The Happiness Hypothesis by Johnathan Haidt
Sit Down and Read
One Line Summary
Modern society is fucking over your happiness
Why it’s Awesome
Forget about Kid Cudi. Johnathan Haidt is the real man on the pursuit of happiness. For over 20 years, Haidt dedicated himself to researching the seemingly impossible question of how we people can achieve true happiness. For anyone going through the motions of modern society, his answers will shock you.
The biggest shocker is that yes, true happiness is actually possible. That alone should be enough reason to take a look at this book. How many people have given up on the idea of lasting happiness? But science would say they’re wrong.
An important point to make here is that when I say true happiness, I don’t mean “excitement”. Excitement is more like the equivalent of the feeling when you achieve some goal or get a new toy to place with. Most people assume this is happiness. But this is a fleeting feeling, doomed to dissipate as quickly as it comes.
When I say true happiness, I mean a deep sense of fulfillment that can’t be shook. This is what Haidt is talking about and attempting to discover the secret of.
The book starts off by first talking about why people aren’t happy. This is crucial to understand because if you think about it, why shouldn’t you be happy just by default? The very fact that you’re alive and experiencing life should be enough. But as Haidt shows, that isn’t how humans work.
Think about how harsh the life conditions for earliest human beings must have been. Your entire life would have been a struggle just to get the basic necessities and not get killed. And even then you probably only would survive just long enough to reproduce.
So in terms of evolution, happiness is a luxury. It may have been useful at times in order to motivate people towards something, but in general we evolved for survival.
But what about modern society? Modern society resembles nothing of the conditions under which our human brains evolved. Obesity is a larger problem than hunger. Even the lowest of the low in terms of material wealth in the west live better than probably 99% of the earliest humans. People will just give you money if you beg long enough.
What ends of happening is that our modern brains interpret things excessively negatively. Negative thoughts kept you alive. To naively assume the best would probably have meant death to our primitive ancestors.
From this idea, Haidt comes up with an initial theory that many eastern philosophers have come to. He states that our happiness comes purely from our own mental interpretations. It isn’t the new car, it’s the ability to love the car you have. And if you can’t do it when you have very little, you won’t be able to do it when you have a lot.
But that isn’t the end of the story. Sorry Buddha.
Haidt then realizes he has to revise this theory. Due to genetics, it seems that some people are just naturally blessed to be happier than others. On top of that, Haidt that external circumstances definitely had at least some effect on our happiness level. So his theory was revised.
But we’re still not done. As Haidt continued his journey he comes to realize that even this definition is incomplete. Instead of happiness coming from some combination of internal and external factors, Haidt comes up with his final happiness hypothesis: happiness comes from between our relationship to life.
Similar to Karl Marx and Steven Pressfield, Haidt says that love and work give our life that deep sense of fulfillment. Man is meant to create from the love of creating and a person who is cut off from this is cut off from something extremely powerful.
It seems simple, but this is such a different perspective than what our modern culture promotes that it comes at little surprise that most people experience very little fulfillment in their lives. To hate working is normal. But is it really that people hate working, or that they hate the work they’re doing?
Why Does It Suck
Religious conservatives will not like this book. He rails against God and puts science on a very high pedestal. His political views are very obviously left leaning. If you’re not a scientific person you like me you also may find yourself lost trying to follow along with what Haidt is saying.
The Wrap Up
This is an illuminating and amazing read. If the only thing you get from the Happiness Hypothesis is that our modern culture has a totally fucked definition of happiness, it will be well worth the read. You will plant the seed of discontent that will eventually grow into something much more.
Oh and because I’m listening to Kid Cudi right now, I can’t resist:
People told me slow my roll,
I’m screaming out “fuck that”,
I’m a do just what I want,
Looking ahead no turning back,
If I fall if I die,
Know I lived it to the fullest,
If I fall if I die,
Know I lived and missed some bullets.
Get on your pursuit of happiness. And buy this book.
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