The Happiness Hypothesis - Jonathan Haidt.

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The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom

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  • What can you do to have a good, happy, fulfilling, and meaningful life? What is the answer to the question of purpose within life? I believe the answer can be found only by understanding the kind of creature that we are, divided in the many ways we are divided. We were shaped by individual selection to be selfish creatures who struggle for resources, pleasure, and prestige, and we were shaped by group selection to be hive creatures who long to lose ourselves in something larger. We are social creatures who need love and attachments, and we are industrious creatures with needs for effectance, able to enter a state of vital engagement with our work. We are the rider and we are the elephant, and our mental health depends on the two working together, each drawing on the others’ strengths. I don’t believe there is an inspiring answer to the question, “What is the purpose of life?” Yet by drawing on ancient wisdom and modern science, we can find compelling answers to the question of purpose within life. The final version of the happiness hypothesis is that happiness comes from between. 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.

    Love and work are crucial for human happiness because, when done well, they draw us out of ourselves and into connection with people and projects beyond ourselves. Happiness comes from getting these connections right. Happiness comes not just from within, as Buddha and Epictetus supposed, or even from a combination of internal and external factors. The correct version of the happiness hypothesis, is that happiness comes from between.

  • The publisher's title for and capsule summary of "The Happiness Hypothesis" doesn't do full justice to the exceptional range of learning, research, and wisdom that combine in this book. It's not pop psychology or a generic self-help book: Haidt is a professor in the Psychology Department at the U. of Virginia, and a leading researcher in the "moral emotions". His working hypothesis is that human moral systems have underpinnings in evolutionary biology, but he's as far from being a reductionist as possible. Instead he believes it's impossible to understand morality, and by extension happiness, without examining their history in human cultures and religions.

    Haidt covers a tremendous range of interwoven topics: the history of Western moral philosophy; ideas of virtue and the sacred in Christianity, Buddhism, and Hinduism; child development and parent-child bonding in relation to the moral emotions; modern neuroscience and the biological foundations of behavior; and the role of trauma and adversity in personal growth. He is especially gifted at explaining things in everyday language, avoiding jargon and carefully defining and illustrating new terminology.

    George Wilson's narration is clear and paced appropriately, and he's solid on technical terms, foreign names, and so on. He gets a chance now and then to show his skill in creating voices for extended quotations from Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and William James.

    The publisher's title for and capsule summary of "The Happiness Hypothesis" doesn't do full justice to the exceptional range of learning, research, and wisdom that combine in this book. It's not pop psychology or a generic self-help book: Haidt is a professor in the Psychology Department at the U. of Virginia, and a leading researcher in the "moral emotions". His working hypothesis is that human moral systems have underpinnings in evolutionary biology, but he's as far from being a reductionist as possible. Instead he believes it's impossible to understand morality, and by extension happiness, without examining their history in human cultures and religions.

    Haidt covers a tremendous range of interwoven topics: the history of Western moral philosophy; ideas of virtue and the sacred in Christianity, Buddhism, and Hinduism; child development and parent-child bonding in relation to the moral emotions; modern neuroscience and the biological foundations of behavior; and the role of trauma and adversity in personal growth. He is especially gifted at explaining things in everyday language, avoiding jargon and carefully defining and illustrating new terminology.

    George Wilson's narration is clear and paced appropriately, and he's solid on technical terms, foreign names, and so on. He gets a chance now and then to show his skill in creating voices for extended quotations from Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and William James.

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  • The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom
    Jonathan Haidt
    No preview available - 2006

    In The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom, psychology professor Jonathan Haidt unearths ten great theories of happiness discovered by the thinkers of the past, from Plato to Jesus to Buddha, to reveal a surprising abundance of common tangents.

The Happiness Hypothesis also incorporates ancient philosophy.

My second book, uses the rider and elephant to understand morality, politics, and religion. It picks up where The Happiness Hypothesis left off in the concluding chapter -- about the need to look for wisdom in the minds of those with whom you disagree.