies are tremendous advances over other forms of social organization. But from the superficiality of relationships in the age of social media and online dating to the alienated wage labour of market capitalism, from the excessive individualism of consumer culture to the negative liberty of liberal self-understanding, it seems that we in the West have become uniquely blind to some of the most important sources of human happiness.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    Don’t be put off by the title! It sounds wishy-washy, but it’s not. Haidt’s claims are specific and empirical, and are backed-up with citations to published studies. The Happiness Hypothesis serves two functions: (1) it’s a psychology professor’s introduction to his chosen subfield (“positive psychology”), which aims to help people “find happiness and meaning” (Kindle Loc. 132); and (2) it explores the continued applicability of (mostly ancient and/or religious) philosophical and moral ideas, in Don’t be put off by the title! It sounds wishy-washy, but it’s not. Haidt’s claims are specific and empirical, and are backed-up with citations to published studies. The Happiness Hypothesis serves two functions: (1) it’s a psychology professor’s introduction to his chosen subfield (“positive psychology”), which aims to help people “find happiness and meaning” (Kindle Loc. 132); and (2) it explores the continued applicability of (mostly ancient and/or religious) philosophical and moral ideas, in light of (relatively) recent empirical findings. First, the social science. Haidt employs a simple analytical framework throughout the book: [subjective self-reported] happiness = biological set point + conditions of one’s life (some of which are changeable) + voluntary activities. (Loc. 1772) His book spends its pages explaining which conditions and activities correlate with increased subjective well-being (and sometimes the experiments show explicit causation). Many of the findings Haidt reports are unsurprising but important nonetheless; I present four of my favorite takeaways. (1) Be aware of the adaptation principle: after you buy better/bigger/nicer things, you’ll quickly get used to them; instead, spend money on improving your circumstances in a way that, on average, will improve your subjective well-being: e.g. studies show that moving to a bigger house farther away from one’s place of work isn’t wise (“people quickly adapt to having more space, [but] they don’t fully adapt to the longer commute, particularly if it involves driving in heavy traffic.” (Loc 1795)). [Living near loud noises, e.g., a busy intersection, is like a long commute in that people do not fully adapt to it.] (2) Realize that your brain is populated with self serving biases, and that correcting them takes active work: research shows that it’s not enough to simply know that the biases exist (Loc. 1395), so force yourself to write down weaknesses in whatever position/case/argument you’re advocating: you’ll emerge from the exercise with a more nuanced/balanced (and accurate) assessment of the persuasiveness and/or the chance it will prevail (Loc. 1414). (3) Find something that engages you for long periods of time, ideally as part of your job. Haidt explains the findings of Csikszentmihalyi’s investigations into people’s level of enjoyment of their current activities (“experience sampling method”): [His] big discovery is that there is a state many people value even more than chocolate after sex. It is the state of total immersion in a task that is challenging yet closely matched to one’s abilities. It is what people sometimes call “being in the zone.” Csikszentmihalyi called it “flow” because it often feels like effortless movement. . . . The keys to flow: There’s a clear challenge that fully engages your attention; you have the skills to meet the challenge; and you get immediate feedback about how you are doing at each step (the progress principle) [which states that on average people report more pleasure from making progress towards goals than from achieving them]. (loc 1856) Note that this finding suggests that people should find and follow their strengths (and work on strengthening their strengths, which they’ll find rewarding and which can help them as much as trying to allay weaknesses) (Loc. 4062). (4) Remember that you’re not an island: having strong social relationships-yes, even those with annoying ties and obligations-produces an absurd host of physical and emotional benefits. (loc 2527) The Happiness Hypothesis also incorporates ancient philosophy. In addition to Aristotle et. al., the author weaves in quotes from Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Shakespeare, and then shows how certain studies support them, or require an augmenting of the chosen phrases. Haidt also clarifies the relationship between positive psychology and these Great Thinkers of the past, breaking it down into two questions: the first involves the question of why we all exist (just for philosophers/theologians/physicists), while the second is something like “How can I find a sense of meaning and purpose?” (Loc 3990). The second question is (he argues) empirical, and thus amenable to positive psychology’s inquiries. The inquiries don’t produce a single “how to live” answer, but rather offer a ying-yang-type balance: We were shaped by individual selection to be selfish creatures who struggle for resources, pleasure, and prestige, and we were shaped by group selection to be hive creatures who long to lose ourselves in something larger. We are social creatures who need love and attachments, and we are industrious creatures with needs for effectance, able to enter a state of vital engagement with our work. We are the rider [Haidt’s metaphor for conscious thought] and we are the elephant [metaphor for all unconscious processes], and our mental health depends on the two working together, each drawing on the others’ strengths. (Loc. 4357) Haidt also has some interesting tangents. My two favorites: he laments the change in the notion of morality from a "character ethics" inculcating moral virtues to a "quandary ethics" focusing on moral reasoning, and endorses David Wilson's interpretation of religion as an interlocking of genetic and cultural adaptations that enhance peace, harmony, and cooperation within the group for the express purpose of increasing the group's ability to compete with other groups. (Loc 4300) I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and Haidt convinced me of its main thesis ("Hypothesis"): contrary to Eastern thought, the secret to satisfaction does not lie entirely within oneself, and contrary to Western values, it does not solely involve external factors (attaining wealth, etc.), but rather happiness and meaning exist "in the relationship between the two," i.e., in the relationship (coherent=happy; discordant=not) between one's thoughts/desires/dreams, and one's current situation and choices. (Loc. 4110)

  25. 4 out of 5

    Sven Kirsimäe

    I was a big fan of self-help books in my early 20ies and dropped them fast for they tend to be far from relating topics to any scientific reference of proof (that I tend to admire) and simply axiomatizing without any scientific reference. This book based on my experience, I initially looked at skeptically, is definitely a turnaround. For the first time, I feel like ”happiness has a scientific background in it”.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Payam

    I love this book. I truly do! It is a combination of the three subjects I think about most: psychology, philosophy, and religion. In the Happiness Hypothesis the (humble) author brings together theories of the past, the theories of religion, and updates them with understandings from psychology. In many ways, he either adjusts traditional thinking with science or he validates traditional thinking with science. It is an excellent approach that must have taken the author a long time to put together I love this book. I truly do! It is a combination of the three subjects I think about most: psychology, philosophy, and religion. In the Happiness Hypothesis the (humble) author brings together theories of the past, the theories of religion, and updates them with understandings from psychology. In many ways, he either adjusts traditional thinking with science or he validates traditional thinking with science. It is an excellent approach that must have taken the author a long time to put together. There is particularly one potent concept that the author teaches: the rider and the elephant. After having gone back into traditional thoughts, religion, and modern psychology, the bound nature of the mind and body becomes clear. In this case, the mind is the rider; the body is the elephant. The rider does its best to train the elephant; but the elephant can still disobey and his its own mind. The mind will never have full control, the elephant will never disappear. These two are always together and they must work together. The sooner the reader begins to understand this, the sooner the reader can listen to their own bodies and the feedback it gives them. The elephant is not bad. It is important to you. It may simply be too large to control or not trained well by the rider. The next time you cave into chocolate cake, it is not your mind that makes you do it, it may be your elephant. You may need to train the elephant more. I recommend this book for everyone.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Zedsdead

    Non-fiction is not my usual milieu, but this was a gift from a family member so here I am. The author explores the nature of happiness, its properties and sources, with the end-goal of teaching the reader HOW to be happy. He searches for commonalities across ancient writings (Buddha, Confucius, the Bible, Torah, Aristotle, etc) to support his ideas, though in truth these felt superfluous to me. Haidt mostly relies on psychology and philosophy to back his assertions. The Happiness Hypothesis's big Non-fiction is not my usual milieu, but this was a gift from a family member so here I am. The author explores the nature of happiness, its properties and sources, with the end-goal of teaching the reader HOW to be happy. He searches for commonalities across ancient writings (Buddha, Confucius, the Bible, Torah, Aristotle, etc) to support his ideas, though in truth these felt superfluous to me. Haidt mostly relies on psychology and philosophy to back his assertions. The Happiness Hypothesis's big recurring metaphor is that the mind is a rider on an elephant. The rider represents reason and makes conscious decisions. The elephant is instinct, approach-retreat reflexes, and automatic responses to stimuli. The rider has limited control over what the elephant does, which explains why it's so hard to do things we know we should do (eg exercise portion control). Pitting the rider against the elephant in a contest of wills is doomed to eventual failure. To develop good happy-making habits, one must train the elephant over time. Some interesting concepts: Negativity bias--We're wired to assign greater value to loss than equivalent gain. The cortical lottery--We're born with a baseline level of happiness. The adaptation principle--Events may temporarily raise or lower one's baseline happiness (winning the lottery, losing a limb) but people eventually return to their baseline level. Reciprocity--We're built to reward those who are good to us and punish those that harm us, which incentivizes cooperative, mutually beneficial behavior. Sales techniques are designed to exploit this instinct. Motivated reasoning--If we can find evidence that supports the conclusion we want, we tend at that point to stop thinking critically. External factors--A few external factors that are shown to systematically affect happiness are noise (especially variable or intermittent), commute (shorter commutes increase happiness even when this means having a smaller home), lack of control (even the illusion of control increases happiness), shame (eg, body image), and especially relationships (strength and number). Conspicuous consumption--Evolutionarily advantageous (attracts more/better mates) but it demonstrably reduces happiness. The two types of love--As defined by the author. Passionate and companionate. The latter correlates to greater long-term happiness. At this point the book kind of lost me, as it veered into an examination of divinity, transcendence, religion and purity and virtues that vary from culture to culture. Squishy, ill-defined, and often undesirable stuff. I found the earlier psychology studies and experiments to be more interesting and relevant. The Happiness Hypothesis, boiled down: strong, numerous relationships create happiness; acknowledging one's own flaws and hypocrisies leads to growth and improved relationships; meditation can help; and dispense with conspicuous consumption. Update: Bumping this up a star because I find myself referencing it repeatedly in a positive way.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jenny

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I originally read this book for my Encounters in Humanities course. I remember settling down on the couch for a long, boring read (as I judged by the barefaced cover and a skim over the title). Although not every part is enthralling, this book has taught me, personally, so much. It also served its purpose incredibly well in the class; I was filled with questions, and insights into human nature I would have never explored on my own. The part of the book that hit me hardest was the section on lov I originally read this book for my Encounters in Humanities course. I remember settling down on the couch for a long, boring read (as I judged by the barefaced cover and a skim over the title). Although not every part is enthralling, this book has taught me, personally, so much. It also served its purpose incredibly well in the class; I was filled with questions, and insights into human nature I would have never explored on my own. The part of the book that hit me hardest was the section on love, and also the discussions and thoughts that came from natural levels of happiness. My professor asked the class as we read this section, and as the book asked us the same thing in a different way, "do you condemn someone with bad eyesight for wearing glasses? Are they somehow weaker in their will to see? Maybe they should just try focusing harder, instead of leaning on glasses as a crutch for their vision." Everyone seemed surprised, but he continued. "This book suggests the same is true, mentally, for some people; that there is an inherent level of happiness, an inherent ability to feel these emotions that we often strive for, that can make it more difficult or easier for certain people to feel. There are people who may have to constantly struggle, or may constantly be overwhelmed by sadness, who seek medication that doesn't elevate their mood, but equalize it with those of others; a neutral level that can still dip low, but can now have the ability to rise above. Why do we take issueswith mental and emotional ability so differently than those issues of physical ability? If someone inherently, internally, in their brain, is less able than another individual, should they not be helped?". In my opinion, a book like this is made to be read, absorbed, reread, and discussed. I hold this book in high-esteem, as my friends who read this in the class with me are still bringing it up and discussing it to this day. I enjoyed it, and it influences me to this day.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Xavier Shay

    Excellent. From the author of "The Righteous Mind", which I read a few years back. There is so much good stuff in this book, combining thoughts from the ancients with modern psychology, much of it new to me and the rest a good reminder. A tiny sampling of material: "But recent research in psychology suggests that Buddha and Epictetus may have taken things too far." "In fact, happiness is one of the most highly heritable aspects of personality. Twin studies generally show that from 50 percent to 80 Excellent. From the author of "The Righteous Mind", which I read a few years back. There is so much good stuff in this book, combining thoughts from the ancients with modern psychology, much of it new to me and the rest a good reminder. A tiny sampling of material: "But recent research in psychology suggests that Buddha and Epictetus may have taken things too far." "In fact, happiness is one of the most highly heritable aspects of personality. Twin studies generally show that from 50 percent to 80 percent of all the variance among people in their average levels of happiness can be explained by differences in their genes rather than in their life experiences." "You can change your affective style too—but again, you can’t do it by sheer force of will. You have to do something that will change your repertoire of available thoughts. Here are three of the best methods for doing so: meditation, cognitive therapy, and Prozac." "After a careful review of the evidence, however, Frank concludes that those who think money can’t buy happiness just don’t know where to shop." "If the metaphor for passionate love is fire, the metaphor for companionate love is vines growing, intertwining, and gradually binding two people together." "A society without liberals would be harsh and oppressive to many individuals. A society without conservatives would lose many of the social structures and constraints that Durkheim showed are so valuable. Anomie would increase along with freedom. A good place to look for wisdom, therefore, is where you least expect to find it: in the minds of your opponents. You already know the ideas common on your own side. If you can take off the blinders of the myth of pure evil, you might see some good ideas for the first time."

  30. 4 out of 5

    Ed

    Claire thinks this is the best book I have put her way in recent years and now has about six of her friends reading it. I seem to get good feedback from others I have suggested it to. Basically Jon Haidt (who I have had email correspondance with about the link between his work and mine) looks at what thinkers over the last 3000 years have said about what makes us happy and then applied modern neuro-science and the emerging study of positive psychology to see what light it throws on ancient wisdo Claire thinks this is the best book I have put her way in recent years and now has about six of her friends reading it. I seem to get good feedback from others I have suggested it to. Basically Jon Haidt (who I have had email correspondance with about the link between his work and mine) looks at what thinkers over the last 3000 years have said about what makes us happy and then applied modern neuro-science and the emerging study of positive psychology to see what light it throws on ancient wisdom. If only the remedial professions like social work took this approach on board instead of victimizing and medicalizing suffering. The way out of suffering is obviously partly its relief, but helping people find their own happiness is more likely to succeed long term. I think this book is the best of the recent spate of books on happiness and Jon Haidt has done some really cool work of his own on disgust, religion, morality that feeds into this book. Take a look at his web site and the photo of his research team: looks like a good place to be! Would be great to create a happiness workshop in a prison or other place of suffering.

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