We have all pondered; can I make myself happy? Or, what can I do to be happier? This book definitely helps answer those questions. First off, lets clarify that this is probably one of the most mind working books I have read. So as a disclaimer, some of the thoughts and conclusions on this book review may be wrong given the complexity of the read. That being noted, for those wanting to get it straight from the rider of the elephants mouth, consider reading the book yourself and forming your own thoughts.
The book, “The Happiness Hypothesis“, written by Jonathan Haidt, a Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia, attempts to find modern truth in ancient wisdom. When I first saw the book, the title was a little sappy for me or perhaps too intellectual. Either way, it wasn’t my first choice for the next book. However, since it was on the Tony Hsieh book list, it was worth getting. Going into the book, my rider (judgement) told me it would conclude with what seems apparent. A life of service to others and a higher purpose, ultimately produces more happiness than a self-serving one. Like all judgement, there is some truth in it, but even more truth and understanding if one is willing to look deeper into the other side.
It will perplex your mind and perhaps direct you to ways you can improve your happiness. This read offers some bonuses along the way that will give you some answers as to why you react a certain way under certain conditions. For example, why you accept a friendship on facebook from someone you barely know; why you feel compelled to give a gift to someone who unexpectedly gives you one or why it seems ok for grandma to give money as a gift to her grandchildren and it comes across as insincere if a husband offers the same gift to his wife. Within the pages you will find answers to questions you didn’t know to ask; as well as, lessons on forgiveness, rebounding from adversity, why love is confused with passion and loses its shine, and how scientific research agrees or disagrees to eastern and western ideas. You will even learn more about why reaching a goal is not as rewarding as the act of doing things to reach it is in the first place. Oh; and if you want to know if you have a job, career or calling, pay close attention on page 221.
If you want to know if you are happy, check out www.authentichappiness.org and take a few of the tests and find out more about yourself. But, if you want to find out what you can do to increase your happiness, then check out the book. It turns out like most adventures, there are 2 sides to the story. Yes, there are things we do that move us away from happiness (things we do, we think will make us happier that don’t) and things we can do to make us happier (things we do, we don’t realize will make us happier that do indeed).
Taking ideas from philosophers, sociologists, theologians, psychologists and the like, mixing them around and putting them to the research test to determine if true, how true. Should we consider them as is, exclude them or include them with additional information. The general theme is pretty amazing, ultimately stitching everything together and moving us through the book in a well organized manner.
The conclusion is ultimately getting the conditions of ones’ life right. Good news, there are some things the rider can do to train the elephant and adjust the rider; such as, enhancing our personal relationships with one’s time and attention (Love), having work that fits one’s strengths (pursuing the right goals) and becoming part of something larger than oneself. Step 1: Make more time for family and friends. Step 2: Find or create work that puts you in the zone. Step 3: Get involved in something bigger that you. To say the same thing again but differently, is to make time to do more with family and friends and put energy into constantly improving the quality of those relationships. Work in a situation that utilizes your strengths and puts you in the zone. Instead of asking for a raise, ask your boss for more vacation time to spend with family and friends. Then splash in a higher or bigger cause you can connect to and with. Happiness is not a juicy burger (although that feels good) but rather happiness is enhanced by the good we do.
To be clear, working on one’s virtues is a critical aspect of getting more happy, which also leads to ongoing betterment of self. As Buddha says “Set your heart on doing good. Do it over and over again, and you will be filled with joy. A fool is happy until his mischief turns against him. And a good man may suffer until his goodness flowers”.
During the read, I reflected on various aspects and experiences in life and it was good to learn why the adventure or the journey was more rewarding than reaching the goal. This I somehow knew when I graduated from college with a BA in economics. The excitement was intense for a week up to graduation and left soon after. Turns out the passion of the trip created more happiness than the end goal. This has occurred many times in my life and its nice to know to enjoy the trip more than the destination. Had I read this book 10 years ago, life may or may not have turned out the same, but I am sure I would have spent more time meditating (something I picked up a few years ago); as well as, experimented with Ben Franklin’s virtue training program (something I’ll be trying soon). Get the book, read it and tell me what was mind changing, what I missed or misunderstood.
Until then, smile and pass it on.