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Publisher's Summary

This is a book about 10 "Great Ideas". Each chapter is an attempt to savor one idea that has been discovered by several of the world's civilizations - to question it in light of what we now know from scientific research, and to extract from it the lessons that still apply to our modern lives.
©2006 Jonathan Haidt (P)2007 Gildan Media

Critic Reviews

"I don't think I've ever read a book that laid out the comtemporary understanding of the human condition with such simple clarity and sense." (The Guardian, UK) "A delightful some margin the most intellectually substantial book to arise from the 'positive psychology' movement." (Nature) "Fascinating stuff, accessibly expressed." (Booklist)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings


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  • Overall

Exceptional synthesis of psychology and philosophy

The publisher's title for and capsule summary of "The Happiness Hypothesis" doesn't do full justice to the exceptional range of learning, research, and wisdom that combine in this book. It's not pop psychology or a generic self-help book: Haidt is a professor in the Psychology Department at the U. of Virginia, and a leading researcher in the "moral emotions". His working hypothesis is that human moral systems have underpinnings in evolutionary biology, but he's as far from being a reductionist as possible. Instead he believes it's impossible to understand morality, and by extension happiness, without examining their history in human cultures and religions.

Haidt covers a tremendous range of interwoven topics: the history of Western moral philosophy; ideas of virtue and the sacred in Christianity, Buddhism, and Hinduism; child development and parent-child bonding in relation to the moral emotions; modern neuroscience and the biological foundations of behavior; and the role of trauma and adversity in personal growth. He is especially gifted at explaining things in everyday language, avoiding jargon and carefully defining and illustrating new terminology.

George Wilson's narration is clear and paced appropriately, and he's solid on technical terms, foreign names, and so on. He gets a chance now and then to show his skill in creating voices for extended quotations from Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and William James.

180 of 182 people found this review helpful

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  • Tonny
  • Herlev, Denmark
  • 03-12-09

You must read this book

It's not really a self help book at all, it's more like a guide to the human brain, if you ever wonder why you think you are so much different then everybody else, this book will explain why you are not and why you are almost exactly like the rest of us, it also tells us what brain functions make us believe in religion, and so much more, I rate this book a must read, even if you have no knowledge about brain anatomy and functions.
The book offers some insight into early philosophy and it draws parallels to modern brain research, but that part is just publicity.
Other must read books Phantoms in the brain Ramachandran, origin of species Darwin

66 of 70 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Best Book on the Subject

Tying in the wisdom of ancient philosophers and religions' teachings, Haidt masterfully creates an argument that we are more in control of our happiness than we could ever imagine. He connects how our brains work with why we think like we do. He explains 'elevation': an emotion I have often where I feel a rush of adrenaline and tear up when seeing/hearing masterfully done art or wondrous natural scenes like the Grand Canyon, but never understood until now.

In addition to teaching the science, Haidt also outlines possible approaches you might take to be more happy such as how to structure your day and to be more aware of your successes and to celebrate them. He looks at wealth, disability, sex, children, love and more to show how they influence (or not) one's happiness.

23 of 24 people found this review helpful

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Very good book, very good narrator

The author has great insights on how the mind works and how did we get this far.. And the evolutionary traits that are still with us from the past, and how that influences our behavior today. Even though it helps understanding ourselves a lot, I would not call it self help, but something beyond that. Really happy about listening rather than reading too, since the narrator is great and gets you completely immersed in the narrative. In summary, way better than I expected - so much that I took the time to write this review. :)

21 of 22 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Must Read

One of the best books I have read this year, a must read. A lot of current psychological research on the human condition presented along with a good dose of ancient wisdom and philosophy. It's not just a self help book on happiness - but gives a comprehensive picture of what it's all about.

43 of 46 people found this review helpful

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  • Tony
  • san francisco, CA, USA
  • 03-21-10

Unhappy? Listen to this

This book offers a great look into what makes people happy, while at the same time illuminating some elements that may be keeping you from reaching your happiness potential. This insight, coupled with practical solutions offered in the book, provide real means for increasing one's day-to-day level of happiness. A fantastic listen for anyone interested in the way we think and perceive the world around us!

29 of 31 people found this review helpful

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  • Theos
  • Brooklyn, NY, United States
  • 09-23-11

Delightful and Disappointing

What did you love best about The Happiness Hypothesis?

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.

What other book might you compare The Happiness Hypothesis to and why?

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.

What does George K. Wilson bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

George's rich voice is perfect - he could make the most boring book in the universe entertaining!

If you were to make a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

How to Explain Away Anything

Any additional comments?

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.

28 of 30 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Must Read

This book was enlightening, informing and entertaining. It is by far the best nonfiction listening I have ever experienced. Moreover I found the information in it delightful conversation starters. His analysis of philosophical, religeous, and social history as it relates to modern research on the function of the brain was astounding. Whether you agree with him or not, this is one you have to listen to.

53 of 58 people found this review helpful

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  • Greg
  • Lansing, MI, USA
  • 06-03-09

Very very good book

This is my favorite genre and I've come to expect either somewhat labored attempts at humor, painfully long examples, or a dead dull list of facts. This book is different. Every sentence and chapter is interesting and meaningful. There is a great mix of psychology and philosophy - of insight and thought provoking ideas. This is the best book I've listened to (or read) in a long time.

30 of 33 people found this review helpful

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Not Another Self-Help Book

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.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • Overall
  • Phillistein
  • 02-22-08

Different, leads you to new understandings

I loved this audiobook. Though it is long, it is never boring and I found myself hanging on for the next passage. This marries neuroscience, psychology and spiritual teachings from many sources. It is full of Eureka moments where I learned the how and why and the processes whereby we make decisions and judgments. I particularly liked the discussion of unconscious decision making. Very highly recommended

25 of 25 people found this review helpful

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  • Adrian
  • 02-19-09


A wonderful insight into what it is to be human. The best guide on how to achieve happiness that I have ever read, and it really breaks new ground in that it is based on good science. This is not pop-psych motivational book, it provides the reader with an understanding of how the brain works, and how to apply this knowledge to the pursuit of happiness. Be warned - this book will challenge your current beliefs especially your confidence that you see the naked truth about anything...

14 of 14 people found this review helpful

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  • Dan
  • 11-27-10

An Excellent Book

Well worth the money. An excellent insight into what it is to be happy and the human condition.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Si
  • 10-12-13

Bad Title

The title suggests this is will be a floaty coagulation of self-help cosmic consciousness hippy claptrap that uses the word 'quantum' all the time and tells you that anything is possible if only you ask the universe nicely. Rest assured, that is not this book. The writing is clear and informative and the commentary is incisive, well presented and succinctly phrased. Perhaps it falls a little short of being an 'important' book but it is certainly worth the read and even connoisseurs of the human condition will discover new avenues of thought that cast the subject of 'happiness' in a novel light. Recommended.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Mr. R. D. Cox
  • 05-31-11

This book unravels a world of blah on the subject

Understanding what makes people happy - and has led me on to a new programme of personal change

7 of 8 people found this review helpful

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  • Crispin
  • 04-15-14

Not too religious

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

An interesting and fairly comprehensive look various theories and philosophies that have been adopted throughout history in the context of the latest thinking.

What was one of the most memorable moments of The Happiness Hypothesis?

The chapter on work

Which scene did you most enjoy?

It doesn't really have scenes. It is more like a series of lectures on how to lead a good or fulfilling life.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Nope, it requires a bit of concentration, but that is because the concepts being discussed make you think. The writing and presentation is very clear.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Jim
  • 11-16-14

Astonshingly Good

Brings together a mountain of work on positive psychology, happiness, behavioural economics and evolutionary psychology as well as Haidts work on morals and a range of religious traditions to offer a practical and readable account of what a good life might look like, why we find it so hard to make ourselves "better" and what we can do about it. If you're a fan of the likes of Shawn Achor, Daniel Kahneman, Martin Selligman and Brene Brown this is a must.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Oli
  • 12-20-17

Incredible synthesis of Science & Ancient Wisdom

Insights from major world religions and ancient sages is tested and developed using modern methods of neuroscience and psychology. The results are beautifully gathered together in this masterful treatise on how to develop happiness and unlock the meaning of life! This was my second time of listening, looking forward to a third!

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  • Santiago
  • 07-18-17

Extremely enlightening

The link between disgust, morality and religiousness, and the three axes of moral space that are defined in the final chapters were such epiphanies.
The whole book is well researched, nuanced, original and well presented. A delight!

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  • William D. Dunsmuir
  • 02-12-17

Yes, a very good listen

Entertaining broad swathing philosophical and psychologial review of humanity. Entertaining broad swathing philosophical and psychologial review of humanity.

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  • Ross McDougall
  • 10-31-17

thinking about thinking

this was a really cool look into the psychology of happiness, worth and the concept of meaning.

It was cool to look at such concepts from a scientific perspective; understanding the various neuro-transmitters and messages that fly around in our brains all the time without us being aware it's happening.

When you start to think about how you think it opens up a whole new perspective on emotion, life, joy, sadness and everything else on the spectrum. I really enjoyed going on the journey with Haidt as he took me through the various responses to events and actions that we deal with every day.

I particularly liked the linking of old spiritual concepts to scientific evidence. Not all of them stood up but it was nice to see that spirituality as a whole can have a legitimate place in the human experience to help us as we navigate our time above ground.

It was also pleasant to see Haidt never being dismissive of a particular experience or process - He merely provides the practical application within the psyche and allows the reader to determine where that sits on their personal compass.

Very cool! Highly recommended!

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  • Despina
  • 06-27-16


Would you try another book written by Jonathan Haidt or narrated by George K. Wilson?

I'd definitely try another book written by Jonathan Haidt, but never one narrated by George K. Wilson. These 'professional' narrators are horrendous! They read with no feeling for the material, and often their voices are over-polished and insufferable to listen to.

Has The Happiness Hypothesis put you off other books in this genre?


Who might you have cast as narrator instead of George K. Wilson?

Jonathan Haidt. Having listened to quite a few audiobooks now, I've found that the author is the best person to read their own work.

What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?


Any additional comments?

Unless the non-author narrator is exceptional in the sample audio, this is the last time I listen to a book not read by the author him/herself.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Michael Maiolo
  • 05-08-16

Must read

Must read for everyone.. Great book with lots of relevant information that got me thinking deeply about my own life and world

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  • Ryan
  • 12-19-16

A Must-Read

This is a brilliant book that I recommend to anyone and everyone. Many of the points discussed I'd similar views/notions of before reading but the consolidation of various religions, psychologists, scientists and philosophers is invaluable.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful