The Happiness Myth: Why What We Think Is Right Is Wrong
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The Happiness Myth: Why What We Think Is Right Is Wrong

3.81 of 5 stars 3.81  ·  rating details  ·  329 ratings  ·  56 reviews
"We think of our version of a happy life as more like physics than like pop songs; we expect the people of the next century to agree with our basic tenets—for instance, that broccoli is good for a happy life and that opium is bad—but they will not. Our rules for living are more like the history of pop songs. They make weird sense only to the people of each given time perio...more
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published April 10th 2007 by HarperOne (first published 2007)
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John
I first learned of Jennifer Michael Hecht’s newest title, his interview with her on the Point of Inquiry podcast. I highly recommend listening to the interview before reading the book. It gives a very good feel for Hecht’s personality and approach to the subject.
The book begins with a definition of the three distinct kinds of happiness: a good day, euphoria and a happy life. I really enjoyed the philosophy/psychology in this section, regarding how the three kinds of happiness are very different...more
Elaine Nelson
This may in fact be the most useful bit of philosophy I've ever read. The general premise: understanding the crazy things that made people happy in the past, or that people thought would make them happy, will help you (dear reader) see and consider how crazy our own ideas are now. And for me at least, it worked.

She covers all the big topics: sex, money, drugs, food, and celebrations, with lots of exceptionally weird info along the way. Most useful, though, is her division of "happiness" into 3...more
Todd
I'm not a fan of self help and self improvement books. In fact, I think 99.9% of them are pure bullshit. Fortunately, "The Happiness Myth" is not one of them. Rather than trying to present her readers with another lame new age formula for happiness, Jennifer Michael Hecht uses her training as a historian to look back at the ways people have pursued happiness over the whole course of human history, point out some basic traits that seem to have worked over and over agin, and compare them with our...more
Tamlynem
This book changed my view on several topics--drugs and life-perspective are two that come to mind. One of the themes that she talks about is "Take what's yours." It sounds like settling, but it also is about being satisfied with what you have. It's a little zen, I guess. She quotes Marcus Aurelius a lot.
On drugs, she points out that they have been a part of cultural celebrations for all of human history and that our current definition of "drug" is arbitrary. Also she cites some lesser-known hist...more
McNeil
Dec 27, 2009 McNeil rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to McNeil by: Speaking of Faith
Shelves: nonfiction
I think a lengthy quotation from the book would best sum it up: "This book has also addressed the matter of truth for its own sake--not to do with happiness, but with reality. Consider a whole century of men and women straining to conserve the body's energy, minimizing sport and exertion in order not to overspend their reserves, and then the entire next century straining to exercise the body so that it will become more efficient. You have been told by physicists and yogis that reality is not wha...more
Todd Martin
Just to be clear ... “The Happiness Myth” is NOT a self help book. It's an academic look at the cultural and historic al attitudes and behaviors that were felt to contribute to happiness and how these views have shifted over time. Disparate topics include money, drugs, sex, food, wisdom and celebration.

It’s clear we have a complex relationship with the things that contribute to happiness. Examples of these shifting attitudes include:
Money as the root of all evil, yet the large role it plays in...more
-uht!
"When you hear that so-and-so has said something horrid about you, you remember the ninety-nine times when you have refrained from uttering the most just and well-deserved criticism of him, and forget the hundredth time when in an unguarded moment you have declared what you believe to be the truth about him. Is this the reward, you feel, for all your long forbearance? Yet from his point of view your conduct appears exactly what his appears to you; he never knows of the times when you have not sp...more
Dave
Jan 06, 2008 Dave rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Matt B.
This book was inaccurately named and that annoyed me. The main idea seems to be to consider how much culture influences our definitions and actions when it comes to happiness. There's some interesting perspective, historical, philosophical, and anthropological, though sometimes more than I wanted to handle.

The most resonant section for me was in regards to different types of happiness. The author broke it down into three types- day to day, euphoria, and life-long. Her point was that trying to a...more
Sylvester
Enjoyed the author's investigations into the changing views on health, food, etc. Some of the weird fads out there! And I had no idea that Marcus Aurelius of all people was an opium addict - and Elizabeth Barrett Browning??!! Amazing! A lot of food for thought in this book. My favorite line - "The fact that something makes perfect sense doesn't mean it is true." And another one - "Think about how strange it is that the same culture would invent escalators, elevators, StairMaster machines and ste...more
Adam
There's a lot in here: Eating, Exercise, Sex and Treatments (e.g., massage...). Much like Freakonomics, it means to dispel conventional wisdom. It pursues that goal by not only tossing in a few figures that counter current perceptions, but - more interestingly - it does a good job of putting things in historical context. Basically, today's science is tomorrow's laughably outdated mysticism.

It's good beach reading: thought provoking but not hard to digest. I didn't agree with everything I read, b...more
Nick
Wonderful book which challenges a number of accepted viewpoints, such as that money can't buy happiness. The author is a very intelligent historian and philosopher, and 90% of the book is full of her intriguing insights into cultural history, always pushing the notion that what we accept as normal today (such as marijuana and cocaine being bad and illegal) was not necessarily always the case. I loved this book, although she does tend to run on a bit, and a large portion of the final chapters see...more
Ed Mohs
Jul 13, 2007 Ed Mohs rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: yes
I'm reading this book right now. I like this author. She modern yet is well studied in philosphical history and know how to draw out great comaparsions. Happiness studies are rage the right now with many books being published on the subject. She a provides good analysis and tells some unpleasant truth about our habits. Her style or metaphors sometimes loses me. But she provides some interesting history on drug use, excersize, eating ect. All'n'all a really fine teacher.
Jasmine
she tells it like it is then explains. in the old days they wore corsets to be beautiful these days were so into getting skinny its gross. we need to realize that corsets seem weird but getting paper thin isnt? no it is. it did make me happier and im not even finished yet. i am a happier person after reading this.
Ginny
Fascinating history on how our culture shapes our perceptions of what we need to be happy, and how obediently we follow along. Read this to remind yourself to not be a slave to culture and to keep an open mind to other possibilities. Of note is her justification for recreational drug use.
Spike Dunn
Fantastic, but I wouldn't expect less from the writer of "Doubt: A History." Not about how happiness is a myth but about how what we think will make us happy (and what won't make us happy) is often false. She's just a damn good writer.
Elizabeth
from the library


I brought it back to supplement the books on Greek and Roman history with material on women's festivals and women's role in those societies. It is absolutely necessary to round out understanding.
Ginn
A look at our cultural beliefs regarding happiness, putting the present in context of the past. I found it pretty enlightening, but I would have liked more examples of past behaviour.
Kitty
A good book that made me feel a little less frantic about things. Also, great description of what used to happen when we stopped for coffee... mmm, pie...
Rebecca
I love Hecht's writing and will read anything she ever writes. That's a pledge!
I loved Doubt, too, and this is so enlightening and freeing. Read it!
Neal Schindler
I loved this but never quite finished it. Hecht is maddeningly smart, and it's a surprisingly easy read. I should probably reread it at some point.
Shelley
This is a great book, AND it can make you happy. Well-written and well-researched, or at least it gives that impression. Read it!
Kathy
I not only read it, underlined passages, made notes in the margins, but sent copies to friends.
Robert
I found this thought provoking. At times it was a little try. But really made me think.
Shelley
Feb 01, 2009 Shelley added it
Recommends it for: deborah potter
must read...historical philosophical perspective on happiness
Jane
My bookclub choice. Science of what it takes to be happy
Cara
Mar 23, 2011 Cara marked it as to-read
recommended by Jen Gresham
Jon
In this book, Hecht sets out to discuss what makes us happy and to denote how some of our ideas about what makes for a happy life may be wrong--or at least are culturally determined by the particular place and time in which we live. Once basic living needs are met, happiness generally does not go up or down depending on how much one has. Happiness can't be said to have grown over the millennia as technology has gotten more sophisticated and given us more of what we want. It is a constant. So whe...more
Ari Melman
This book gave me incredible perspective on how to think about personal happiness, stress, and all of the issues life poses every day. It examines all the big aspects of life and happiness - drugs, sex, religion, celebrations, money, family, work, exercise, etc. - from a historical perspective, examining how the culture of the times defined how people saw what made them happy. When you understand how much of our stress is caused by improper or unnecessary cultural standards, you gain a fresher a...more
Megatherium
This is the sort of book that is very close to torture for a nitwit like me to review. How on earth am I supposed to sort out the elements I thought brilliant, from the elements I thought interesting, but not applicable on the scale she seemed to assume, from the elements that smelled like scholarly cherry-picking from the stuff that made me want to vomit, but also kinda/sorta elicited a chuckle of recognition? I'm afraid I simply don't have the intellectual horsepower to write the review I'd li...more
Deborah Alvarez
The writer seems young and she espouses some controversial ideas, and because of her youth, I'm not quick to take her at face value. She advocates taking drugs to achieve certain levels of happiness and presents some interesting history. She also expands the items included in the category of "drugs" including legal and illegal drugs. To her credit, she does explain the limited ways to obtain drugs in the US. If she were writing this in a liberal country, I'm sure she would have more suggestions,...more
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Jennifer Michael Hecht is a poet, historian, philosopher, and author.

More about Jennifer Michael Hecht...
Doubt: A History: The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas Jefferson and Emily Dickinson Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It Funny The Next Ancient World The End of the Soul: Scientific Modernity, Atheism, and Anthropology in France

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“How was life before Pop-Tarts, Prozac and padded playgrounds? They ate strudel, took opium and played on the grass.” 19 likes
“We seem obsessed with motivation, rallying ourselves to something beyond the life available to us right now, and we treat this motivation as if it were a major part of the history of wisdom, which it is not.” 1 likes
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