The Happiness Hypothesis

Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom
by Jonathan Haidt | Basic Books © 2006 · 297 pages

Wonder where happiness comes from? So does Jonathan Haidt, one of the world’s leading positive psychologists and Professor at the University of Virginia. In this phenomenal book, Haidt looks at ancient wisdom and modern wisdom as he tests some happiness hypotheses and comes up with his ultimate hypothesis. In this Note, we’ll check out the dynamic between you and your elephant, the magic pill that is meditation, and the mojo of virtue.

In the positive psychology class I teach at the University of Virginia, the final project is to make yourself a better person, using all the tools of psychology, and then prove that you have done so.
Jonathan Haidt

“Where does happiness come from? There are several different “happiness hypotheses.” One is that happiness comes from getting what you want, but we all know (and research confirms) that such happiness is short-lived. A more promising hypothesis is that happiness comes from within and cannot be obtained by making the world conform to your desires. This idea was widespread in the ancient world: Buddha in India and the Stoic philosophers in ancient Greece and Rome all counseled people to break their emotional attachments to people and events, which are always unpredictable and uncontrollable, and to cultivate instead an attitude of acceptance. This ancient idea deserves respect, and it is certainly true that changing your mind is usually a more effective response to frustration than is changing the world. However, I will present evidence that this second version of the happiness hypothesis is wrong. Recent research shows that there are some things worth striving for; there are some external conditions of life that can make you lastingly happier. One of these conditions is relatedness—the bonds we form, and need to form, with others. I’ll present research showing where love comes from, why passionate love always cools, and what kind of love is “true” love. I’ll suggest that the happiness hypothesis offered by Buddha and the Stoics should be amended: Happiness comes from within, and happiness comes from without. We need the guidance of both ancient wisdom and modern science to get the balance right.”

~ Jonathan Haidt from The Happiness Hypothesis

That’s officially the longest intro quote of any of the Notes I’ve created so far but I love it. Makes you wanna read the whole book, eh?! :)

Jonathan Haidt is a leading positive psychology researcher/professor at the University of Virginia and this book is an incredible look at ten “Great Ideas” from ancient wisdom that he brilliantly analyzes in the light of modern science while helping us apply the super practical stuff to our 21st century lives. It’s a great blend of intellectual rigor, philosophical wisdom and nuts-and-bolts practicality that I highly recommend. (Get a copy here.)

If this Note resonates with you, I *definitely* think you’ll love the book. I put it up there with Sonja Lyubomirsky’s How of Happiness and Tal Ben-Shahar’s Pursuit of Perfect and Happier as some must-read positive psychology goodness.

If you could see my copy of the book, you’d see that a *lot* of it is highlighted. It’s packed with goodness. Picking the gems to share was a bit of a challenge, but I hope you love my selections and here’s to rockin’ our happiness!

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About the author


Jonathan Haidt

Studies morality and emotion.