I opened The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom expecting a sophisticated self-help book. Well, Jonathan Haidt provides much more than pop psychology in this book and I am not going to give away what he has in mind. Basically, Haidt surveys the literature on happiness from the ancients to the most contemporary neuropsychology. He presents what he has learned in a cogent manner and – presto – the reader is better fitted for life than before. The final chapters summarize what we know from the ancients and what contemporary psychology research teaches about happiness. It is all thought provoking, easily accessible to anyone interested, and very helpful to everyone seeking to deal more effectively with daily life. I have purposed to read more of Haidt’s work. His newest book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, will be my next selection. If you are not happy with this review, perhaps Haidt can explain why. George Wilson's narration is very good.
The clarity of reasoning, practical exercises, and clear scientific grounding make this book a real gem. I also loved the historical information on the various ideas.
A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy, by William B. Irvine because both advocate similar approaches and reach similar conclusions about things.
George's rich voice is perfect - he could make the most boring book in the universe entertaining!
How to Explain Away Anything
The one issue I have with this book is that I felt the author's understanding of sociology and psychology far outstrips his understanding of the various ancient philosophical systems of the world. Many of his assumptions about the view propagated by a given philosophical school are based upon one or more statements made by a single representative of that school and are not really representative of the school as a whole.
For example, his portrayal of Stoics as promoting a passionless existence is not really accurate (see Seneca). They merely promoted an attitude of not being addicted to the object of the passions but agreed that one could enjoy the normal passions of life and still be a 'good Stoic' living a philosophical life. His assertion that some things from outside ourselves can make us happy is also based on only a surface understanding of happiness in Stoic philosophy. Things outside us can make us happy (connections to others for example) because of the value judgements we make about those things. Hence, the happiness is still coming from within as its source is actually our own value judgement, not the external thing itself. A relationship has no power to make a person happy on its own. In fact many people who are in relationships are balls of misery. It is the judgement that "this relationship is good and therefore I am happy" that makes us happy - which is precisely what the Stoics taught.
I think these misunderstandings are simply due to the fact that the author's background is not in philosophy, so he would have no reason to be that familiar with every detail of the ideas of these various schools. To be fair, he also made some very accurate observations, too. His description of arete and eudaimonia was completely accurate, showing that his understanding of these concepts is very clear.
Ultimately, the author doesn't really advocate anything. He somehow manages to say all manner of intelligent things without firmly standing for anything in particular - something that is disturbingly prevalent in books written by intellectual types - other than perhaps a sort of psychological "middle way" between complete hedonism and complete asceticism - a stance that is conveniently easy to agree with. He says that yes, it is important to try not to be attached to anything but you also need passion. Yes, you need hardship but not too much. Yes, happiness comes from within but some things outside ourselves can also give us lasting happiness. So, essentially, he talks a lot without really saying anything at all.
However, overall, I think he main thrust of his book is useful in a pragmatic way. I'm an advocate of using any means available to live a full and happy life and ancient philosophy and modern psychology are perfectly complimentary to one another.
Lawyer in Australia.
This is truely one of the best audiobooks I have listened to. It is not just a simple self-help book, it is also full of detailed (but interesting) explanations of the working of the human mind. Although long, it is an easy listen.
I love espionage, legal, and detective thrillers but listen to most genres. Very frequent reviews. No plot spoilers! Please excuse my typos!
...and human societies.
Jonathan Haidt (pronounced height) is a PhD social psychologist and a professor at NYU. At the time he released his two books, The Happiness Hypothesis in 2007 and The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion in 2012, he was a professor at UVa. I originally read the printed editions of both books when they were released. To say that Haidt is one of the world's most important intellectuals is no exaggeration.
The Happiness Hypothesis is based mostly on history and theory and to a lesser degree on studies by Haidt and his students as well as others. It is an important book. The Righteous Mind is based almost entirely on studies and experiments done by Haidt and his students. For example near the end of The Happiness Hypothesis Haidt writes that people on the political left and the political right view each other as evil. He modifies that observation in The Righteous Mind based to rigorous experiments to conclude that the left views the right is evil while the right views the left as wrong/misguided; that is, the left does not understand the right's beliefs at all while the right does understand the left's beliefs as well as they understand them. (Haidt is of the political left although he has moved toward the center because of what he has learned from his work.)
While both of Haidt's books earn 5 stars and while I recommend both without reservation, there is little in The Happiness Hypothesis that in not available elsewhere. On the other hand The Righteous Mind is based on recent leading edge experiments and research not available elsewhere. Thus, The Righteous Mind is far more important.
In the deepest sense both books are about the basis of morality. Another social psychologist, Prof. Joshua Greene at Harvard, released a book in the same subject areas as Haidt's books titled Moral Tribes in 2013 which is available at Audible. Compared to Haidt's books Greene's Moral Tribes is infantile.
I really enjoyed this book, but as I find with most books in this category the title isn't really accurate. I found it more as an informative read, with an almost educational feel on brain development, society behaviors etc., having said that I did really enjoy it, finding it interesting. I was excited to listen to it every day on my way to and from work and I felt like I learned alot after I was done. The narrater has a great voice and was very easy to listen to.
I have spent now more than 5 researching the field. Dr. Haidt has done an excellent job in integrating science, philosophy and religion in one common framework. Although a scientist, his teaching style is gentle and based on stories, making the absorption of knowledge smooth and efficient.
the author unifies his treatment of happiness, with some rather happy metaphors, viewing new psychological research in the perspective of ancient wisdom.
But in his treatment of hypocracy, he sounds rather silly, because he seems to deny the existance of good and evil. And almost in the next breath, he seems to say that judgementalism is , uh, dare we say "evil"?
None the less, it is an excellent book on how to be happy -- not going Buddist, and disengaging from the joys of life to avoid the sorrows, but rather choosing the right sorts of pleasures, the ones that one can look back on and feel good about.
This audiobook is packed with a lot of information. I actually look forward to driving so I can listen to it. So many times throughout I had an "aha" moment and things in my life all of a sudden made sense. It starts slow so be patient. Highly recommended.
I found something that makes a difference! I decided to try medication (which I had always steered well clear of) based on the author's findings. Then I added cognitive therapy, which allowed me to stop the medication. Nobody's life is perfect, but this book sure made a difference in mine!
I thoroughly enjoyed the way he explored wisdom from older civilizations using what we know today. Happiness is only one of the ideas.