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The Happiness Hypothesis: Putting Ancient Wisdom to the Test of Modern Science Paperback – 5 Apr 2007
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"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)
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.See all Product description
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I enjoyed the initial chapters the best. Here Haidt discusses a topic discussed by the ancients e.g. love, and then informs this with modern psychological research. This is often enlightening and, in some cases, challenging. Haidt synthesises learning very well to build up a picture of what a human is, and then looks at the implications for how we can best live. Perhaps this is the nub of the book, we need to understand ourselves and then use that understanding to design a good life.
One issue I have with this is a problem of psychology. Much of it's evidence is based on percentages and it's conclusions are nomothetic - they tell us about the majority and it's not always clear that what others find important will be so for an individual. If like me you lean towards introversion, pessimism and rationalism this will not always be comfortable reading, but while I might be happier as an extrovert I fear it may be too late for me.
Which leads me to the end of the book. In the last third Haidt begins to unwind his ideas on religion. This was an unexpected turn for me and he largely leaves experimental psychology behind in favour of more sociological approaches. This is impressive in its breadth but for me leaves more questions unanswered. Haidt clearly sees the decline of religion as a major issue and extolls its benefits in brings coherence to our lives. He briefly touches on issues of why religious belief has faded but really doesn't deal with these adequately. I wondered if reading this he was very specifically writing for an American audience (some of his comments about liberals and conservatives are only applicable to the US) or if he wanted to make his book stand out with an attention grabbing idea. I found this part of the book the least convincing, which was a shame as the rest of it was a satisfying and interesting read. Definitely recommended.