Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Happiness Hypothesis

Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom
by Jonathan Haidt

What makes us happy? This is the central question of The Happiness Hypothesis. We are not all the same and no one thing is going to make everyone happy, but there should be some general principals that can guide us to a better life. Is money the answer? Does a lack of pain and a comfortable life make us happy? How about the ties that bind us to friends and family? It's a pretty big question and book goes deep into these and many others trying to get a glimpse of the secret of life.

It's a good read. I've read twice already and I'm reading it again because it's so densely packed with insights that you're bound to miss a few the first time and the third time it seems like even though I remember what I read, the significance of the wisdom takes a while to sink in. This is a great book if you like to ponder deep philosophical principals but also have a respect for modern science. The book is full of studies that examine the question posed by the philosophers and spiritual leaders of the past. It's a worth a few reads because each time you read it you are a different person. And how you approach this book determines what you will take away from it.

From Publishers Weekly

The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, lamented St. Paul, and this engrossing scientific interpretation of traditional lore backs him up with hard data. Citing Plato, Buddha and modern brain science, psychologist Haidt notes the mind is like an "elephant" of automatic desires and impulses atop which conscious intention is an ineffectual "rider." Haidt sifts Eastern and Western religious and philosophical traditions for other nuggets of wisdom to substantiate—and sometimes critique—with the findings of neurology and cognitive psychology. The Buddhist-Stoic injunction to cast off worldly attachments in pursuit of happiness, for example, is backed up by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's studies into pleasure. And Nietzsche's contention that what doesn't kill us makes us stronger is considered against research into post-traumatic growth. An exponent of the "positive psychology" movement, Haidt also offers practical advice on finding happiness and meaning. Riches don't matter much, he observes, but close relationships, quiet surroundings and short commutes help a lot, while meditation, cognitive psychotherapy and Prozac are equally valid remedies for constitutional unhappiness. Haidt sometimes seems reductionist, but his is an erudite, fluently written, stimulating reassessment of age-old issues. (Jan.) Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Using the wisdom culled from the world's greatest civilizations as a foundation, social psychologist Haidt comes to terms with 10 Great Ideas, viewing them through a contemporary filter to learn which of their lessons may still apply to modern lives. He first discusses how the mind works and then examines the Golden Rule ("Reciprocity is the most important tool for getting along with people"). Next, he addresses the issue of happiness itself--where does it come from?--before exploring the conditions that allow growth and development. He also dares to answer the question that haunts most everyone--What is the meaning of life?--by again drawing on ancient ideas and incorporating recent research findings. He concludes with the question of meaning: Why do some find it? Balancing ancient wisdom and modern science, Haidt consults great minds of the past, from Buddha to Lao Tzu and from Plato to Freud, as well as some not-so-greats: even Dr. Phil is mentioned. Fascinating stuff, accessibly expressed. June Sawyers
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