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The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom Paperback – December 1, 2006
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Starred Review. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, lamented St. Paul, and this engrossing scientific interpretation of traditional lore backs him up with hard data. Citing Plato, Buddha and modern brain science, psychologist Haidt notes the mind is like an "elephant" of automatic desires and impulses atop which conscious intention is an ineffectual "rider." Haidt sifts Eastern and Western religious and philosophical traditions for other nuggets of wisdom to substantiate—and sometimes critique—with the findings of neurology and cognitive psychology. The Buddhist-Stoic injunction to cast off worldly attachments in pursuit of happiness, for example, is backed up by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's studies into pleasure. And Nietzsche's contention that what doesn't kill us makes us stronger is considered against research into post-traumatic growth. An exponent of the "positive psychology" movement, Haidt also offers practical advice on finding happiness and meaning. Riches don't matter much, he observes, but close relationships, quiet surroundings and short commutes help a lot, while meditation, cognitive psychotherapy and Prozac are equally valid remedies for constitutional unhappiness. Haidt sometimes seems reductionist, but his is an erudite, fluently written, stimulating reassessment of age-old issues. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
Using the wisdom culled from the world's greatest civilizations as a foundation, social psychologist Haidt comes to terms with 10 Great Ideas, viewing them through a contemporary filter to learn which of their lessons may still apply to modern lives. He first discusses how the mind works and then examines the Golden Rule ("Reciprocity is the most important tool for getting along with people"). Next, he addresses the issue of happiness itself--where does it come from?--before exploring the conditions that allow growth and development. He also dares to answer the question that haunts most everyone--What is the meaning of life?--by again drawing on ancient ideas and incorporating recent research findings. He concludes with the question of meaning: Why do some find it? Balancing ancient wisdom and modern science, Haidt consults great minds of the past, from Buddha to Lao Tzu and from Plato to Freud, as well as some not-so-greats: even Dr. Phil is mentioned. Fascinating stuff, accessibly expressed. June Sawyers
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
~ 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.
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. The result of this is "anomie," a lost sense of self and right or wrong and feeling of being detached from other people and the world.
One of the most hopeful sections of the book talks about Martin Seligman's work on positive psychology, and the rediscovery of virtue. Seligman and Chris Peterson researched wisdom traditions and found that these six virtues are common across almost all cultures: (1) Wisdom; (2) Courage; (3) Humanity; (4) Justice; (5) Temperance; (6) Transcendence. These six categories serve to organize 24 character traits. (You can find the complete list on Wikipedia.) The conclusion is that you should work to cultivate your strengths, not your weaknesses. This area of study is a great breakthrough after 100 years of the psychological study of mental illness.
There were also many insightful nuggets I found in the excellent book, including:
- How oxytocin, cortisols and endorphins effect health and behavior.
- Haidt's belief that the chief causes of evil are moral idealism and high self-esteem.
- Letting off steam makes you angrier, not calmer.
- Wisdom is the ability to adapt, shape the environment, and know when to move to new environments.
- Pleasure comes more from making progress toward goals than from achieving them.
- Social constraints enhance happiness; total freedom decreases happiness (an insight seconded in "The Paradox of Choice").
- Trauma has benefits in that it shows how much adversity you can cope with. It also filters out false friends and changes priorities and philosophies toward the present.
- Passionate love cannot last; companionate love is what lasts.
- Haidt sees two types of diversity, demographic and moral.
- The three major dimensions of social relationships are liking, status and morality/ transcendence. Coherence across these spectrums leads to happiness.
- The six basic emotions that can be read on the face include joy, sadness, fear, anger, disgust and surprise.
- Happiness often results from the collective elevation in a church or political rally.
- The three levels of work are a job, a career and a calling. The more autonomy at work, the more happiness.
- Vital engagement in the world leads to love made visible, which is a sign of deep happiness.
- Work that does good for others and leads to income and recognition will enhance happiness.
- Apostates who try to leave a group and traitors who undermine a group are subject to atrocities.
- Group chanting can lead to mystical experiences, which provide a sense of spiritual connection that leads to happiness.
- Eastern views and conservative politics focus on the collective, while Western views and liberal politics tend to focus on the individual.
- Volunteerism increases happiness, and service learning in schools reduces dropout rates.
This is a brilliant and sweeping narrative, and well worth the read. The cross-disciplinary nature of this work reminds me of EO Wilson's seminal work, Consilience. And parts of this book remind me of one of my favorite books of contemporary philosophy: Status
Anxiety, by Alex de Bouten.
Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge