- Paperback: 224 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (September 7, 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0192805592
- ISBN-13: 978-0192805591
- Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 0.7 x 4.7 inches
- Shipping Weight: 7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 23 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #418,229 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Happiness: The Science behind Your Smile 1st Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
What is happiness—is it an unpredictable emotion like joy? A rational construct like personal fulfillment? Or is it some subtle, elusive combination of both? In this enjoyable, thought-provoking book, Nettle digs into the subject with great insight and just a bit of cheeky irreverence. In clear, succinct prose, he argues "that what we are programmed for by evolution is not happiness itself, but a set of beliefs about the kinds of things that will bring happiness, and a disposition to pursue them." He cites survey after survey that report that people's sense of their own happiness outstrips their actual material well-being. Nettle, a biological psychologist at Britain's Open University, describes the pursuit of happiness in stark binary terms—fear and attraction, fight and flight, need and desire. Hard-wired to survive in a world of immediate physical danger, human beings are left to muddle through in today's world of relative safety. Nettle traces the modern epidemic of anxiety and depression to these vestigial aspects of our brain and hormonal structure. Ending on an optimistic note, the author sees a population buoyed by advances in both psychotherapy and medication. With absolute clarity and admirable brevity, Nettle explores the pursuit of happiness and, happily, makes good sense of it all. 15 b&w illus. (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Scientific American
The right to "the pursuit of happiness" is enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, and Americans are obviously hot on the trail: they pop pills, go to therapy, and spend millions of dollars on self-help tapes. Daniel Nettle, a British psychologist, tries to explain what happiness is and critiques the methods people are using to achieve it. And although Happiness is far from a how-to book, Nettle does conclude with a bit of advice on finding it. Nettle begins by defining the kind of happiness that interests him. Joy, the simple pleasure from finding lost money, is too trivial, and the "good life" is too much of a moralization. Instead his work focuses on "subjective wellbeing" or life satisfactionwhich he says is what most people are seeking. Paradoxically, although many of the great European ponderers of the human conditionhe quotes Freud, Sartre, Schopenhauer and othersagree with Western religions that life is a somewhat grim journey toward death, opinion surveys consistently show that people everywhere consider themselves fairly happy. They plan to be happier in the future, too. In light of this penchant, Nettle believes evolution has endowed us with a "happiness system" that allows us to feel satisfied with life yet remain convinced that if only we had another child, made more money or lost 10 pounds we would be truly happy. Not all our pursuits are equally effective, he says. Americans today have far more money than their grandparents did; still, there is no sign they are happier. Having more social connections and good marriages, on the other hand, does promote satisfaction, and Nettle essentially equates happiness with satisfaction. He enlivens this discussion with some odd facts: people believe they can overcome almost any adversity, but living in constantly noisy places reduces happiness. And although most things money can buy quickly fade in value, breast implants seem to create a lasting high. The book includes one chapter on the interactions of Prozac, opiates, ecstasy, and the serotonin and dopamine systems and how these compounds work in our brains to fight depression or induce feelings of pleasure. Yet Nettle does not consider biochemistry a source of happiness, and he moves on. He concludes this pleasant, jargon-free book with some advice: total happiness is not attainable, but you can manipulate your mind and life to reduce the impact of negative emotion, increase positive emotion andmost importantstop consciously seeking happiness at all. He quotes an old joke about the Dalai Lama, who is visited by a rich acolyte bearing a huge, gift-wrapped box. The Dalai Lama opens the box to find it empty and exclaims, "Exactly what Ive always wanted!"
Jonathan Beard --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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The one major criticism I have of the book is that there are some places (just a few!) where Nettle proves unable to resist the temptation to insert his own theories and explanations without very much supporting evidence. He seems particularly keen to dismiss external conditions as strongly affecting happiness, in favor of his theory that "neuroticism" is responsible for the greatest differences. He also puts forth that the increased happiness found in married individuals is probably mostly temporary, and a large spike in happiness for newlyweds may be driving the average up. While there is nothing wrong with either hypothesis *as such*, he does little to make these cases, and they're put forth fairly prominently.
Still, this is a minor criticism. For the range of topics it covers, and its relatively short length, this book contains a wealth of information and ideas for further places to study happiness.
Nettle's main thesis is that humans are notoriously bad at knowing what will make them happy. This is because evolution has programmed us to maximize reproductive success, not to maximize our felicitous feelings. He points out that most of the things people think will make them happy do not. These include having money/material goods, having a hot wife/husband, eating great food, drinking, doing drugs, short term indulgence in TV, or other media, etc.
The things that really determine our happiness level are genes, satisfaction, autonomy, and challenges.
Nettle breaks down our happiness system into many components. one is a dopamine system that prods us to want. This is what tricks us into thinking that lighting another cigarrette will make us happy as we get more and more miserable and our health fades. Another system is the reward system consisting of opioids. These neurotransmitters blunt our pain and heighten our pleasure. This is what is released during copulation, eating, drinking, etc. The fact that we have seperate brain systems for wanting and having is interesting and highly explanatory.
Nettle adds many details that I shan't get into. If you want to know more, read the book. Heck, it only takes about five hours.
One thing that I find fascinating is the concept of the hedonic treadmill. This is the idea that if we get status and other worldy goods, we adapt to them so quickly that our happiness level returns to what it was before we got them.
I always had an inkling that this was the case from personal experience. Yet, I find it fascinating that people still bloviate about how having this or that thing would make them happy. No, it would not; and there is solid scientific evidence to back this contention. The fact that we fallible humans fall prey to this illusion so often only proves what Randolph Nesse said, "natural selection does not give a fig about your happiness."
The best part of this book, besides its scientific nature, is the authors' restraint. He offers no panaceas or guides to follow on the way to happiness. All he does is summarize the evidence and leave it to the reader to find his or her own way.
A brilliant bedtime read.