When pitching Jonathan Haidt's "Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom" to friends, I often find myself explaining away the titl...moreWhen pitching Jonathan Haidt's "Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom" to friends, I often find myself explaining away the title -- no, it's not another self-help book and yes, it's about more than just plastering a silly smile on your face. With that said, the title is appropriate; Haidt is chiefly concerned with what's responsible for making humans happy.
The title fails, however, to convey the breadth and depth of Haidt's search, which touches on philosophy, psychology, economics, evolution, and cognitive science, and skips effortlessly across the centuries, from the Stoics' philosophical minimalism to Ben Franklin's pragmatism to Robert Cialdini's work on Influence.
Haidt documents the evolution of the human mind, producing an overarching narrative that explains everything from the use of gossip and prozac to mental tendencies that steer men away from their stated values and towards self-destruction.
Along with Kluge, this book has profoundly shaped the way I view my brain. Before Haidt, I was aware that our brains appeared to systematically work against our best interest, and that these tendencies manifested in more general cognitive biases. Haidt, however, takes you behind the curtain, and provides a look at what exactly is going on in your brain and the evolutionary logic behind it. This book provided a more systematic take on cognition than the discrete observational work I had previously encountered.
My interest in correcting my cognitive failings largely emanates from my concern with my ability to grasp the truth. Haidt rightly adds that it's profoundly important to happiness in general. Cognitive therapy has allowed many to escape depression by directly attacking distortions in thought. These depressive distortions are direct relatives to those that scare up trouble in all of our lives, and Haidt provides an excellent primer on how to exorcise your cognitive demons through a few different means, thereby improving the way you think and possibly making you happier.(less)
Great idea for a book. Short read, big on ideas, and soft on data/supporting studies. I buy the narrative, especially after reading Jonathan Haidt's e...moreGreat idea for a book. Short read, big on ideas, and soft on data/supporting studies. I buy the narrative, especially after reading Jonathan Haidt's excellent "Happiness Hypothesis" and reading "Nudge" as well.
I appreciate the neuroscience and morality angle, but it's hard for me to disentangle this book from the 'Hypothesis.' I would suggest reading both to understand how your brain helps and hurts you, and steps to make it run a little smoother.(less)
I second-guessed my purchase of Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein's Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness, almost the minute I...moreI second-guessed my purchase of Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein's Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness, almost the minute I received my Amazon e-mail receipt -- I had already read Malcom Gladwell's Blink, and heard about the literary disaster that is Sway, and yet there I was, reading Nudge's introduction about the arrangement of cafeteria food.
I'm glad I did. While Thaler and Sunstein are happy to revel in the small ways that their insights into "choice architecture" can lead to better or worse choices, they also lay out their political principles and detail their impact on current policy debates (e.g., Social Security, Medicare Part D, Education.) To top it all off, they begin the book with a treatment of our cognitive failings, distinguishing between our automatic and reflective processing systems (what's not to love!), leading right into their arguments for how to help the automatic majority overcome their cognitive frailty without infringing the reflective minority's ability to choose.
So what is choice architecture? Well, are you choosing out of ten choices, or 100? Are you automatically enrolled in one choice or another if you don't make an active decision? How is that default set? How is information presented to you to about the available choices? All of these questions speak to choice architecture -- in other words, the arrangement and organization of choices -- which has a nasty habit of leading individuals to choices that they themselves would not find optimal (see don't be bob bias, the mind and morality).
Furthermore, "choice architecture, both good and bad, is pervasive and unavoidable." This point is essential to Thaler and Sunstein's argument if you are a libertarian. Ignoring choice architecture won't make it go away, it will only make it more likely that the choices favored by choice architecture are more likely to be poor. For instance, you can make the default option for new employees enrolled at 5% in a 401(k) with an option to opt-out, or you can make the default option to not be enrolled (as is often the case). If you stick with the current default, many who would otherwise enjoy being enrolled will not do so because of the choice architecture. Thaler and Sunstein recommend acknowledging the importance of choice architecture and deliberately deciding on its design.
Thaler and Sunstein aren't interested in helping individuals pick out their dry cleaners; as the authors note, if a dry cleaner performs poorly, it is fairly easy for individuals to make a better decision the next team.
Rather, "people are most likely to need nudges for decision that are difficult, complex, and infrequent, and when they have poor feedback and few opportunities for learning."
Individuals are primed to make poor choices for Medicare Part D, Mortgages, and retirement investments. Thaler and Sunstein don't advocate for eliminating choices because of these problems. On the contrary, their final chapter points to the infamous "third way" -- separate from both the command-and-control left and the single-minded 'choice' monkeys of the libertarian right.
There needn't be a war between 'no choice' and 'unlimited choice.' Thaler and Sunstein spend around 250 pages explaining that this is indeed a false choice. Like myself, they side with the libertarians when it comes to the importance of choice, and side with the left when it comes to the failure of 'choice' to solve all problems. Choice is important. Coercion isn't necessary. Focus on the choice architecture.
Oh, and I have to add. As someone who has long supported responding to the gay marriage debate by taking government out of the marriage business (perhaps keeping a civil union or partnership business) and leaving it to independent churches, I was very happy to see Thaler and Sunstein put forth such an argument in Nudge.
Whether you are on the left or right, worth a read! (Taken from my post)(less)