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What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite Paperback – November 22, 2011

4 out of 5 stars 78 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"David DiSalvo takes us on a whistle-stop tour of our mind's delusions. No aspect of daily life is left untouched: whether he is exploring job interviews, first dates or the perils of eBay, DiSalvo will change the way you think about thinking... an enjoyable manual to your psyche that may change your life." --New Scientist

"This lively presentation of the latest in cognitive science convincingly debunks what DiSalvo calls 'self-help snake oil.'" --Publisher's Weekly

"DiSalvo offers 'science-help' (as opposed to self-help) by detailing the mental shortcuts our minds like to take but that don't always serve us well, with the assumption that understanding brain function helps us fight its stubborn behavior."
--Psychology Today

"A five-star intellectual smorgasbord of the latest speculations on what makes us tick." --Robert Burton, MD, author of On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You're Not

"This book is the Swiss Army knife of psychology and neuroscience research—handy, practical, and very, very useful. It boils down the latest findings into simple easy-to-understand lessons you can apply to your daily life." --Joseph T. Hallinan, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Why We Make Mistakes

"Reading What Makes Your Brain Happy is like eating intellectual dim sum at your favorite Chinese restaurant. Each morsel is tasty and you will keep coming back for more." --Bruce Hood, PhD, author of Super Sense: Why We Believe the Unbelievable and director of the Bristol Cognitive Development Centre

"The chapters in this book are crystal-clear and multifaceted, and each transmits a ray of insight about how we think. It's jewelry for the mindful mind." --Phillip Alcabes, PhD, author of Dread: How Fear and Fantasy Have Fueled Epidemics from the Black Plague to the Avian Flu

"Packed full of scientific insights with practical applications to everyday life—a thought-provoking and entertaining page-turner." --Gary Small, MD, UCLA professor of psychiatry and author of The Memory Bible, iBrain, and The Other Side of the Couch: A Psychiatrist Solves His Most Unusual Cases

"David DiSalvo takes us on mind trips to the frontiers of brain and behavior research—and being a superb guide, shows us how each development is useful, exciting, and inspired by wonder." --Jena Pincott, author of Do Gentleman Really Prefer Blondes? Bodies, Brains, and Behavior—The Science Behind Love, Sex & Attraction

"It's hard to put down this smart, readable discussion of the latest brain science from science writer David DiSalvo. As always, DiSalvo deftly offers both expert and lay readers news we can use, in context and with style. Read on!" --Maggie Jackson, author of Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age

"This book will make your brain happy—in a good way. With engaging prose and compelling stories, DiSalvo provides a fast-paced overview of mental shortcuts and foibles that make us happy in the short-term, often to our long-term detriment." --Daniel Simons, author of The Invisible Gorilla, and Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceive Us

"DiSalvo is a genial and enthusiastic guide who makes emerging research in neuroscience, social psychology, cognitive science, and behavioral economics accessible, and even entertaining. But this book is not specifically about research, nor is it really about brains and minds. What it is about is you and me and how science can help with the messy business of trying to live a meaningful, good life. A delightfully illuminating read." --Todd Essig, PhD, Training and Supervising Psychoanalyst, William Alanson White Institute

"This book is a well-researched and effectively argued guide to uncovering the reasons why we so often think and act in ways that undermine our best interests, and it's also full of knowledge about why humans manipulate each other. If you want to know more about why you do what you do, and how to avoid becoming the victim of someone else's manipulation tactics, I encourage you to read this book." --Philip Zimbardo, PhD, author of The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil, and past president of the American Psychological Association

About the Author

David DiSalvo is a science, technology and culture writer for Scientific American Mind, Psychology Today, Mental Floss, Forbes and other publications, and the writer behind the well-regarded science blogs Neuronarrative (at PsychologyToday.com) and Neuropsyched (at Forbes.com). He has appeared on CNN's Headline News and the NBC Nightly News, written for the Wall Street Journal, and his work has been referenced in major publications worldwide. He has also served as a consulting research analyst and communications specialist for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and several public and private organizations in the U.S. and abroad.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 309 pages
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books; 125 edition (November 22, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1616144831
  • ISBN-13: 978-1616144838
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (78 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #226,109 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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This is another book in the increasingly popular genre of pop cognitive psychology. These books usually take the following approach:
1) Author reads tons of studies revealing brain quirks, failures, and surprising behavior.
2) Author attempts to tie some of these into related themes (Think Malcolm Gladwell's "Blink").
3) Author discusses the "lessons learned" from these studies.
"What Makes Your Brain Happy" is no exception. The title refers to the brains tendency to fall into common, comfortable behavior patterns, occasionally to our detriment. Subjects like confirmation bias, framing, and mental heuristics and all discussed via various studies, anecdotes, and thought experiments. He also wades into territory common to many books on the subject of happiness including habituation, buyer's remorse, narcissism, and loneliness. To fans of cognitive psych and behavioral economics, most of this material will be familiar. To the uninitiated, this is a decent introduction.

DiSalvo positions this book as a scientific alternative to the self-help genre which he regards as frequently built on false promises. He takes a couple jabs at the self-help industry early on (you're not suddenly seeing more Chanel handbags because the cosmos are responding to your "dream board" but rather because you've keyed yourself into looking for them) but this book is really about examining studies and trying to wring out some lessons that we can apply to our own life.

Does he succeed? Yes and no. At the end of the book he distills the material covered into 50 "lessons" to apply to our own lives.
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Format: Paperback
Why should you buy this book? If you are stubborn it will help explain why you are stubborn. It also provides a bulletproof excuse for being stubborn. "It's not me that's stubborn it's my brain that's stubborn." Di Salvo reminds us brain processes are not only functional allies in the daily survival campaign but also stealthy saboteurs.

Whether we hate statistics or not, Di Salvo elaborates, our brains lavish in probability by frantically calculating likely outcomes, often using inappropriate formulas and incomplete data, all in the name of efficiency to quickly to bask in reduced uncertainty. Job done; brain is happy. Oops, what if that rascal questing for speedy resolution and decisional-euphoria missed some important stuff? Well, then maybe you'll die, or worse yet, later discover your spouse really does hate your best friend coming over every Thursday night.

Structurally, as other reviewers note, the book falls prey to the strong start, loosely organized middle, strong finish pattern. This is common in non-fiction books written by excellent essayists and often traceable to editor-intervention like--we need 80 more pages! Can you go over your notes? The middle section isn't totally useless because a variety of other relevant topics such as habituation, the illusion of control, and memory games are covered. Plus there's a solid reference section (Notes) and functional index, not to mention two, yep two, added chapters ("Special Sections"). One contains additional readings, the other summaries of the author's fave research studies. OK, some of it really is padding but at least its relevant padding.

Some effort is made to position the book in a niche distant from other likely self-help-shelf neighbors. But, you can help yourself by reading this book.
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Format: Paperback
I've read many books on the topic of cognitive bias and this rates one of the best for the general reader. I'm endlessly fascinated by the topic and can't seem to stop reading these books even though there isn't a lot new in most of them. They all keep saying the same thing and I'm getting a little tired of it.

So I was quite surprised when this one seemed a little different. It does an excellent job at explaining the issues and it is one of the few books in this area that devotes a reasonable amount of space to what you can actually do to avoid the problems. The author devotes one whole chapter at the end to 50 techniques to help you avoid your brain faults and he scatters other advice through most of the rest of the book.

The book is organized well, it is very clear in its explanation, and it reads easily and quickly. It kept my attention throughout. There is an excellent resources section at the end of the book which describes a large number of related books and blogs. That resource list alone is probably worth the price of the book.

To top it off this book has Amazon's "Look Inside!" feature that let's you preview before you buy. Well done and highly recommended.
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Format: Paperback
With one eye on neuroscience and the other on cognitive psychology, David DiSalvo reveals what's "behind the curtain" when it comes to common self-defeating human behaviors. For example, why, if you think you've "blown your diet" by exceeding the calorie limit you set for the day, most likely you'll keep going until you blow through it all the way, thinking "oh what the hell." It turns out what the hell is a pre-wired response. As is overconfidence about our ability to restrain ourselves in the first place, thus the reason why "moderation" is tougher than plain old abstinence. There's tons of stuff like these in this new book, written in an engaging yet erudite style anyone can grasp. DiSalvo shuns the self help label and calls his book "Science help" ...nonetheless he adds a bit of "how to" at the end of every chapter. Read it for the science and DiSalvo's very solid and evidence-based advice.
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