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The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom

Jonathan Haidt · 4 HN comments
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Amazon Summary
Jonathan Haidt skillfully combines two genres-philosophical wisdom and scientific research-delighting the reader with surprising insights. He explains, for example, why we have such difficulty controlling ourselves and sticking to our plans; why no achievement brings lasting happiness, yet a few changes in your life can have profound effects, and why even confirmed atheists experience spiritual elevation. In a stunning final chapter, Haidt addresses the grand question "How can I live a meaningful life?," offering an original answer that draws on the rich inspiration of both philosophy and science. " The Happiness Hypothesis is a wonderful and nuanced book that provides deep insight into the some of the most important questions in life -- Why are we here? What kind of life should we lead? What paths lead to happiness? From the ancient philosophers to cutting edge scientists, Haidt weaves a tapestry of the best and the brightest. His highly original work on elevation and awe -- two long-neglected emotions -- adds a new weave to that tapestry. A truly inspiring book."-- David M. Buss, author of The Evolution of Desire: Strategies of Human Mating "In this beautifully written book, Jonathan Haidt shows us the deep connection that exists between cutting-edge psychological research and the wisdom of the ancients. It is inspiring to see how much modern psychology informs life's most central and persistent questions" -- Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less "In our quest for happiness, we must find a balance between modern science and ancient wisdom, between East and West, and between "left brain" and "right brain" risquéon Haidt has struck that balance perfectly, and in doing so has given us the most brilliant and lucid analysis ofvirtue and well-being in the entire literature of positive psychology. For the reader who seeks to understand happiness, my advice is: Begin with Haidt." -- Martin E.P. Seligman, Director, Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania and author of Authentic Happiness "Haidt is a fine guide on this journey between past and present, discussing the current complexities of psychological theory with clarity and humor. . . Haidt's is an open-minded, robust look at philosophy, psychological fact and spiritual mystery, of scientific rationalism and the unknowable ephemeral -- an honest inquiry that concludes that the best life is, perhaps, one lived in the balance of opposites." -- Bookpage
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<nod> I've read "The Happiness Hypothesis", which explores the same concept - the analogy it uses is that our subconscious mind is like an elephant, our conscious mind its rider. If the elephant doesn't have much of an opinion about where it should be going, the rider can guide it. But if the elephant wants to go one way, the rider can't do much about it.

(Though the rider can, slowly over time, train the elephant in certain things. But that's not in-the-moment control.)

IIRC - it's been a while since I read it - part of the book's point is that the whole system of elephant + rider is "us", even though the conscious POV is just the rider.

I suspect you're asking the wrong question. If you're truly good at multiple things, and you've eliminated everything you don't like doing, you're ahead of the curve and beyond this model.

Happiness is a funny thing, because you can't just keep going straight. Doing only things you like (or things you're good at) isn't a recipe for long-term happiness. Both lottery winners and victims of horrific accidents revert to an average happiness over the long term.

You can read more. This book[1] by my college Psychology professor is the first that came to mind:


>Both lottery winners and victims of horrific accidents revert to an average happiness over the long term.

Could it then be that people who buy time also regress to the average happiness after a while? It seems pointless to measure happiness then, if we're just bound to always have the same happiness.

Books that actually caused changes in my life:

Yes Man ( )

This book made me realize that I was defaulting to "no" in many aspects of my life. After this book I changed many things in my life, and ended up meeting and dating my future (now present) wife. Overall my life has been much improved by defaulting to "yes".

The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work ( )

Gave me insight into how there is a huge invisible fabric of society that we take for granted, and how I consistently underrated many categories of jobs. One change I made after reading this book is to respect the jobs that I took for granted, like the clerk at the checkout counter. I now give attention and respect to people that I used to treat like furniture before.

Books that would have changed my life had I read them sooner (and not have to learn their lessons the long/hard way.)

The Happiness Hypothesis ( )

The notion this book puts forward of the subconscious as a powerful but stubborn elephant and the conscious as its well-meaning but often impotent handler provides much insight into why people act against their own interests, and why they tell lies about themselves and their own actions. One of the things I had realized beforehand (through many years of struggling with social interaction) that the book also covers is how we all tell a story of our life in which we are the hero, and how we rationalize our actions to fit the story instead of adapting the story to fit the facts.

Peopleware ( )

The book covers why building software is primarily a people problem, not a technical problem. Again, I had already realized this, but it would have been nice to learn it sooner. Some stuff is outdated, but it's still one of the top books on building software in my opinion.

I'd second the 1st, 3rd and 4th of these. Peopleware is awesome - obviously - and The Happiness Hypothesis has had plenty of press.

However, don't underestimate Yes Man. It's by a comedian, but it's still a very powerful and interesting read.

The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathon Haidt is great. It intertwines philosophy and psychology while providing a lot of insight on how a life is well lived.

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