The Happiness Hypothesis: Summary Review & Takeaways

This is a summary review of The Happiness Hypothesis containing key details about the book.

What is The Happiness Hypothesis About?

The Happiness Hypothesis poses several ideas on happiness espoused by thinkers of the past—Plato, Buddha, Jesus, and others—and examines them in the light of contemporary psychological research, extracting from them any lessons that still apply to our modern lives.

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Central to the book are the concepts of virtue, happiness, fulfillment, and meaning.

Who is the Author of The Happiness Hypothesis?

Jonathan Haidt is the Thomas Cooley Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University's Stern School of Business. He received his Ph.D. in social psychology from the University of Pennsylvania in 1992 and then did post-doctoral research at the University of Chicago and in Orissa, India.

What are key takeaways from The Happiness Hypothesis?

Takeaway #1 Our Inner Elephant

Have you ever stopped to ponder what happiness actually is and how it can be achieved? We know that our mind can control how happy we are but without being part medical student part psychologist it can be difficult to understand how happiness works. That's where the fun metaphor of you being a wild elephant ridden by a human comes in!

Takeaway #2 Controlling The Elephant

Our conscious thoughts cannot fully control our body. If we look at our heart as an example, our heart is not controlled by our thoughts but by an autonomously acting second brain, therefore, our heart rate is controlled by how fast our inner elephant is running, not by the thoughts the rider sends to the elephant.

Usually, the rider plans ahead to direct and control the wild elephant's instincts so as to control basic drives such as hunger but when it comes to emotions, we usually let the elephant take charge and unfortunately, the elephant evaluates most things negatively. This is due to early humans relying on their ability to recognize danger to stay alive – fear would cause them to flee from the wild animal whilst joy was a rather redundant feeling. Right to this day, our inner elephant is wired to respond more strongly to negative things than positive things causing us to overreact with worry and fear to the modern world.

Genetics also come into play, determining how pessimistic or optimistic you are meaning that some elephant riders will need to work harder at controlling their elephant, training it to be happier through methods such as CBT and meditation.

Takeaway #3 Lifting The Blinkers on Both Elephant & Rider

We are hard-wired to not see our own faults since the realization that we're fallible isn't pleasant. However, living life with blinkers on can cause huge conflicts with those around us – just think how many times you've become angry or frustrated wondering why your partner or colleague couldn't see their own errors... it's likely that they will have also thought the same thing about you.

Our inability to recognize our shortcomings is so strong that when we're accused of doing something wrong, our inner elephant's automatic reaction is to deny it, with the rider rushing in to defend the elephant. It is possible to lift the blinkers when you make a conscious effort to find your flaws and mistakes you have made, this weakens our cognitive bias. Thanks to another human nature; reciprocity, when we admit our mistakes the other person will likely admit their own errors too resulting in a sincere apology and the conflict resolved.

Takeaway #4 All You Need Is Love

The Beatles were right, this basic yet vital feeling is a must in our lives. As adults, we often substitute our need for romantic love (this type of love including the positive feelings we received from our parents) with passionate love - the feeling of being in love that fades fast. When passionate love is over it doesn't mean the relationship is over, it just means you need to move on to the third type of love – compassionate love. This type of love grows over time and resembles the love we felt for and from our parents.

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There are other ways to feel love that lead us to happiness – Doing a job because you love it rather than because it pays the bills, surrounding yourself with people that make you feel loved and part of a team, and practicing altruistic – showing unselfish concern for the well-being of others which gives meaning to our life.

Our desire to help others can sometimes come into conflict with helping ourselves, that's because we're social creatures programmed yet we're also highly individual creatures – Aligning the two states can feel like a balancing act but getting the balance right ensures happiness.

Book details

  • Print length: 297 Pages
  • Audiobook: 10 hrs and 18 mins
  • Genre: Psychology, Nonfiction, Philosophy, Self Help, Science, Mental Health

What are the chapters in The Happiness Hypothesis?

Chapter One - Introduction: Too Much Wisdom
Chapter Two - The Divided Self
Chapter Three - Changing Your Mind
Chapter Four - Reciprocity With a Vengeance
Chapter Five - The Faults of Others
Chapter Six - The Pursuit of Happiness
Chapter Seven - Love and Attachments
Chapter Eight - The Uses of Adversity
Chapter Nine - The Felicity of Virtue
Chapter Ten - Divinity With or Without God
Chapter Eleven - Happiness Comes from Between
Chapter Twelve - On Balance

What are some of the main summary points from the book?

Here are some key summary points from the book:

  • Happiness is a combination of ancient wisdom and modern science: Haidt combines ancient wisdom from various cultures and philosophical traditions with scientific research to understand the nature of happiness. He draws upon insights from psychology, neuroscience, and evolutionary biology to provide a comprehensive view of happiness.
  • The divided self: Haidt introduces the idea that the human mind is divided into different parts that often have conflicting desires and motivations. These different parts, such as the emotional and rational selves, can lead to inner conflicts and impact our overall happiness.
  • The role of evolution: Haidt argues that our evolutionary history has shaped our psychology and influences our happiness. Understanding our evolutionary heritage can provide insights into our social and moral behaviors and how they relate to our well-being.
  • The importance of relationships and social connections: Haidt emphasizes the significance of social connections for happiness. Positive relationships, community support, and social interactions have a profound impact on our well-being. Cultivating meaningful connections with others is crucial for happiness.
  • The impact of positive emotions: Haidt discusses the importance of positive emotions such as gratitude, awe, and love in fostering happiness. These emotions can broaden our perspectives, build resilience, and enhance overall well-being.
  • The influence of negative emotions and adversity: While positive emotions are important, Haidt also acknowledges the role of negative emotions and adversity in personal growth and resilience. Overcoming challenges can lead to greater happiness and personal development.
  • The role of virtue and meaning: Haidt explores the concept of virtue and how moral behavior contributes to happiness. Engaging in meaningful activities, setting and pursuing goals, and living in alignment with our values are crucial for a fulfilling life.
  • The impact of meditation and mindfulness: Haidt discusses the benefits of practices like meditation and mindfulness in cultivating happiness. These practices can help calm the mind, increase self-awareness, and foster a sense of well-being.
  • The pursuit of happiness: Haidt challenges the notion that happiness should be pursued as an end goal. Instead, he suggests that happiness is best achieved by focusing on the journey, engaging in meaningful activities, and cultivating positive relationships.
  • The importance of self-transcendence: Haidt suggests that true happiness can be found by going beyond oneself and connecting to something greater. Whether through spirituality, altruism, or a sense of purpose, self-transcendence can lead to a deeper and more lasting happiness.

What is a good quote from The Happiness Hypothesis?

[Favorite Quote]: “Happiness is not something that you can find, acquire, or achieve directly. You have to get the conditions right and then wait." (Meaning)

― Jonathan Haidt - The Happiness Hypothesis Quotes

What do critics say?

Here's what one of the prominent reviewers had to say about the book: "This unusual book sets itself apart from the self-help category with its extensive scientific references, and intelligent, neutral prose, while the author's illuminating illustration of how the human mind works is both educational and refreshing." — Sunday Times (London)

* The summary points above have been concluded from the book and other public sources. The editor of this summary review made every effort to maintain information accuracy, including any published quotes, chapters, or takeaways

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Chief Editor

Tal Gur is an author, founder, and impact-driven entrepreneur at heart. After trading his daily grind for a life of his own daring design, he spent a decade pursuing 100 major life goals around the globe. His journey and most recent book, The Art of Fully Living, has led him to found Elevate Society.

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