I first heard about The Happiness Hypothesis from twitter, from @zappos tweet on having finished it, to be exact. I was especially interested in the premise of this book–a look at ancient wisdom and modern psychological research. Jonathan Haidt carefully reviews 10 ideas that have been threads in ancient wisdom and have been addressed in psychological research. Specifically, he looks at
- The divided self. The notion of a divided self (mind vs. body, left vs. right brained, new vs. old, controlled vs. automatic responses).
- Changing your mind. Our experience of the world comes from our perception of it. He goes on to explain that some people just “win the cortical lottery” and have a higher happiness set point (S) than others.
- How to change S. Meditation, cognitive therapy, Prozac.
- Reciprocity with a vengeance. How reciprocity binds us together as a society. Why gossip is actually not as bad as the sages said (it provides a feedback loop on who can be trusted and is a form of bonding).
- The faults of others. How we’re so good at seeing others’ faults, and so blind to our own shortcomings. He details research on the four main causes of violence and cruelty (the obvious – greed/ambition, and sadism, and two less obvious and seemingly good – high self esteem and moral idealism). He then reiterates how meditation and self-examination can be used to reset the storytelling and encourage cooperation.
- The pursuit of happiness. How both lottery winners and paraplegics return to their set happiness point after the initial adjustment period ends. How we adapt to the conditions of our lives and take them for granted soon after they arrive. That happiness (H) is determined by the biological set point (S), the conditions of your life (C), and the voluntary activities (V) you do.
- How to change C. It’s not money or prestige or fame. The external conditions that really seem to matter are noise, commuting, lack of control, shame, and relationships.
- What Vs matter? Haidt draws a distinction between pleasures (eating ice cream…) and gratifications (moments of flow – experienced when using your strengths on a challenging problem). Gratifications last. According to Haidt, “activities connect us with others; objects often separate us….As a first step, work less, earn less, accumulate less, and ‘consume’ more family time, vacations, and other enjoyable vacations”. (pp. 100-101)
- Love and attachments. The stages of attachment to parents, caregiving to infants, and how it relates to our attachment to romantic partners. The differences between passionate and companionate love, and which is true love.
- The uses of adversity. Is it true that we need obstacles to fully realize ourselves? When is an obstacle a hindrance? It appears that family and social integration help people weather crises. So, for the isolated, adversity is more damaging. Youth confers a benefit of resilience as well.
- The felicity of virtue. The differences between character and actions. The 24 principle character strengths (test at authentichappiness.com).
- Divinity with or without God. The relationship between Flatland and the Bhagavad Gita. The effect of witnessing someone do a good deed: elevation.
- Happiness comes from between. The meaning of life, the meaning within life we create. Altruism, competition, and cooperation.
The final message: it isn’t all about retreating to a mountaintop and meditating. We have to work on the internal (S) and on the external (C and V) to increase our happiness/well being. More on the book at happinesshypothesis.com