The Happiness Hypothesis

I know someone that has been going through this self help kick. I tried to explain to them that everyone writing those books is full of bullshit, and they are just working angles in order to get money from you. But, people are always looking for easy answers, and I did not have any better recommendations at the time.

After digging into things for a while, the first book that I determined had merit is, “The Happiness Hypothesis” by, Jonathan Haidt. Do not get me wrong, this is not a self help book, it actually has substance. Basically what Haidt does is a survey or ancient wisdom with a little modern positive psychology to establish his take on the issue.

The basis of his analysis is related to the happiness formula devised in positive psychology: H = S + C + V. Where H is happiness, S is the genetic set point, C are the conditions surrounding you, V are the voluntary things you do. From this base level he defines what most happy people do with their C and V to achieve happiness, and what you can try to do to change your set point. One of the more amusing aspects of the book where the ways he suggests that you can change your set point, either using meditation, cognitive therapy, or Prozac.

In the beginning of the book he talked about the four major divisions of the mind, and establishes the metaphor he uses throughout the book: the rider and the elephant. Basically, in this metaphor the rider is the rational part of the brain, and the elephant that representation the finely tuned autonomous brain functions. I think that if he ever writes a more “self help” style follow up to this book it should be called, “The Elephant Whisperer.”

One of the things I got a kick out of is that Haidt, an atheist, open advocates that people become more actively involved in religion (this is in a beyond the book section of the website). Now, he is not advocating any particular religion, since from his perspective it does not matter since non of them are right, just that you become more involved with it. There are a few reasons for this, that are not immediately obvious, but it has to do with the social / interconnectness of religious organizations, and fulfilling a need people have for sacredness.

Anyone that has read the book knows that I am greatly over simplifying some of the concept here, but I wanted to get the basic ideas out there for people to think about. And, while I do not necessarily agree with many of the conclusions he comes to, I do recommend the book to anyone that is interested in the subject matter. I am officially giving this book a 4 on the undecim.

2009-01-27: There is actually a really good outline of the book available online.