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The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  34,517 ratings  ·  2,145 reviews
In his widely praised book, award-winning psychologist Jonathan Haidt examines the world’s philosophical wisdom through the lens of psychological science, showing how a deeper understanding of enduring maxims-like Do unto others as you would have others do unto you, or What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger-can enrich and even transform our lives.
Paperback, 297 pages
Published December 26th 2006 by Basic Books (first published December 2006)
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Francisco He extract ideas and ideals from other times, thoughts that people believe was necessary to live useful and meaningful lives and then uses recent stud…moreHe extract ideas and ideals from other times, thoughts that people believe was necessary to live useful and meaningful lives and then uses recent studies and investigations to probe in a more scientifically way that this is what we need to follow to obtain happiness. Certain parts of the book make you reflect and let you understand the human behaviour.(less)

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Jun 27, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Everyone
Shelves: cognition
EDITED PREAMBLE: It's been 13 years since this review and somehow it continues to be a popular introduction. Given the change in Haidt's trajectory from psychologist to pop-political and cultural commentator, this makes me a bit uncomfortable. Similar to Steven Pinker, Haidt has diverged from his area of study to become a public intellectual, pontificating confidently on on all of what ails contemporary society (mostly college kids who boo his friends at Yale). This is somewhat ironic as it's in ...more
Kate Savage
Jan 24, 2014 rated it did not like it
I could probably give this book two stars if I hadn't just got my fill of evo-psy smarm from Steven Pinker. Haidt's got the same penchant to 1) explain away the cultural status quo as a natural consequence of biological human nature; 2) present all of his ideas as scientific consensus, when there are very few non-controversial conclusions in positive psychology (it's fine for him to stick with his theory, but his disinterest in bringing up these disagreements leaves me very distrustful of him); ...more
Jul 17, 2009 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Richard by: Cognitive Science Reading & Discussion Group
As I was reading the first few chapters, I put this book on my “to buy” list, but my enthusiasm ebbed as I finished the book, and my natural inclination not to buy books I never expect to re-read has taken over.

But it’s still a book I think I can recommend: it has plenty of interesting and thoughtful points to make, a few that are confusing and disconcerting, as well as some advice towards the front of the book.

The early chapters have a bit of a “self-help” feel that dissipates further into the
Jul 20, 2009 rated it really liked it
First of all there is a tone to this book that I thought from the beginning was really going to be a problem for me. I guess that is the tone of self-help books. All the same, this book was much more interesting and much more challenging (at least, to me) than most other self-help books I’ve read. I actually found parts of this book quite confronting.

The parts of this book that I liked the most were those where he was discussing his elephant and rider metaphor. Essentially, he believes that we a
Nyamka Ganni
If you are in passionate love and want to celebrate your passion, read poetry. If your ardor has calmed and you want to understand your evolving relationship, read psychology. But if you have just ended a relationship and would like to believe you are better off without love, read philosophy. and if you are unsure about what category falls for you, just read this book! :D
Roy Lotz
If you read The Happiness Hypothesis after Haidt’s The Righteous Mind, then I think you are bound to be a little disappointed. Whereas the latter is informative, original, and at times challenging, this book waters down Haidt’s genuine insight with a good deal of pop psychology and self-help.

According to Haidt, science has finally revealed how to be happy. All of the following factors are likely to boost happiness: enough money, ample free time, short commutes, a loving family, and meaningful wo
Oct 25, 2020 rated it it was ok
My pop-psychology bingo card was full by like page 30 . . . did you know that humans are most comfortable with a social circle of 150 people? Did you know that children who can resist stealing a cookie have better self-control later in life? Did you know that we have two 'minds' that are often in conflict with each other? Did you know that half-assed evolutionary psychology just-so stories can be presented as a plausible explanation for absolutely anything?

Well, if you've read Kahneman or Gilbe
Jan Rice
May 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: psychology
If I hadn't read Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow, first, I may not have been able to get into The Happiness Hypothesis. Although they mine some of the same territory, The Happiness Hypothesis is an ordinary book. Kahneman's book, on the other hand, is a land mine. I think he wrote it using the knowledge that was his subject matter, giving it its penetrating power. Haidt, on the other hand, comes across as attempting to "convert" the reader, which can set up some resistance. Also, while ...more
Dec 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book is about the top ten theories of modern research on happiness. Each chapter of the book is an attempt to get acquainted with a theory that has been discovered by a number of world civilizations. Also, with the information we have gained from scientific research today, this book critiques these theories in parts. The author also tries to draw lessons from these theories that are still applicable in our lives today.
Jan 21, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: psychology
The short conclusion at the end of this book was really good. I wish the rest of the book stuck to the author's concise summary a little bit better. In some of Haidt's best advice within the whole book he says, "Just as plants need sun, water, and good soil to thrive, people need love, work, and a connection to something larger." He adds, "You have to get the conditions right, and then wait." There are a lot of other good insights in the book, but I find them to be burried in piles of other not ...more
Michael Johnston
Jul 27, 2011 rated it really liked it
Finished reading this last night. Two things first - 1) the book is not really about ancient wisdom. It's primarily about current research/thinking in the field of Psychology on emotional happiness. 2) The first third of the book is among the most depressing things I have ever read. The book starts by focusing on the view that humans have virtually no control over our own ability to be happy (or miserable). It's genetic - we are born with an innate predisposition towards personal happiness or mi ...more
Nithya Nagarathinam
Feb 22, 2014 rated it it was ok

This book starts off as great. It neatly draws from the ancient philosophy and extrapolates the relevance of ancient wisdom to modern life. For example, the elephant-rider analogy, for which it gets one star. But somewhere in the middle, it loses itself in theological arguments. The scope of the book is so broad that the title becomes misleading.

The book gets another star for the valuable insights into human psychology, morality and life in general that lie interspersed in between elaborate dig
Mario Tomic
Jul 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
5 star, pure wisdom! This book gave me great insights on how our mind works. It's a great combination of scientific research, philosophy and psychology of today diving deep to figure out what really makes us happy. I highly recommended reading this book, if someone would say that I had only 3 books to pick for them this would be one of them. If you're wondering about the reasons for our seemingly never-ending pursuit of happiness and meaning "The Happiness Hypothesis" will give you very solid an ...more
Jul 03, 2016 rated it really liked it
You've heard of every single study in this book--marshmallows, monkeys and moms, etc. But Haidt's book is one of the best in this genre--he mixes modern psychological research (which I think by itself does not lend to a coherent worldview though many have tried to weave one) with some ancient ideas as well as some evolutionary truths. The point of this book, as he says, is not to tell you the meaning of life (why are we here, where do we go, etc), but how to have a meaningful (or happy) life. He ...more
Orton Family Foundation
Aug 07, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I’ve often marveled at how seemingly rational people can forgo reason when engaged in public debate over a land use issue. A few years back I was involved in a community meeting about a new village scale project being proposed for the center of a small Vermont town. Even faced with a plethora of facts, figures and testimonials to the contrary, many people held fast to their belief that the project—designed to mimic the design and spacing of the clustered houses already in the village center—woul ...more
Bon Tom
Apr 07, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Above all expectations. Don't let the cover fool you (it's a bit new-agey). This is a real science, hard psychology and lots of intelligence, common sense and depth in between. Ok, maybe the cover isn't that bad :) And it's not even all about happiness. I'd say it's a lot wider than that. ...more
The Pirate Ghost (Formerly known as the Curmudgeon)
“Do people have a tendency to dump on you?
Does your group have more cavities than theirs?
Do all the hippies seem to get the jump on you?
Do you sleep alone when others sleep in pairs?
Well there’s no need to complain
We’ll eliminate your pain
We can neutralize your brain
You’ll feel just fine
Buy a big bright green pleasure machine!

Do figures of authority just shoot you down?
Is life within the business world a drag?
Did your boss just mention that you’d better shop around
To find yourself a more pro
Nov 03, 2013 rated it it was ok
I was recommended this book by a friend. Going in, I was skeptical - the premise sounded like some sort of self-help hand wavy junk. When I realized the ambition of the book, I got much more interested. To me, the concept seemed great: "here's an ancient theory on life from an important philosopher, here's some modern science that provides empirical evidence for this theory so it seems they were correct and we should follow his / her advice." However, I think this book may have reached too far a ...more
Tom LA
Feb 12, 2017 rated it liked it
I loved Haidt's most recent book, "The righteous mind". This one (written years earlier) contains a lot of fascinating insights, but it seemed to me a little weaker. While "Righteous mind" examines the origins of morality, "Happiness" goes through some studies of happiness that I have already found or heard elsewhere, and it draws pertinent links with some ancient wisdom.

According to Haidt, the ones among us who have lost at the "cortex lottery" and are therefore less naturally prone to be happ
Oct 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: afp, audio, mind-blown
Using psychology, philosophy, theology*, and some biology, Jonathan Haidt digs into what brings true happiness and how we define it.
I like how intellectually engaging this book was. Most of the studies, philosophies, and ideas he presents should be familiar to anyone who keeps up with the topics. However, I've never seen them combined like this. It really is about "modern truth" born from "ancient wisdom."
Now, while I found this book engaging, I did not agree with all of it. This is pretty und
Jun 09, 2020 rated it liked it
solid connections between history, philosophy, and psychology, bringing up interesting ideas about the utility (to put it clinically) of adversity—the book was more than a little self-absorbed, however.
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
Jul 24, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: happiness
And thus we move, logically, to The Happiness Hypothesis. Ben Tanaka, main character of Shortcomings, could use The Happiness Hypothesis. Ginger Pye and the rest of the Pye family apparently intuitively knew The Happiness Hypothesis.
Haidt looks at ancient wisdom and compares it to the result of the new science of positive psychology. Some of the things I learned from this book:

*Reciprocity is the best guide to life. This is the classic “Do unto others” thought.

*There are three effective ways t

O modern European, what art thou doing? Who is there to educate thee? Where hath thy teachers gone? Why hath thy morals become eternal self-flagellation? Why doth thou writhe in dirt and semen like a worm? Hath thou no shame?

Modern man, in his quest for "happiness", perennially fails. He thinks the equation happiness = sensory pleasure is true, and thus becomes a hamster on a spinning wheel. He runs and runs and runs, chasing the great goal of Happiness, but just ends up becoming tired and
I've been slogging away at this book for nearly a month, which is unusual for me. Usually, if I stall on a book (as I did with three other books I started reading over the month of February), I simply put it down with a note that it's been partially read. But The Happiness Hypothesis was so compelling that I kept coming back after putting it down and letting my mind digest the material. It's a book that's designed to be read slowly.

I discovered this book through Switch, by Chip and Dan Heath, wh
Sep 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: psychology
Jonathan Haidt’s The Happiness Hypothesis bears the subtitle Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom. Executives at Basic Books no doubt felt that this was a little too lofty and academic sounding for the average Indigo-browsing reader of pop-psychology, because the book also bears the second, much sexier subtitle Why the Meaningful Life is Closer Than You Think. Each of these three titles seems to point in a somewhat different direction. But whether wittingly or unwittingly, this veritable schiz ...more
“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."
~ William Shakespeare.

The Happiness Hypothesis was an excellent book. The above quote plays a central theme in the author's writing.

Author Jonathan David Haidt is an American social psychologist, Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University Stern School of Business, and author. His main areas of study are the psychology of morality and moral emotions.

Jonathan Haidt:

Haidt opens the book with a great intro, setting t
Aug 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Don’t be put off by the title! It sounds wishy-washy, but it’s not. Haidt’s claims are specific and empirical, and are backed-up with citations to published studies.

The Happiness Hypothesis serves two functions: (1) it’s a psychology professor’s introduction to his chosen subfield (“positive psychology”), which aims to help people “find happiness and meaning” (Kindle Loc. 132); and (2) it explores the continued applicability of (mostly ancient and/or religious) philosophical and moral ideas, in
Adrian Lica
Jan 24, 2022 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: philosophy
Great book with very good insight.

I took a lot of notes and I will definitely implement some of the key ideas in my own life.

1. It’s hard for the controlled system (the rider) to beat the automatic system (the elephant) by willpower alone; like a tired muscle, the former soon wears down and caves in, but the latter runs automatically, effortlessly, and endlessly. Once you understand the power of stimulus control, you can use it to your advantage by changing the stimuli in your environment and av
Sven Kirsimäe
Nov 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: at-drive
I was a big fan of self-help books in my early 20ies and dropped them fast for they tend to be far from relating topics to any scientific reference of proof (that I tend to admire) and simply axiomatizing without any scientific reference. This book based on my experience, I initially looked at skeptically, is definitely a turnaround. For the first time, I feel like ”happiness has a scientific background in it”.
Marco Gontijo
Jan 09, 2022 rated it it was amazing
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Jonathan Haidt is the Thomas Cooley Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University's Stern School of Business. He is the author of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion and The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom. He lives in New York City. ...more

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“If you are in passionate love and want to celebrate your passion, read poetry. If your ardor has calmed and you want to understand your evolving relationship, read psychology. But if you have just ended a relationship and would like to believe you are better off without love, read philosophy.” 90 likes
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