Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt

A great book! As this was a re-read, I can say that I thought it was great last time and I still do now. One would be hard pressed to find a more readable and comprehensive overview of the field of social psychology as it relates to happiness. Haidt occasionally presents an over-simplified view of things, but more complexity can be found in the references.
The main analogy used throughout the book is that of an elephant and a rider. The elephant represents our subconscious disposition and inclinations, while the rider is our conscious mind. The rider tries so hard to control the elephant, but can manage only little change. This fact should bring peace and a realization that we only have so much control.
As our “elephant” is a creation of evolution mixed with culture, it often has different ideas of how things should be than our “rider” and this leads to a conflicted self, one that unjustly criticizes others and finds it hard to not pursue less-fulfilling positional goods (bigger houses, fancier cars…etc.)
Haidt does not promote apathy regarding one’s development of greater happiness, but meditation, cognitive-behavioural therapy or medication. Additionally, it seems that people’s happiness is improved by having less disturbing noise, having a shorter commute to work, having greater autonomy in work/life, minimal shame in appearance and action, and an extended social network.
We all have a genetic set-point, with some generally happy people winning the cortical lottery. The rest of us should try to change the things we can, make some effort at changing the less mobile structural restraints, and attempt to accept our dispositional nature.
Highly recommended.


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