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The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom Hardcover
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From Publishers Weekly
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 the Audible Audio Edition 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 the Audible Audio Edition edition.
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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.
Most recent customer reviews
Very educational and inspiring book