The Happiness Hypothesis – Jonathan Haidt

I found this book while walking around a second-hand bookstore and the title caught my attention. It wasn’t at all what I was expecting and I’m not sure if I agree with everything but it was an interesting look into the anatomy of happiness and how we as humans have hunted for it throughout history.

A couple of things stood out to me, but one thing was that events in the world affect us only through our interpretations of them, so if we can control our interpretations, we can control our world. Easier said than done but I thought that was a pretty interesting perspective and outlook. Additionally, because human beings were shaped by evolutionary processes to pursue success, not happiness, we’re not sure on how to find happiness or how to be happy. This book put it rather simply, though: set your heart on doing good. Do it over and over again, and you will be filled with joy. Again, easier said than done.


  1. Changing your mind is usually a more effective response to frustration than is changing the world.
  2. The ability to make sense of tragedy and then find benefit in it is the key that unlocks post-traumatic growth.
  3. Freud said that the mind is divided into three parts: the ego (the conscious, rational self)’ the super ego (the conscience, a sometimes too rigid commitment to the rules of society); and the id (the desire for pleasure, lots of it, sooner rather than later).
  4. Why do people keep doing such stupid things? Why do they fail to control themselves and continue to do what they know is not good for them?
  5. To understand most important ideas in psychology, you need to understand how the mind is divided into parts that sometimes conflict.
  6. Each part of the body has its own emotions and its own agenda.
  7. When you feel yourself drawn or a meal, a landscape, or an attractive person, or repelled by a dead animal, a bad song, or a blind date, your orbitofrontal cortex is working hard to give you an emotional feeling of wanting to approach or to get away.
  8. Reason and emotion must both work together to create intelligent behavior, but emotion does most of the work.
  9. Psychologists began to realize that there are really two processing systems at work in the mind at all times: controlled processes and automatic processes.
  10. Controlled processing requires language. You can have bits and pieces of thought through images, but to plan something complex, to weigh the pros and cons of different paths, or to analyze the causes of past successes and failures, you need words.
  11. Whenever I am on a cliff, a rooftop, or a high balcony, the imp of the perverse whispers in my ear, “jump.” It’s not a command, it’s just a word that pops into my consciousness. The moment one stops trying to suppress a thought, the thought comes flooding in and becomes even harder to banish.
  12. The ones that get stuck are the ones that particularly shock us, the ones we try to suppress or deny. The reason we suppress them is not that we know, deep down, that they’re true (although some may be), but that they are scary or shameful. Yet once we have tied and failed to suppress them, they can become the sorts of obsessive throughs that make us believe in Freudian notions of a dark and evil unconscious mind.
  13. There is no reality, only perception.
  14. Nothing is miserable unless you think it so; and on the other hand, nothing brings happiness unless you are content with it.
  15. Life is indeed what we deem it, but the deeming happens quickly and unconsciously.
  16. Clinical psychologists sometimes say that two kinds of people seek therapy, those who need tightening, and those who need loosening.
  17. The sympathetic system prepares your body for “fight or flight” and the parasympathetic system calms you down.
  18. You can be unhappy anywhere.
  19. The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.
  20. We often use reasoning not to find the truth but to invent arguments to support our deep and intuitive beliefs.
  21. What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others.
  22. That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow.
  23. We are motivated to pass on information to our friends; we even sometimes say, “I can’t keep it in, I have to tell somebody.” Gossip elicits gossip, and it enables us to keep track of everyone’s reputation without having to witness their good and bad deeds personally. Gossip creates a non-zero-sum game because it costs us nothing to give each other information, yet we both benefit by receiving information.
  24. Gossip is overwhelmingly critical, and it is primarily about the moral and social violations of others. When people pass along high-quality (“juicy”) gossip, they feel more powerful, they have a better shared sense of what is right and what’s wrong, and they feel more closely connected to their gossip partners.
  25. Gossip extends our moral-emotional toolkit. In a gossipy world, we don’t just feel vengeance and gratitude toward those who hurt or help us; we feel pale but still instructive flashes of contempt and anger toward people whom we might not even know. We feel vicarious shame and embarrassment when we hear about people whose schemes, lusts, and private failings are exposed. Gossip is a policeman and a teacher. Without it, there would be chaos and ignorance.
  26. Gossip and reputation make sure that what goes around comes around – a person who is cruel will find that others are cruel back to him, and a person who is kind will find that others are kind in return. As long as everyone plays tit-for-tat augmented by gratitude, vengeance, and gossip, the whole system should work beautifully.
  27. It is easy to spot a cheater when our eyes are looking outward, but hard when looking inward.
  28. Though you see the seven defects of others, we do not see our own ten defects.
  29. Human beings are a species splendid in their array of moral equipment, tragic in their propensity to misuse it, and pathetic in their constitutional ignorance of the misuse.
  30. But at least a depressed person will usually admit she’s depressed. Curing hypocrisy is much harder because part of the problem is that we don’t believe there’s a problem.
  31. Although many lawyers won’t tell a direct lie, most will do what they can to hide inconvenient facts while weaving a plausible alternative story for the judge and jury, a story that they sometimes know is not true. Our inner lawyer works in the same way, but, somehow, we actually believe the stories he makes up.
  32. Good and evil do not exist outside of our beliefs about them.
  33. If God is all good and all powerful, either he allows evil to flourish (which means he is not all good), or else he struggles against evil (which means he is not all powerful).
  34. Our life is the creation fo our mind.
  35. Judgmentalism is indeed a disease of the mind: it leads to anger, torment, and conflict. But it is also the mind’s normal condition, always saying “like it” or “don’t like it.” So how can you change your automatic reactions? You know by now that you can’t simply resolve to stop judging others or to stop being a hypocrite.
  36. Write down your thoughts, learn to recognize the distortions in your thoughts, and then think of a more appropriate thought.
  37. In a conflict, look at the world from our opponents’ point of view, and you’ll see that she is not entirely crazy.
  38. The path to happiness that leads through acceptance.
  39. Do not seek to have events happen as you want them to, but instead want them to happen as they do happen, and your life will go well.
  40. Happiness can only be found within, by breaking attachments to external things and cultivating an attitude of acceptance.
  41. Life itself is but what you deem it, and your mental state determines how you deem things.
  42. Some things are worth striving for, and happiness comes in part from outside of yourself, if you know where to look.
  43. Pleasure comes more from making progress toward goals than from achieving them. Things won are done; joy’s soul lies in the doing.
  44. Happy people grow rich faster because, as in the marriage market, they are more appealing to others (such as bosses), and also because their frequent positive emotions help them commit to projects, to work hard, and to invest in their futures.
  45. The level of happiness you actually experience (H) is determined by your biological set point (S) plus the conditions of your life (C) plus the voluntary activities (V) you do.
  46. Noise, especially noise that is variable or intermittent, interferes with concentration and increases stress. It’s worth striving to remove sources of noise in your life.
  47. Good relationships make people happy, and happy people enjoy more and better relationships than unhappy people.
  48. You never adapt to interpersonal conflicts, it damages every day, even days when you don’t see the other person but ruminate about the conflict nevertheless.
  49. It is vain to say that human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquility: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it.
  50. Those who think money can’t buy happiness just don’t know where to ship. People would be happier and healthier if they took more time off and “spent” it with their family and friends.
  51. Activities connect us to others; objects often separate us.
  52. Attachments bring pain, but they also bring our greatest joys.
  53. Happiness comes from within, and happiness comes from without. Happiness comes in the between.
  54. If you want your children to grow up to be healthy and independent, you should hold them, hug them, cuddle them, and love them. Give them a secure base and they will explore and then conquer the world on their own.
  55. Passionate love is a “wildly emotional state in which tender and sexual feelings, elation and pain, anxiety and relief, altruism and jealously coexist in a confusion of feelings.” Passionate love is the love you fall into. In an instant, the world around you is transformed. You crave union with your beloved. You want, somehow, to crawl into each other.
  56. Companionate love grows slowly over the years as lovers apply their attachment and caregiving systems to each other, and as they begin to rely upon, care for, and trust each other. If the metaphor for passionate love is fire, the metaphor for companionate love is vines growing, intertwining, and gradually binding two people together. The contrast of wild and calm forms of love has occurred to people in many cultures.
  57. When two people come together their hearts are on fire and their passion is very great. After a while, the fire cools and that’s how it stays.
  58. No drug can keep you continuously high.
  59. Companionate love can last a lifetime.
  60. I would like to live in a world in which everyone radiates benevolence toward everyone else, I would rather live in a world in which there was at least one person who loved me specifically, and whom I loved in return.
  61. The person who has had more experience of hardships can stand more firmly in the face of problems than the person who has never experience suffering. Some suffering can be a good lesson for life.
  62. We often develop love for those we care for, and we usually feel love and gratitude toward those cared for us in a time of need.
  63. Suffering is not always all bad for people. There is usually some good mixed with the bad, and those who find it have found something precious.
  64. Adversity might be necessary for optimal human development.
  65. Because human beings were shaped by evolutionary processes to pursue success, not happiness, people enthusiastically pursue goals that will help them win prestige in zero-sum competitions.
  66. Adversity may be necessary for growth because it forces you to stop speeding along the road of life, allowing you to notice the paths that were branching off all along, and to think about where you really want to end up.
  67. You can’ have a good life story without vicissitudes.
  68. When people report having grown after coping with adversity, they could be trying to describe a new sense of inner coherence. This coherence might not be visible o one’s friends, but it feels like growth, strength, maturity, and wisdom from the inside.
  69. When bad things happen to good people, we have a problem.
  70. Life has a way of making the rich get richer and the happy get happier.
  71. So adversity may be most beneficial for people in their late teens and into their twenties.
  72. We do not receive wisdom, we must discover it for ourselves, after a journey through the wilderness which no one else can make for us, which no one can spare us, for our wisdom is the point of view from which we come to last to regard the world.
  73. Explicit knowledge is all the facts you know and can consciously report, independent of context. Wisdom is based on tacit knowledge, a procedural (knowing how rather than knowing that).
  74. Wise people are able to balance their own needs, the needs of others, and the needs of people or things beyond the immediate interaction.
  75. Ignorant people see everything in black and white – they rely heavily on the myth of pure evil and are strongly influenced by their own self-interest.
  76. The wise are able to see things from others’ points of view and appreciate the shades of grey, and then choose or advise a course of action that works out best for everyone in the long run.
  77. Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.
  78. Suffering often makes people more compassionate, helping them find balance between self and others. Suffering often leads to active coping, reappraisal coping, or change in plans and directions.
  79. For adversity to be maximally beneficial, it should happen at the right time (those with social and psychological resources to rise to challenges and find benefits), to the right people and to the right degree (not so severe as to cause PTSD).
  80. Trying to make children behave ethically by teaching them to reason well is like trying to make a dog happy by wagging its tail. It gets causality backwards.
  81. Work on your strengths, not your weaknesses. How many of your New Year’s resolutions have been about fixing a flaw? And how many of those resolutions have you made several years in a row? It’s difficult to change any aspect of your personality by sheer force of will, and if it is a weakness you choose to work on, you probably won’t enjoy the process.
  82. The self does not like to be denied, and it is adept at finding reasons to bend the rules or cheat.
  83. You never really leave the friends you love. Part of them you take with you, leaving a part of you behind.
  84. But people are not computers, and they usually recover on their own from almost anything that happens to them. I think a better metaphor is that people are like plants. As long as they are not completely dead, they will spring back to full and glorious life if you just get the conditions right. you can’t fix a plant; you can only give it the right conditions – water, sun, and soil – and then wait. It will do the rest.
  85. Happiness comes from getting these connections right. Happiness comes not just from within, or even from a combination of internal and external factors. The correct version of the happiness hypothesis, is that happiness comes from between.
  86. 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.
  87. Happiness is not something that you can find, acquire, or achieve directly. You have to get the conditions right and then wait.
  88. 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.
  89. A good place to look for wisdom is where you least expect to find it: in the minds of your opponents. You already know the ideas common on your own side. If you can take off the blinders of the myth or pure evil, you might see some good ideas for the first time.
  90. Happiness requires changing yourself and changing your world. It requires pursuing your own goals and fitting in with others. Different people at different times in their lives will benefit from drawing more heavily on one approach or the other.
  91. We can’t simply select a destination and then walk there directly; we don’t have that authority.
What doesn't kill you makes you, by definition, a survivor.
*I take no credit for any of these points.

Recommend me a book

No horror books, please!!