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The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom Paperback – December 1, 2006

4.5 out of 5 stars 436 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; 1 edition (December 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465028020
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465028023
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (436 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,775 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Dan Wallace on October 15, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I saw Chris Anderson (Wired Editor and TED co-founder) asked by Charlie Rose to name his favorite book of the last few years. "The Happiness Hypothesis" was the immediate response. Now this book is one of my favorites, too. The Happiness Hypothesis compares traditional philisohpical traditions with the lastest scientific discoveries, and the two ends meet well in the center. The author's own experiences provide narrative glue.

A major finding is that happiness is a set point for us, and that after good times and bad, we tend to return to our general level of happiness. At the same time, we can do things that help or hurt our happiness, and we can understand better how our minds and emotions work.

Factors that decrease happiness include persistent noise, lack of control, shame, dysfunctional relationships, and long commutes. Strong marriages, physical touch, meaningful relationships and religious affiliation tend to improve happiness. Activities with others enhance our happiness; status objects tend to separate us from others.

In terms of parenting, Haidt finds that secure children are well supported by parents who are nearby, providing safety and security. Avoidant children are neglected by their parents. And resistant children have parents who alternate between support and neglect. Haidt also shows how moral relativism is not good for children.

I was also fascinated by Haidt's observation that modernity and commercial culture slowly replaced the ideal of character with the idea personality, leading to a focus on individual preferences and personal fulfillment. This movement reached a height during the "values clarification" movement of the 1960s which taught no morality at all.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is absolutely incredible - so much fascinating information, and so readable!!

First of all, the main hypothesis, that people make decisions with their gut and then use their brains to rationalize those decisions, is well supported. The examples are clear, real, and alive. You'll walk away from the book thinking, there are so many things that I do that I'm completely unaware of.

Secondly, my favorite thing about this book was that it was SO READABLE: it sounds like Jon Haidt is sitting across from you and speaking to you. (For example, you may have heard of the one and two marshmallow studies, but the story-like way that Haidt describes it will really capture your attention). Even the headings and section titles kept my curiosity up: what could that next section be about?

Third, the section on why human beings are hypocrites (ch. 4) is extremely interesting.

Finally, there is so much philosophy and history of psychology interwoven into the hypothesis of the book that you feel like you keep entering a new theatrical stage: one stage after the other, going to the center of a performance. And the best thing is, all the history, etc. is presented as "here is this story that shows why this happens" and "here's this other story."
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Format: Hardcover
This is flat out one of the most interesting, entertaining, and educational books I have read. Haidt has the true ability to bring truth and understanding to difficult issues. For some, it will make them think about things in ways they probably never have, for others it will make sense out of things that confused them, for me it did both. I can honestly say it made me look at certain aspects of my life and the world around me in a very different way and helped me grow as a person.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a remarkable book, that gives the lie to the old statement that people who have something to say can't normally express themselves, but those who are good at expressing themselves don't normally have much to say!

Using delightful sparkling prose, Jonathan Haidt has written a meaty and worthwhile book about happiness, emotion and the creation of personal meaning. It is so rare nowadays to find people who can place their work in a broad historical and cultural context. Yet Haidt does just that. Here we have a book in which discussions of the brain rub shoulders with the sayings of the Buddha.

I am sure that nobody is going to agree with everything that he says. But neither would he want us to: he is informing and provoking discussion and understanding. I worry a little about the scientists and writers who try to reduce complex behaviors to neurons and hormones alone, and Jonathan avoids that trap.

This is an insightful book that belongs on the shelf of anyone interested in some of the fundamental problems of living a happy, fulfilled life, and of making a positive contribution to the world.

Very highly recommended.
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Format: Paperback
My expectations of this book were great. Positive Psychology, pioneered by Martin Seligman, has balanced much of the Negative Psychology of symptoms and pathologies. This book has been promoted as a research based, theoretical basis for the Positive Psychology movement. The Happiness Hypothesis turns out, for me, to be more of a jingle than objective exploration. It's hard to find actual original hypotheses in it. There are many good pieces of advice (e.g., meditation and cognitive therapy can work) and research from psychology and neuroscience. But, often there are pseudo-scientific gestures, such as the "happiness formula" (the variables H=S+C+V are incredibly broad) and, even mathier, a triaxial graph (with no coordinates in objective reality).

His conversational style disguises biases and incomplete analyses. For instance, there's not enough attention to how happiness is affected by the degrees of acceptance one finds in one's community, family or culture.

There's a recurrent theme expressed by "You might need adversity to knock yourself into alignment." (p. 227) Haidt at times revels in the positive effects of adversity. While no growth is possible without challenge, his concept is so loose as to underwrite justifications for needless costs to human lives.

For all that, the book's okay. What I find to be disingenuous, even insidious, are the author's distortive conclusions and generalizations. He puts forward a simplistic dualism between religion and science, gloats about how he's "treasonous" in valuing the former (does that feel on the edge, Jon?).
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