Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Happiness Hypothesis-Jonathan Haidt

The Happiness Hypothesis: Putting Ancient Wisdom to the Test of Modern Science-Jonathan Haidt

the facts
satisfaction: side/up
pages: 243
gender: M
nationality: USA
year: 2006
Non fiction

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.

Really, I must have burned out on neuroscience/social psychology reads because I spent this whole book wishing there was more philosophy. Like the Optimism Bias, this was in a way, a run down of all the popular neuroscience books with many of the same case studies and ideas, but where Sharot failed to convince me of anything, Haidt stuck to his stated objective-What is Happiness? And how can we incorporate it into our lives? The connections are coherent and the book is readable in the extreme. Furthermore, let's face it, the conclusion wasn't that ground-breaking or new. Moderation is the key to happiness. A balance of philosophy and science, liberalism and conservatism, East and Western ideas are all integral to happiness. Seems like a no-brainer and quite frankly is what I guessed the book would end with from page one-there is no silver bullet.

I do wish, like the blurb on one of the editions says, I had started with Haidt when reading about happiness. It is a good primer, a good balanced beginning text. It coherently combines all the great ideas into a single narrative that offers many insights along the way. The up arrow in my satisfaction is due to this.

I adore his metaphor for our minds as a rider on an elephant. The elephant represents our emotional brain and the rider, our consciousness. Most of the time the rider is under the belief and misapprehension that it is under control and can do whatever it wants but the elephant is inherently more powerful than the rider and can easily get out of control. Throughout the book, Haidt refers to this metaphor as a way of demonstrating the practical applications of his ideas and it works. It works when he's talking about to what extent thinking makes it so, it works when he's talking about reciprocation, and it works even when he tackles why our modern obsession with happiness and riches makes us more depressed.

I recommend it to people who are curious about all this recent popular social psychology/neuroscience explosion of books about happiness, optimism, and why. Of all the books I've read lately about these types of subjects, this is the one I'd reread in a year when all of it isn't so fresh in my mind.

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