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If You're So Smart, Why Aren't You Happy?

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The first book by the creator of COURSERA®'s most popular online course in 2015, "A Life of Happiness and Fulfillment"

Could the same traits that drive your career success also be keeping you from being happier?

Fifteen years after getting his MBA, Raj Raghunathan spent some time with his old classmates. He noticed that though they’d all done well, there didn’t appear to be much correlation between their academic success and career success. What Raj found even more curious was the even smaller correlation between career success and what he calls life success. The greater the career success, the more unhappy, out of shape, harried and distracted his friends were.
If intelligence helps with decision-making, smart people should naturally make better life choices. So why are so many of the smartest, brightest, most successful people profoundly unhappy?  Raj set out to find an answer to this problem, and extensively researched happiness not just of students and business people, but also stay-at-home-parents, lawyers, and artists, among others.
If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy? takes readers on a fun and meaningful tour of the best research available on how some of the very determinants of success may also come to deflate happiness. Raghunathan explores the seven most common inclinations that successful people need to overcome, and the seven habits they should adopt instead. Among his surprising findings...
·The correlation between wealth and happiness is much smaller than you'd expect it to be
·Generosity is not only a key to happiness, but a determining factor of long term success
·Appreciating uncertainty, rather than seeking  full control of outcomes, is necessary for happiness
If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy? will give you a powerful new perspective on your work, personal goals and relationships, whether you’re already successful or just starting out.

352 pages, Hardcover

First published June 2, 2015

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Raj Raghunathan

3 books22 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 110 reviews
Profile Image for Angelo.
22 reviews15 followers
June 9, 2016
I like this book. The title is very captivating and that's the main reason I choose to read it. I didn't know anything about related Coursera courses and that there was actual research on happiness.
I really enjoyed reading the book, because it is really straightforward and helped me to acknowledge a new and interesting world.
I liked when the author showed how happiness can be defined (not relying only on abstract concept) and I also liked how he addressed the problems (sins) and the viable solutions. Although, some solutions are impracticable (at least for me).
The take-away message of the book is that there is a lot of potential in ourselves. We can increase our happiness but only if we want it.
Profile Image for Tom Quinn.
546 reviews147 followers
January 3, 2019
Clichés be damned – I'm kicking off the New Year with a self-help book. Like most titles in the burgeoning "happiness research" genre there is no silver bullet to feeling good all the time to be found here. But I was pleased to see a lot more research cited than simple gut-level feel-good philosophy. Dr. Raghunathan seems like a warm and wise fellow who'd be fun to talk with, and his personality helped buoy this book up above my expectations going in.

Still, like every self-help book out there this all proves easy to sum up but difficult to implement. Why am I unhappy? Well, it's mostly because I "devalue happiness" and confuse the means of being happy (i.e. money) with the actual feeling itself. More to the point, the straight-up explanations for not being happy are threefold: (1) poor social relationships (guilty!), (2) lack of purpose (working on it!), and (3) not cultivating a positive attitude, which is defined here as a realistic sense of control in various situations (my therapist agrees). The full text expands on these principles with current research findings, engaging anecdotes and examples, and a handful of practical exercises suggested to identify and increase your happiness quotient w/r/t each. But it's all easier said than done and, to be honest, most of the information and findings documented here can be gleaned more quickly from a Google search and an afternoon watching a few TED Talks. So unless you're brand-new to the subject of the psychology of happiness you may find a lot you've already heard elsewhere in this one.

3.5 stars out of 5. I technically did not finish since I skimmed/skipped outright large portions in the middle, as we talked about topics I've already covered extensively, like "flow" and Harlow's monkey attachment experiments. As a self-help book, it is better than average but still no positivity panacea. What sets this one higher than your run-of-the-mill self-help book is the author's inviting personality, the hard evidence cited, and the fast but effective personal inventory exercises*. I can actually see myself taking some action based on this title, which is what self-help should be all about.

*For anybody wondering, I scored a 25 out of 35 (the middle range of "Happy") on the "Satisfaction With Life Scale" when I first started and increased it to a 28 (the lowest end of "Very Happy") by the time I reached the conclusion.
Profile Image for Mike.
243 reviews8 followers
May 23, 2016
A Business school professor examines happiness, with some interesting conclusions.

Strongest impressions from the book: first 2 chapters about how people devalue happiness and focus on the activities that they think will bring them happiness. Often we do this because happiness is hard to measure (unlike money, for example). Define what happiness is for you and make choices to prioritize it.

Other strongest takeaway - that people, even strangers, are more deserving of trust than almost anyone gives credit for. Suggests using "smart trust" that limits downside, and trying to simply put ourselves in others' shoes - when we forgive others we reap the benefits emotionally.

He focuses on having the right approach to achieving Mastery, Belonging, and Autonomy - which involves the belief that these things are abundant, not scarce. Scarcity implies a zero-sum game and makes happiness hard to find.

For mastery, finding "Flow" is key - work that you have talent for and enjoy but that challenges you and does not come at a cost to others. Do not try to be superior to others. He suggests you ask yourself "What is the best possible life" as an exercise. And when things aren't going well, to have self-compassion.

For belonging, it is the need to love and give, not the selfish need to be loved, that promotes happiness.

For autonomy it is having internal control, where he focuses on having process-oriented goals, rather than outcome-oriented ones - that way we can derive happiness from the effort even if it doesn't end up exactly how we had hoped. He conducts an exercise to have you think of some negative event in life (not truly awful, though) and reflect on how much it hurts now vs when it happened and how meaningful the event is in our lives. Negative events tend to hurt less but actually carry a lot of meaning in our future lives - they often drive positive consequences.

He closes with a plea for mindfulness, and trying to be disinterested observers of our lives and minds rather than constantly internally judging everything we do.
Profile Image for Rachel Blom.
Author 7 books9 followers
February 9, 2017
I'm reading multiple books on the topic of happiness at the moment and this was one of them. It's a solid, research-based approach to what makes us happy. Every chapter is divided into two parts: first a research based analysis and then a more practical exercise to put theory into practice. I didn't follow the recommendation of doing a chapter each week or so and doing the exercises, since I just wanted to read the whole book first. Not everything the author offers is new or groundbreaking, but the overall picture was pretty impressive and challenged me. I'm gonna go through the book again to do all the tests (which i thought were awesome) and see which exercises I want to try for myself.

The book is leaning heavily towards a Buddhist approach to life and thinking, so if that's not your thing you may want to skip this one.
Profile Image for Evan.
Author 2 books13 followers
June 13, 2016
I received an advance reading copy of this book, for free, through Goodreads First Reads program in exchange for my honest review.

If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy?, by Raj Raghunathan, seems like your run-of-the-mill, depression, self-help book. What differentiates this one from the others is that the author is not an M.D., nor does he have a background in psychology. Instead, Raghunathan is a business professor who sets out to find how people who are both smart and successful, can still be unhappy.

The author comes across as likeable, and very passionate about his chosen topic. The book seems to be a labor of love, thoroughly researched, and meticulously referenced. There is nothing really groundbreaking or profound about his conclusions. He obviously has read many books regarding depression, and he includes many assessments previously found elsewhere. Unfortunately, Raghunathan often glosses over what the reader’s score on the assessment means. Three times I took quizzes at the end of a chapter, and was left without any indication of what my score meant. For example, my score was a 5. A score of 8 and higher means this. A score of 3 or lower means this. Well, what does my score of 5 mean?

The author threw a lot at the wall. Some of it stuck, much of it didn’t. The author presents happiness “sins” and happiness “habits”. He concludes that the three things needed for happiness (without giving anything away) can be abbreviated “MBA” (Get it? He’s a business professor.) Above all else, the author mentions/promotes his website about a dozen times in each chapter… literally, hundreds of times throughout the book! I visited his website, however, did not use any of its resources. This was due to the fact you have to log-in with your full name, e-mail address, and/or access to your Facebook page. Depression is a topic one might speak to a therapist about with a reasonable expectation of confidentiality, not a topic in which you share your quiz results on social media.

There is no cure-all for depression. Some people may find this book to be extremely helpful. Others will look to other sources for help. I took the “Satisfaction with Life” quiz at the beginning, middle, and end of the book. My score did not change. If I’m so smart, why aren’t I happy? I’m still asking myself that question.
Profile Image for Valia Dankova.
2 reviews
December 30, 2017
За разлика от по-голямата част от останалата литература по въпроса, книгата отговаря на въпроса КАК?
Много ми допада в книгата практичният подход на преподавателя по маркетинг, Радж Рагунатан. Радж разполага с необходимата академична подготовка в областта на психологията (доктор по психология и маркетинг), но също така и с приложния поглед на специалиста по маркетинг. Той не само прави преглед на изследванията в областта (докъдето се ограничават много голяма част от авторите), но също така ни посочва къде най-често грешим и какви навици е добре да развием, за да бъдем щастливи. Освен това предлага креативна система от упражнения с цел развиване на тези навици.
Това, което ме вдъхновява е погледът отвъд личното щастие, който показва как навиците за щастие могат да доведат до добруване на организациите и на обществото като цяло.
Profile Image for Jurgen Maerschand.
105 reviews1 follower
October 4, 2016
No spectacular new findings but an impressively well researched round-up with practical to do's. Make yourself happy and go for it.
Profile Image for Candle.
1,242 reviews732 followers
April 10, 2018

This book, if you are so smart, why aren’t you
so happy professor Raj shows us The reasons
that makes successful people who are the
smartest people may not be happy, which is as
he said something strange, or not acceptable
as long as happiness is our main goal in life.
The most thing I like in this book is the exercise,
but unfortunately I couldn’t recognize my result
in some of them .
In general , Each time I read A help_self book I recognized Why I don’t like this subject, And in each new book I say for myself Let’s try this one, it’s may be different, and yes this was a different book , maybe it’s not good as Much as I thought
But I enjoyed reading it.
Profile Image for Daniel.
760 reviews7 followers
March 17, 2017
This book is awesome! I've read a zillion happiness books (and sort of heart them all), but what sets this one apart is that it's both a review of the literature (in a fun, anecdotal way) and also a little guide book: Seven happiness killers and seven happiness exercises.

SUPPOSEDLY there's a Website that has the exercises and little assessments and such, along with a free Coursera course, but I finished this like 5 days after he launched his Web site, and it was performing crash/craptastically.

Besides the crashtastic Web site (www.happysmarts.com), which I'm sure will improve, this book hit the spot for this happiness-obsessed guy. Practical, little habits to help boost happiness and reduce unhappiness.

Good work, Raj!
Profile Image for Justin Jackson.
13 reviews33 followers
July 18, 2016
Raj Raghunathan does a fantastic job of hitting home on the root causes of our unhappiness. Through the use of interesting and eye-opening case studies backed by rigorous testing and research, 'If You're So Smart, Why Aren't You Happy?' is no doubt one of the best science-backed resources to help you start prioritizing happiness released this year.

Each chapter provides VERY practical exercises in combating the 'deadly happiness sins' as Raghunathan likes to call them.

Deadly Happiness Sins:
1. Devaluing Happiness
2. Chasing Superiority
3. Desperation For Love
4. Being Overly Controlling
5. Distrusting Others
6. Passionate/Indifferent Pursuit Of Passion
7. Mind Addiction

This is a book for the shelves and one to pass onto others for sure.
5/5 Fish
Profile Image for Sunny Singh.
51 reviews
March 22, 2020
It was a decent book. For me, it wasn't interesting enough to keep me hooked all the time. I found myself thinking 'i can't wait to finish this book'. I think reason is that i didn't learn lot of novel ideas. Things that he recommended along with the data he used to support his arguments were mostly familiar to me. Just not interesting enough. He did provide resources on becoming happier which I did like and hope to utilize in the future.
Profile Image for Ryan.
16 reviews4 followers
June 19, 2016
I received this book through a Goodreads giveaway. I enjoyed the approach of the book where the author lays out happiness killers and then presents approaches to overcome our own roadblocks. I thought the book was insightful and realized I am guilty of several of these happiness killing habits. I felt all the recommendations were practical and achievable. Definitely worth reading.
104 reviews4 followers
May 10, 2016
Wonderful advice. Well written. Truly helpful. Won courtesy of goodreads giveaway
15 reviews
May 18, 2016
As a follow-up to the Coursera course on Happiness this book is a wonderful read ... would recommend it for everyone.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Sambasivan.
944 reviews27 followers
June 4, 2016
The author has put in six years of work and this essentially reaffirms the behaviour one needs to cultivate to live a happier life. Giving and mindfulness are the key takeaways for me. Great effort.
Profile Image for Nicole Sackin.
249 reviews2 followers
May 30, 2020
Very enjoyable and very accessible. The author gives helpful advice and links to exercises to put into practice. It is really easy to put his suggestions into practice and see which ones work for you quickly and easily.
To get the most out of this book, read chapters A and B then do the exercises.
Profile Image for Andrew.
127 reviews
December 23, 2017
Brilliant. I began this book because I was curious about an analysis and theories of the conditions that bring about unhappiness/happiness. So an academic kind of interest.

However not long after starting I realised that many of the strategies or choices that Raj describes that contribute to unhappiness are strategies that I have instinctively adopted in my life. So I'm perhaps not as happy as I thought I was - and I considered myself pretty happy.

From time to time, the book can get a little too excited about relating the results of psychological experiements that are the underpinning of many of his happiness habits/strategies. But the gold is the way he distils many contemporary theories in positive psychology succinctly, and then sends you on your way with realistic exercises and strategies. As he himself admits, if you read the book but didn't do the exercises, the value of the book would be limited. But if you didn't read the book, but did the exercises, you'll probably get a lot more out of the book.

Raj has also designed a Coursera course that covers a lot of the material in the book, which I think I'm going to do:


Why am I interested in all of this if I feel relatively happy? It feels satisfying to do a bit of a mental/emotional/psychological spring clean after a tough few years. It's exciting to replace counter productive bad habits and replace them with new positive habits.
256 reviews12 followers
August 1, 2016
I mostly liked this book. And that's noteworthy because for large parts of it I didn't like the book. Particularly in the early chapters, many sections seemed like broad sweeping statements based purely on in-class quizzes that the author gave his students over the years to build up this edifice of logic about how to be happy across a variety of factors. Much of that edifice felt poorly grounded and I don't buy the full validity of his in-class sampling as research.

That said, the end results of a lot of it felt like it contained a fair amount of wisdom, and so in the end I'd have to say I still like it, would recommend it, and think it has value. I might even go back and reread parts of it. I would have very much preferred if the author had dropped some of the quizzes and exercises in favor of more focus on the highest impact items, but I also buy the idea that doing so might do a disservice to the topic in this case. As such, while a bit grudgingly, I'd say this is worth reading.
Profile Image for Jeannette.
Author 16 books2 followers
September 25, 2016
This book is directed at the working stiffs who need to unbend or tighten up as the author determines which attitude or practice will achieve happiness. A do it yourself, pep up yourself book with lots of quizzes, scorings and suggestions. A bit tedious and self important at times but would have been useful to me at a younger age. Too happy to really find it useful now, but one special thing this book offers and made me admire and like the author is that he offers the book on line, even has a pay forward way to get a copy. Very nice, such generosity makes me happy.
Profile Image for Jodi Leunissen.
47 reviews6 followers
September 24, 2016
Een nieuwe favoriet. Dit is weer zo'n boek dat onderdeel van je leven gaat worden. Heel interessant om erachter te komen waarom je nou (on) gelukkig bent en hoe dat te veranderen / verbeteren. Redelijk zware kost, maar het is het zeker waard. Nogal wetenschappelijk benadert de schrijver alle aspecten en worden vele onderzoeken aangehaald. Maar elk aspect wordt terug gebracht naar de praktijk en omgezet in oefeningen of vragen waar je uren over kunt nadenken. Ik zou geen reden kunnen bedenken waarom je het niet zou lezen, of je nou gelukkig of ongelukkig bent (of iets ertussenin).
9 reviews1 follower
August 13, 2016
Happiness; all its aspects, are examined and analysed in detail, in a scientific manner, fortified with the results of a host of experiments carried out by the masters of the subject. At many points, readers are asked to participate in exercises, for them to know, how their own minds work in connection with one or the other aspect of happiness. The book certainly contributes to the reader's quest for happiness. The book is for serious reading, and will be revisited by a serious reader.
36 reviews
July 16, 2016
I enjoyed this book. A great read for those who rely heavily on logic and reasoning in making decisions. The book has 7 sections in which you can apply changes, and one of them is overthinking choices. The author argues in depth in one of the sections that relying on your gut instinct can save you time and increase happiness on choices that is not measurable. Good actions steps and guides to apply to your life. Also, there is a coursera course to go along if you need extra guidance.
1 review
September 1, 2016
I heard about the book from the Art Of Charm podcast series and was captivated by the research and ideas right away.

Such a good compilation of research and interesting finding combined with exercises on how we can improve our own happiness. Definitely recommend this book!
Profile Image for Daniel.
622 reviews83 followers
August 30, 2016
Why are smart people not happy? Because they don't actually choose happiness, but often chooses money and fame instead. The author listed many practical ways to increase our happiness level, such as finding flow, get connected, be trusting, help others Etc.
3,434 reviews15 followers
July 21, 2016
I took his class and it was excellent. I hope to refer back to this book.
Profile Image for Domantas.
1 review1 follower
August 13, 2016
A really good book about human behavior and meta-cognition. Highly recommend it to all interested in psychology, behavior and self-analysis.
9 reviews1 follower
August 20, 2016
A most informative and well researched book. This book highlights how something that make us smart and successful can undermine our happiness. Hearty Thanks to iMusti.
34 reviews
May 23, 2019
Review is intended for personal use -- summary of thoughts / takeaways to help decide whether to potentially re-read again later.

Potential for impact: medium
Enjoyableness of reading: medium
Likelihood of re-reading: medium

Back in the day (probably only about 3 or 4 years ago actually), I took Raj Ragunathan’s Coursera course on Happiness and it was pretty good. Big picture-wise, Raj is an Indian business school professor (very Indian actually, especially his mannerisms) who for whatever reason decided to teach top-tier MBAs about happiness. Weird right? B-school people as a group have no problem telling each other how successful they’re going to be or how much money they’ll make – not a bad thing necessarily but probably the least likely group of people I’ve ever met who would think about happiness in a holistic sense.

See what I know. Raj’s class was one of the most oversubscribed classes while he was teaching, he won numerous awards including professor of the year because he’s really passionate about the material (and he's also a pretty entertaining speaker). So what if he’s teaching it to business school students?

Anyway, the coursera course was good, and he wrote a book.

The book was pretty good and fairly tactical on how to raise your own happiness levels. There’s a bit of science in here also which is a good positive. Biggest takeaways? Social connection is one of the biggest happiness drivers, so things that help connecting with others, like practicing gratitude, not controlling others, engaging in genuinely giving behavior etc featured prominently here. The other category of behavior is more around ‘living in the moment’ – Raj describes it as ‘pursuing flow’ – actually he lifted it from another professor but the idea is to do activities where you lose track of time because you’re so engaged in your activity. James Clear talks about this in a little more detail in Atomic Habits where part of entering the flow state is to pick an activity that’s 1-4% harder than what your current capabilities are.

Regarding flow, honestly I'm not sure it's required to have the activity be just beyond your current ability level as both Raj and James Clear say. What I mean is there’s some truth to expanding your abilities but there’s also some truth to just DOING something. For instance this morning I did my dishes while thinking about whether to make it a habit to watch one movie per week, suddenly I looked up and all my dishes were done. So I don’t know that you NEED an activity that’s hard to enter flow. Plenty of chances to enter flow while you’re doing something like, say, writing a book review :)

Anyway the book is good and tactical enough to be useful, but I’m not 100% sold on main premise that one of our major jobs in life is to pursue happiness. I mean… happiness is fleeting for the most part – Raj has some ideas at the end of how to sustain increased happiness level, but the emphasis on chasing a feeling feels strange to me. Put another way, if our goal is to pursue happiness, why not do drugs all the time?

So, I’d rather chase accomplishment while doing what I can to make sure happiness is above a certain threshold level. In other words, no one wants to be chronically depressed... but I’m not sure the point of life is to pursue happiness. After all happiness is fleeting. But, if we’re not really unhappy life can start to look bleak, and if that’s the case it’s definitely worth picking up this book to see if anything here might help you get through some tough times.
Profile Image for Rich Yavorsky.
197 reviews9 followers
September 30, 2019
"If You're So Smart" is a professional spin on the time-honored question of finding happiness. Dr. Raj comes from a business background and asked this question of himself and his students several years ago, leading him to write this book.

IYSS does excellent justice to this question, with material largely from mindfulness practice and academic psychology. Dr. Raj outlines seven happiness "sins" and the complementary remediating "habits" (detailed notes below). My most beneficial takeaway is the concept of passionate processes but dispassionate end results, which has had an immediate positive impact on some of the stresses I face in my career and personal life.

Clearly a lot of effort went into this title, from the academic research to the online Coursera curriculum to the happysmarts.com website with numerous reference materials for the reader. Dr. Raj narrates his own title--indeed he has a subcontinent accent and the written work could use further editing, but for the majority of the read I found this unobtrusive. I find self-narration adds a level of sincerity to a title like this. Dr. Raj's effort yielded an engaging read that leaves the reader with plenty of food for thought. IYSS is worth the credit--enjoy.


- Sin 1: Devaluing happiness (for example: trading it away for frugality).
- Habit 1: Prioritize--but do not pursue--happiness. Don't chase happiness the way insomniacs chase sleep. Be happy with what you have ("harmony/abundance"), and you can deal with whatever comes your way.
- Sin 2: Chasing superiority. Human adaptation diminishes happiness via superiority over time.
- Habit 2: Pursue flow. Identify your talents and what you enjoy doing. Sacrifice short-term happiness when probability of long-term flow goes up.
- Sin 3: Desperation for love.
- Habit 3: The need to love and give.
- Sin 4: The need to be overly controlling. It's why driving feels safer than flying (though statistics clearly state that it's not) It's why we can't book the post-bar vacation until we know the bar results. When obsessed with goals, the goals control you. Time abundance is a perception: for example, stress as a function of hourly wage.
- Habit 4: Gaining internal control. Never blame someone else for your own unhappiness. It's okay to let your emotions run free, so long as you're consciously doing so. You can still keep others accountable for your actions. External control is often a projection of the lack of internal control. Labeling feelings lowers their intensity.
- Sin 5: distrusting others.
- Habit 5: Exercise smart trust. Practice forgiveness and keeping in mind the perspective of other people. Builds trust with others over time.
- Sin 6: Passionate to indifferent pursuit of passions. Worrying about the goal more than the process (or worse, not caring about the work at all.)
- Habit 6. Focus on processes, not results. Do everything it takes to pursue a goal, but care not if the the final result is not as desired (understanding that sometimes you cannot control everything).
- Sin 7: Allowing your focus to be pulled and distracted in all directions, worrying about the past and future, something which modern technologies enable.
- Habit 7: Maintaining presence. There's nothing better you can do than focus on the here and now.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 110 reviews

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