“The Happiness Hypothesis” answers the question, what is happiness? Haidt examines happiness through a historical lens, to demonstrate what has made people happy throughout the ages. The reader is taken on a journey back in time using psychology, history and science to fully immerse themselves in the deeper questions within the quest for happiness.
Key Takeaways from “The Happiness Hypothesis" by Jonathan Haidt:
Takeaway #1 Our Inner Elephant
Have you ever stopped to ponder what happiness actually is and how it can be achieved? We know that our mind can control how happy we are but without being part medical student part psychologist it can be difficult to understand how happiness works. That's where the fun metaphor of you being a wild elephant ridden by a human comes in!
Takeaway #2 Controlling The Elephant
Our conscious thoughts cannot fully control our body. If we look at our heart as an example, our heart is not controlled by our thoughts but by an autonomously acting second brain, therefore, our heart rate is controlled by how fast our inner elephant is running, not by the thoughts the rider sends to the elephant.
Usually, the rider plans ahead to direct and control the wild elephant's instincts so as to control basic drives such as hunger but when it comes to emotions, we usually let the elephant take charge and unfortunately, the elephant evaluates most things negatively. This is due to early humans relying on their ability to recognize danger to stay alive – fear would cause them to flee from the wild animal whilst joy was a rather redundant feeling. Right to this day, our inner elephant is wired to respond more strongly to negative things than positive things causing us to overreact with worry and fear to the modern world.
Genetics also come into play, determining how pessimistic or optimistic you are meaning that some elephant riders will need to work harder at controlling their elephant, training it to be happier through methods such as CBT and meditation.
Takeaway #3 Lifting The Blinkers on Both Elephant & Rider
We are hard-wired to not see our own faults since the realization that we're fallible isn't pleasant. However, living life with blinkers on can cause huge conflicts with those around us – just think how many times you've become angry or frustrated wondering why your partner or colleague couldn't see their own errors... it's likely that they will have also thought the same thing about you.
Our inability to recognize our shortcomings is so strong that when we're accused of doing something wrong, our inner elephant's automatic reaction is to deny it, with the rider rushing in to defend the elephant. It is possible to lift the blinkers when you make a conscious effort to find your flaws and mistakes you have made, this weakens our cognitive bias. Thanks to another human nature; reciprocity, when we admit our mistakes the other person will likely admit their own errors too resulting in a sincere apology and the conflict resolved.
Takeaway #4 All You Need Is Love
The Beatles were right, this basic yet vital feeling is a must in our lives. As adults, we often substitute our need for romantic love (this type of love including the positive feelings we received from our parents) with passionate love - the feeling of being in love that fades fast. When passionate love is over it doesn't mean the relationship is over, it just means you need to move on to the third type of love – compassionate love. This type of love grows over time and resembles the love we felt for and from our parents.
There are other ways to feel love that lead us to happiness – Doing a job because you love it rather than because it pays the bills, surrounding yourself with people that make you feel loved and part of a team, and practicing altruistic – showing unselfish concern for the well-being of others which gives meaning to our life.
Our desire to help others can sometimes come into conflict with helping ourselves, that's because we're social creatures programmed yet we're also highly individual creatures – Aligning the two states can feel like a balancing act but getting the balance right ensures happiness.
The Happiness Hypothesis Chapters
Chapter One - Introduction: Too Much Wisdom
Chapter Two - The Divided Self
Chapter Three - Changing Your Mind
Chapter Four - Reciprocity With a Vengeance
Chapter Five - The Faults of Others
Chapter Six - The Pursuit of Happiness
Chapter Seven - Love and Attachments
Chapter Eight - The Uses of Adversity
Chapter Nine - The Felicity of Virtue
Chapter Ten - Divinity With or Without God
Chapter Eleven - Happiness Comes from Between
Chapter Twelve - On Balance
Best Quotes from The Happiness Hypothesis
"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 of without love, read philosophy."
"Love and work are to people what and sunshine are to plants."
"Happiness is not something that you can find, acquire, or achieve directly. You have to get the conditions right and then wait. Some of those conditions are within you, such as coherence among the parts and levels of your personality. Other conditions require relationships to things beyond you: Just as plants need sun water, and good soil to thrive, people need love, work, and a connection to something larger. It is worth striving to get the right relationships between yourself and others, between yourself and your work, and between yourself and something larger than yourself. If you get these relationships right, a sense of purpose and meaning will emerge."
"Those who think money can't buy happiness just don't know where to shop ... People would be happier and healthier if they took more time off and spent it with their family and friends, yet America has long been heading in the opposite direction. People would be happier if they reduced their commuting time, even if it means living in smaller houses, yet American trends are toward even larger houses and even longer commutes. People would be happier and healthier if they took longer vacations even if that meant earning less, yet vacation times are shrinking in the United States, and in Europe as well. People would be happier, and the long run and wealthier, if they bough basic functional appliances, automobiles, and wristwatches, and incest the money they saved for future consumption; yet, Americans and in particular spend almost everything they have - and sometimes more - in goods for present consumption, often paying a large premium ofr designer names and superfluous features."
"Work on your strengths, not your weaknesses. How many of your New Year's resolutions have been about fixing a flaw? And how many of those resolutions have you made several years in a row? It's difficult to change any aspect of your personality by sheer force of will, and if it is a weakness you choose to work on, you probably won't enjoy the process. If you don't find pleasure or reinforcement along the way, then - unless you have the willpower of Ben Franklin - you'll soon give up. But you don't really have to be good at everything. Life offers so many chances to use one tool instead of another, and often you can use a strength to get around a weakness."
"There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."
"Each of us thinks we see the world directly, as it really is. We further believe that the facts as we see them are there for all to see, therefore others should agree with us. if they don't agree, it follows either that they have not yet been exposed to the relevant facts or else that they are blinded by their interests and ideologies."
"The rider evolved to serve the elephant."
"Letting off steam makes people angrier, not calmer, Pennebaker discovered that it's not about steam; it's about sense-making. The people in his studies who used their writing time to vent got no benefit. The people who showed deep insight into the causes and consequences of the event on their first-day o writing got no benefit either: They had already made sense of things. It was the people who made progress across the four days, who showed increasing insight; they were the ones whose health improved over the next year."
"The word "coherence" literally means holding or sticking together, but it is usually used to refer to a system, an idea, or a worldview whose parts fit together in a consistent and efficient way. Coherent things work well: A coherent worldview can explain almost anything, while an incoherent worldview can explain almost anything, while an incoherent worldview is hobbled by internal contradictions. ... Whenever a system can be analyzed at multiple levels, a special kind of coherence occurs when the levels mesh and mutually interlock. We saw this cross-level coherence in the analysis of personality: If your lower-level traits match up with your coping mechanisms, which in turn are consistent with your life story, your personality is well integrated and you can get on with the business of living. When these levels do not cohere, you are likely to be torn by internal contradictions and neurotic conflicts. You might need adversity to knock yourself into alignment. And if you do achieve coherence, the moment when things come together may be one of the most profound of your life. ... Finding coherence across levels feels like enlightenment, and it is crucial for answering the question of purpose within life. People are multilevel systems in another way: We are physical objects (bodies and brains) from which minds somehow emerge; and from our minds, somehow societies and cultures form. To understand ourselves fully, we must study all three levels - physical, psychological, and sociocultural. There has long been a division of academic labor: Biologists studied the brain as a physical object, psychologists studied the mind, and sociologists and anthropologists studied the socially constructed environments within which minds develop and function. But a division of labor is productive only when the tasks are coherent - when all the lines of work eventually combine to make something greater than the sum of its parts. For much of the twentieth century that didn't happen - each field ignored the others and focused on its own questions. But nowadays cross-disciplinary work is flourishing, spreading out from the middle level (psychology) along bridges (or perhaps ladders) down to the physical level (for example, the field of cognitive neuroscience) and up to the sociocultural level (for example, cultural psychology). The sciences are linking up, generating cross-level coherence, and, like magic, big new ideas are beginning to emerge. Here is one of the most profound ideas to come from the ongoing synthesis: People gain a sense of meaning when their lives cohere across the three levels of their existence."
What we are comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow: our life is the creation of our mind. - BUDDHA"
"Words of wisdom, the meaning of life, perhaps even the answer sought by Borges's librarians - all of these may wash over us every day, but they can do little for us unless we savor them, engage with them, question them, improve them, and connect them to our lives"
― Jonathan Haidt - The Happiness Hypothesis
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Editor and Founder
Tal Gur is a location independent entrepreneur, author, and impact investor. After trading his daily grind for a life of his own daring design, he spent a decade pursuing 100 major life goals around the globe. His most recent book and bestseller, The Art of Fully Living - 1 Man, 10 Years, 100 Life Goals Around the World, has set the stage for his new mission: elevating society to its abundance potential.