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The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom Paperback – December 1, 2006
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About the Author
Jonathan Haidt Jonathan Haidt is the Thomas Cooley Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University's Stern School of Business. He is a social psychologist whose research examines morality and the moral emotions. He is the author of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, and the co-author of The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting Up a Generation for Failure.
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~ Jonathan Haidt from The Happiness Hypothesis
That’s officially the longest intro quote of any of the Notes I’ve created so far but OMG. Makes you wanna read the whole book, eh?! :)
Jonathan Haidt is a leading positive psychology researcher/professor at the University of Virginia and this book is an incredible look at ten “Great Ideas” from ancient wisdom that he brilliantly analyzes in the light of modern science while helping us apply the super practical stuff to our 21st century lives. It’s a great blend of intellectual rigor, philosophical wisdom and nuts and-bolts practicality that I highly recommend.
If this Note resonates with you, I *definitely* think you’ll love the book. I put it up there with Sonja Lyubomirsky’s How of Happiness and Tal Ben-Shahar’s Pursuit of Perfect and Happier as some must-read positive psychology goodness.
Here are some of the Big Ideas:
1. The Rider & The Elephant - Learn to ride your elephant!
2. Epiphanies - And lasting change.
3. Meditation - The magic pill.
4. Cognitive Therapy - It works.
5. Pulling the Splinter - The joy of taking responsibility.
Let’s get clear on our ultimate purpose and move toward it, lest we step in other people’s elephant poop, yo! :)
More goodness— including PhilosophersNotes on 300+ books in our *OPTIMIZE* membership program. Find out more at brianjohnson . me.
I would note, first and foremost, that this is a scholarly book accessible to a wide audience. The writing is lucid and straightforward, jargon-free and not disrupted by endless annotation, charts, graphs and statistics. Most important, perhaps, is its attempt to bring together both psychological science and the humanities. On one page you might receive a report of a study in neuroscience utilizing fMRI technology, on the next the thoughts of Epictetus or Epicurus. While it has often been said that Freud learned as much from literature as from science, that pattern of investigation is now very rare. The ‘psychological sciences’ are now very distinct from the humanities and their work is heavily-funded, empirical science. They associate themselves with the biomedical sciences far more than with the departments of Philosophy or, e.g., Religious Studies. Nevertheless, the literature of reason, wisdom and faith has much to say of, e.g., human happiness and it is to JH’s considerable credit that he measures that literature against the (always tentative) conclusions of modern psychological science. Is Plato’s sense of the divided self a good metaphor for human nature and behavior? Is it true that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, as Nietzsche argued? How should we look at Emerson’s transcendentalism in light of the common human desire for such experience?
Given the fact that the subject is so vast—the nature of man, the nature of man’s quest for happiness, the very nature of ‘happiness’ and the strategies for achieving it—the conclusions are complex. Nevertheless, they can be summarized briefly.
As in THE RIGHTEOUS MIND, JH adopts a Humean model in which the Reason is, ultimately, the slave of the passions. Our lives consist of a multiplicity of experiences that rumble about in our consciousness and direct our ‘automatic’ responses to concrete situations. Joshua Reynolds talked about this phenomenon under the rubric of ‘intuition’. Intuition is not a simple, largely-unwarranted gut reaction; it is the sum total of millions of experiences summoned instantly to respond to a current situation. I am standing beside a highway or a city street. Cars are passing by at various rates of speed. I want to get to the other side of the street, quickly, efficiently and safely. I make instant mental calculations and act . . . . Reason, on the other hand, is something that we utilize when we are pressed to find an argument for an intellectual position. It is, in part, a rhetorical device: how can I outwit and defeat my opponent in the most clever and efficacious fashion? JH takes these phenomena and constructs the ongoing metaphor of a man riding an elephant. The elephant is the sum total of the work of the ‘passions’. He is experience, intuitions, inclinations, and so on. The rider is the Reason. He attempts to control the elephant but that process is complex and sometimes arduous. As we are, in a sense, ‘divided’, so is our world and our experience. So are our bodies. The trick is to put all of this together (with a little luck; being in the right place at the right time helps immeasurably). Here is JH’s conclusion:
“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 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 and we are the elephant, and our mental health depends on the two working together, each drawing on the others’ strengths. . . . . Happiness is not something that you can find, acquire, or achieve directly. You have to get the conditions right and then wait. . . . Just as plants need sun, water, and good soil to thrive, people need love, work, and a connection to something larger. It is worth striving to get the right relationships between yourself and others, between yourself and your work, and between yourself and something larger than yourself” (pp. 238-39).
Bottom line: a lovely book that all should read, absorb and enjoy.