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The Happiness Hypothesis: Putting Ancient Wisdom to the Test of Modern Science [Paperback]

Jonathan Haidt
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)
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Book Description

5 April 2007

Every culture rests on a bedrock of folk wisdom handed down through generations. The pronouncements of philosophers are homespun by our grandmothers, and find their way into our common sense: what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Do unto others as you would have done unto you. Happiness comes from within.

But are these 'truths' really true? Today we all seem to prefer to cling to the notion that a little bit more money, love or success will make us truly happy. Are we wrong?

In The Happiness Hypothesis, psychologist Jonathan Haidt exposes traditional wisdom to the scrutiny of modern science, delivering startling insights. We learn that virtue is often not its own reward, why extroverts really are happier than introverts, and why conscious thought is not as important as we might like to think...

Drawing on the rich inspiration of both philosophy and science, The Happiness Hypothesis is a remarkable, original and provocative book - ancient wisdom in our time.

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The Happiness Hypothesis: Putting Ancient Wisdom to the Test of Modern Science + The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion
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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Arrow; 1st Thus edition (5 April 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099478897
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099478898
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 3,743 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"Riveting... Brilliantly synthesising ancient cultural insights with modern psychology and even holding out some faint hope that your happiness, if not your tallness, might be marginally adjustable after all." (Sunday Times)

"Marvellous... Haidt...takes us on an extraordinary journey... I don't think I've ever read a book that laid out the contemporary understanding of the human condition with such simple clarity and sense." (James Flint Guardian)

"A superbly argued, crystal clear and intelligent blend of new directions in contemporary experimental psychology with traditional philosophical thought... And you know what? Reading it did actually make this reviewer happier." (Arena)

"A delightful book... By some margin the most intellectually substantial book to arise from the 'Positive Psychology' movement." (Nature)

"With singular gusto, Haidt measures ten 'Great Ideas' against past/present research in psychology and science. "LJ" 's verdict: Dr. Phil et al. don't have diddly on the old-school sages. No man is an island, indeed, and no modern reader should be without this carefully considered demystification of life" (Library Journal Best Books 2006)

Book Description

A brilliantly original exploration of what we can learn about the meaning of human life and how we should live our lives, drawing both on the wisdom of the great thinkers and on the insights of modern science. For all readers of Alain de Botton.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
104 of 107 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Genuine insight 20 Aug 2007
This, in many ways, is the "self-help" book for people who don't read self-help books.

Its conclusions probably won't surprise anyone - the way to find happiness is mostly just what Socrates, Jesus, Buddha et al suggested - be nice to people, do a job that satisfies you, stop chasing after material wealth, etc.

All of which might lead you to think there's no point in reading it. But there is. Haidt is that rare beast, a serious academic who can write engagingly for the general (educated) readership. Somehow, seeing his synthesis of many, many areas of psychological research creates a real feeling of enlightenment, and I would be very surprised indeed at anyone who didn't find some serious "food for thought" within its pages.

Did reading it make me happier? Well, this is where I'm supposed to say "Well, no, but...", but - to my own surprise - the answer is actually "yes"! Just a little, but enough to justify making the book a "keeper".

Read it, and think about the way you live. Highly recommended.
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40 of 41 people found the following review helpful
By Mr. T. White TOP 500 REVIEWER
This book is an underrated masterpiece and should be proudly occupying all thinking persons' bookshelves. Haidt couldn't have written this book better, and he is most certainly to be commended for producing a guide to finding happiness which trumps all others.

His narrative meanders a most cerebrally scenic course via ancient philosophy, comparative religion, science and modern day psychology and literally tests the paradigms of happiness. Thus e.g. : Was Buddhism right to preach the renouncing of all material things? Or, just partly right? What part does gossip really play in our lives? What should the depressed do about their condition? What is the best way to find true happiness in your life, assuming such a thing can be found at all?

These and many other thought engaging questions are analysed with no stone unturned by a most gifted thinker. This reviewer cannot recommend this book more highly (and I normally can't be bothered with the so called "self help section"), buy it you must! A brilliant book. I am left wondering what Haidt will write about next.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brings a smile to your face 4 Nov 2012
By F Henwood TOP 500 REVIEWER
What does Haidt mean by happiness? It means finding meaning within life, even if one cannot find the meaning of life. He offers a robust vision of how happiness can be found in this world without the absolute certainties of fundamentalist religious faith, but also considers seriously and sympathetically the sense of the divine that religion offers to underscore our moral sense. He avoids falling into the sort of hopeless posturing indulged by existentialist philosophers or nihilism. He seeks to put the wisdom of the ancients of both East and West to the test of whether their exhortations withstand scrutiny from modern science. Most ambitiously of all, he seeks to step into the cross fire of the US culture war to try and find some sort of reconciliation between the competing visions of liberals and conservatives, and between the secular and the sacred.

First of all he sets out what the nature of the self is - a divided self, a thin crust of rationalism that has evolved relatively recently on the bedrock of a brain better attuned to threats rather than opportunities. This is what makes us so susceptible to forms of thinking and behaving that make us miserable. But here the wisdom of ancient philosophers resonates with modern cognitive behavioural therapy that 'thinking makes things so' - you can change the way you think about events and shape the way you see the world.
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60 of 63 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and important 15 Jan 2007
This was my best non-fiction book of 2006. Haidt is an academic of genuine flair. In the Happiness Hypothesis he has produced for the general reader a synthesis of robust thinking and research around happiness. It is expressed in an accessible style, using some very simple metaphors to hold the reader's attention on key themes, as the author reviews the best of the philosophy, psychology and neurology of happiness.

To put it another way, this was accessible enough to read in bed, and robust enough to fill over 24 pages of references.

My only caveat, I thought the subtitle - 'Putting ancient wisdom and philosophy to the test of modern science' - did not get to the heart of the book. This makes it sound like a series of tests of famous aphorisms. In face, Haidt is primarily interested in evidence, but uses literary and philosophical sources to illustrate and enliven his science; to ask questions of it, and to keep an open mind. But then I think that's just good science.
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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars the happy traveller 30 Nov 2006
This is a very readable humane book. It is both funny and insightful. I finish almost every chapter thinking yes that makes perfect sense. He expresses what we already know in our hearts about happiness; money doesn't do it,material goods don't do it for longer than five minutes. What makes us happy is a combination of genes, upbringing and lifestyle. Happiness is a journey not a destination.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
eye opening highly recommend for anyone into psychology or someone who hasnt read anything on this topic
Published 8 days ago by Krystian Gorski
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Published 1 month ago by A. Joshi
5.0 out of 5 stars Read if you want to be happier
Easy to read, enjoyable, and so useful!
Published 1 month ago by K. Mileszko
5.0 out of 5 stars Really excellent and thought-provoking book
Really excellent and thought-provoking book. Extremely well written. A scholarly description and review of many subject areas that we probably just take for granted without... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Markie
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 4 months ago by Dr James Bruce
2.0 out of 5 stars Indigestible, disappointing
I bought this on the strength of positive reviews, so feel it is only fair to give a more balanced perspective by pointing out what were for me the weaknesses of the book. Read more
Published 4 months ago by minty
5.0 out of 5 stars Educating Read
One of the best books on the subject matter I have read - written in an easy to understand format that gets the message across, and can change the way you view life
Published 5 months ago by PentlandPounder
3.0 out of 5 stars A little superficial
Generally a useful book if you want a broad idea of some of the issues that evolutionary science is addressing. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Zafreen Qureshi
5.0 out of 5 stars Best book I've ever read?
I absolutely loved this book. It's not a quick or simple read but it's fascinating from start to finish. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Michelle White
4.0 out of 5 stars Very sensible and thought provoking.
Really enlightening and very thoughtful about how we think about ourselves and our place in life. The book on the righteous mind surpasses it but one should perhaps read both.
Published 7 months ago by jonathan smith
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