Book Report – The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt

Jeannette NievesThis is an interesting book that studies happiness from two points: psychology and philosophy. I must admit the subject of the book it’s quite complex, and I highly recommend it to anyone who doesn’t like self-help advice, but is still interested in improvement.

This book covers a variety of topics and each one is supported by research. For the purpose of this summary I only will refer to the ones that made a significant impact for me

The first topic explains how our minds are divided in many ways, but the most important are the consciousness-reason and the automatic-implicit parts. Controlled processing is limited, we can think about one thing at a time, but automatic processes run parallel and handle many tasks at once. However, they don’t always work well together. To understand new or complex things, we relate to what we already know. For example, if we want to think about life in general, is easier if we think about a metaphor. When we think about life in the concept of “life is a journey,” the metaphor helps guide us to some assumptions: a terrain; a direction; and some traveling ahead. In some way we conclude that we should enjoy the trip, because we don’t know what awaits us at the end of the road.

Another interesting topic discussed is the way events affect our world. Events only can affect us depending on our interpretation of them. When we learn to control our interpretation of events, or how we decide to react to our surroundings, we can control our world. We should keep in mind that our responses to unpleasantness and threats are stronger and more difficult to constrain than the responses we give to opportunities and pleasures. This reminded me of one of my favorite movies, Pirates of the Caribbean with Johnny Depp; and his famous quote: “The problem is not the problem; the problem is how you react to the problem”.

Our behavior is mainly ruled by opposing motivational systems; the approach system, and the withdrawal system. Both systems are always active, and the two systems can produce conflicting messages at the same time. The balance can shift in an instant: The withdrawal system can quickly turn to full power, overtaking the weaker and slower approach system. For example, when we see a car accident on the road our first instinct is to stop and look, but if we see blood or major damage we generally retract.

Haidt also suggested that we develop companionate love, which best friends and family members share. This kind of love takes time to develop and creates a strong bond between two people. He explains that in relationships like marriages, we must build this kind of relationship as well, dedicating time and effort to find and maintain a partner who will stand by us through all the good and the bad.

The author also suggests 3 steps to benefit from adversity. First, be willing to expect and recognize approaching adversity. The second step is to build your social support network. Third and finally, believe that there is a good reason for this to happen, a bigger plan to what you can see (Believing in God or in the universe, karma, good luck or any higher power if you are not religious oriented). Afterwards, reflect on the events and keep a record of how the stages of adversity made you feel. Why did this happen and what good might come from it?

So, what can we do to have a good, happy, fulfilling, and meaningful life? The author suggests that the answer can be found by understanding the kind of creature that we are. We need to feel connected; and to have a sense of purpose and meaning. We need to commit ourselves to people and projects and we must engage with them. Happiness is not something that you can buy, acquire, or achieve directly. Happiness can only be found within ourselves by connecting significantly with the people and events that surround us.

NOTE: Oliver Law Firm has a reading program and an office library full of many great books. Our mission is to inspire, train, and mentor our work family to improve ourselves and client services.

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