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The Happiness Hypothesis

Putting Ancient Wisdom and Philosophy to the Test of Modern Science

By Jonathan Haidt
18-minute read
Audio available
The Happiness Hypothesis: Putting Ancient Wisdom and Philosophy to the Test of Modern Science by Jonathan Haidt

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.

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

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

Putting Ancient Wisdom and Philosophy to the Test of Modern Science

By Jonathan Haidt
  • Read in 18 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 11 key ideas
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The Happiness Hypothesis: Putting Ancient Wisdom and Philosophy to the Test of Modern Science by Jonathan Haidt
Synopsis

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.

Key idea 1 of 11

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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