The Happiness Hypothesis Book Summary - The Happiness Hypothesis Book explained in key points
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The Happiness Hypothesis summary

Jonathan Haidt

Putting Ancient Wisdom and Philosophy to the Test of Modern Science

4.5 (253 ratings)
23 mins

Brief summary

The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt explores ancient wisdom and modern science to uncover the secrets of happiness. It provides insights on how to live a fulfilling life by understanding our own minds and emotions.

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    The Happiness Hypothesis
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    Our mind is divided: or the human mind as a rational rider on a wild elephant.

    Have you ever noticed how much easier it is to make New Year’s resolutions than it is to stick to them?

    Why is that?

    Because the mind isn’t a unit, but actually divided into two distinct parts. One metaphor for this divided mind is a wild elephant being ridden by a human who’s trying his best to control it. We can see this division at work in several ways:

    First, we cannot fully control the body with conscious thought. For example, the human heart acts independently from the mind, as we cannot consciously control our heart rate. That’s because there is a second brain, called the “gut brain,” whose actions are autonomous and can’t be directed by rational decisions.

    So, in terms of the above metaphor, our heart rate is determined by how quickly our inner elephant is running, not by the rational rider’s conscious decision making.

    Second, and moreover, this division is reflected in the structure of the brain.

    While older structures like the limbic system are in charge of basic instincts, such as sex and hunger, the newer neocortex controls reasoning and inhibition, which enables us to keep the desires and drives which stem from the older areas of the brain in check. The function of the neocortex can be seen most clearly in the behavior of people whose neocortex is damaged: if they’re hungry, they can’t put off eating; if they become aroused, they can’t stop themselves from sexually harassing people.

    To control our basic drives, the rider uses language to plan ahead and advise the elephant, who is responsible for instincts and emotions. In reality, however, instead of using reason in our decision making, we usually allow our emotions to direct us – which means that the elephant of our metaphor, who acts more or less involuntary, tends to be more powerful than the rider.

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    What is The Happiness Hypothesis about?

    In The Happiness Hypothesis, Jonathan Haidt examines the ideas of famous ancient thinkers in light of modern knowledge and uses scientific findings to answer the question, “What makes a person happy?” The book will provide you with a better understanding of human social behavior and enable you to increase your own happiness.

    The Happiness Hypothesis Review

    The Happiness Hypothesis (2006) explores the science of happiness and reveals surprising insights on how to lead a more fulfilling life. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • Through in-depth research and analysis, it offers a variety of perspectives from ancient wisdom to modern psychology, giving readers a comprehensive understanding of happiness.
    • By examining topics such as love, success, and virtue, the book challenges common misconceptions about happiness, encouraging readers to rethink their own beliefs and values.
    • With its accessible writing and relatable examples, it effortlessly combines academic rigor with a conversational tone, making the subject matter engaging and thought-provoking.

    Who should read The Happiness Hypothesis?

    • Anyone looking for more happiness and meaning in his or her life
    • Anyone interested in psychology and research on happiness

    About the Author

    Jonathan Haidt is Professor of Social Psychology at New York University. He is well known for his research on morality and emotions of disgust. In 2012, he wrote The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, which ultimately became a New York Times bestseller.

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    The Happiness Hypothesis FAQs 

    What is the main message of The Happiness Hypothesis?

    The main message of The Happiness Hypothesis is that ancient wisdom and modern science can teach us how to find true happiness.

    How long does it take to read The Happiness Hypothesis?

    The reading time for The Happiness Hypothesis varies depending on the reader, but the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is The Happiness Hypothesis a good book? Is it worth reading?

    The Happiness Hypothesis is a valuable read as it offers a compelling exploration of happiness backed by research and insightful wisdom.

    Who is the author of The Happiness Hypothesis?

    The author of The Happiness Hypothesis is Jonathan Haidt.

    What to read after The Happiness Hypothesis?

    If you're wondering what to read next after The Happiness Hypothesis, here are some recommendations we suggest:
    • The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt
    • The Lucifer Effect by Philip Zimbardo
    • Joyful by Ingrid Fetell Lee
    • The Confidence Game by Maria Konnikova
    • Happy by Derren Brown
    • Mindset by Carol Dweck
    • Emotional Agility by Susan David
    • The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz and Janet Mills
    • The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman
    • The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk