Julie's Reviews > The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom

The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt
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really liked it
bookshelves: business-and-society, religion-philosophy-spirituality

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, who borrow Haidt's metaphor of the mind as a rider on an elephant. Haidt asks us to imagine our mind as a rider (your conscious self) trying to direct an elephant (your subconscious self). To some extent, the rider can manhandle the elephant into doing what it wants, but things work out much better if he can train the elephant into going along the proper path. This metaphor helps explain much of the rest of the book.

Later chapters use psychology, neurology, biology, and anthropology to explain the sometimes-confusing world of our minds and our societies. Why do we feel the need to get revenge on someone, even if it doesn't bring us any personal gain? Why are we so likely to see faults in other but not ourselves? How can we find love and happiness? How can we overcome adversity? And, in the pursuit of the ultimate question, what is the meaning of life?

This is an absolutely fascinating book, and I highly recommend it. You'll start to see some of the underlying reasons behind things that might previous have been a mystery. I expect I'll come back to this book and reread it every few years, because it's just so rich with information.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
March 7, 2011 – Shelved
March 7, 2011 – Shelved as: business-and-society
March 7, 2011 – Shelved as: religion-philosophy-spirituality
March 7, 2011 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-6 of 6 (6 new)

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message 1: by Ed (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ed Julie. I really liked it too as per my review. You might be interested in his next book that he is still writing, but is due out mid year. He is looking at the moral foundations of conservative and liberal views. See his website at: http://faculty.virginia.edu/haidtlab/...

I am hoping to link my work on conflict (still publisher seeking) with Jon's work. He is an absolutely great guy to talk to. And I agree with all your comments on the Happiness Hypothesis. I have read about 6 or so of the current slew of happiness books post Martin Seligman's work. Some friends of mine are using HH to navigate out of very tough circumstances too. Not just a fair weather book.


Piyush If you have come across a better book on similar lines, please let me know.


message 3: by Ed (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ed @Piyush. I have read about 8 books in this field and this is by far the best, though the most challenging of my mental status quo. I also like Oliver Burkeman's book "Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking" one of whose major insights is that keeping asking "am I happy" is the best way to be unhappy. Burkeman is far more than just a counter to all the happiness books and I think makes a very real contribution.


Piyush Thanks!! How about Stumbling upon happiness? Also, would you mind me telling those 8 books, in order of your liking :)

I wanna read some and gain some expertise and spread the idea!!


message 5: by Ed (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ed @Piyush. Yes I like that: stumbling into happiness. Mostly its a matter of stopping doing the many things that make us unhappy and which we know do that. :) My own view is that it is about exercise, diet and stress reduction. Some of the books were very non memorable. The ones that were any good were Tal Ben-Shahar's book 'Happier' which is based on the most popular course at Harvard University. And Martin Seligman founder of the whole field 'Authentic Happiness'. He has a new book out called Flourish which I haven't read. Other than that I would avoid books that over-promise on the cover. I would ideally like to find a book that says: "if you read this book, listen to its insights and do quite a bit of work on your more self sabotaging traits you could be about 15% happier with any luck." Most people I know who rave about self help books don't actually change anything about themselves which kinda defeats the point. Which is why Chip and Dan Heath's book 'Switch' mentioned by Julie above is pretty handy. It's not happiness that is the hard bit; it is change.


Piyush thanks foe your valuable insight!! I quite agree about: "if you read this book, listen to its insights and do quite a bit of work on your more self sabotaging traits you could be about 15% happier with any luck."


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