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The Happiness Hypothesis

Jonathan Haidt (Basic Books: December 2006), 320 pages.

The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, lamented St. Paul, and this engrossing scientific interpretation of traditional lore backs him up with hard data. Citing Plato, Buddha and modern brain science, psychologist Haidt notes the mind is like an "elephant" of automatic desires and impulses atop which conscious intention is an ineffectual "rider." Haidt sifts Eastern and Western religious and philosophical traditions for other nuggets of wisdom to substantiate — and sometimes critique — with the findings of neurology and cognitive psychology. The Buddhist-Stoic injunction to cast off worldly attachments in pursuit of happiness, for example, is backed up by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s studies into pleasure. And Nietzsche’s contention that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger is considered against research into post-traumatic growth. An exponent of the "positive psychology" movement, Haidt also offers practical advice on finding happiness and meaning. Riches don’t matter much, he observes, but close relationships, quiet surroundings and short commutes help a lot, while meditation, cognitive psychotherapy and Prozac are equally valid remedies for constitutional unhappiness. Haidt sometimes seems reductionist, but his is an erudite, fluently written, stimulating reassessment of age-old issues. ~ Publishers Weekly

Table of Contents

    • Introduction: Too Much Wisdom     ix
    • The Divided Self     1
    • Changing Your Mind     23
    • Reciprocity with a Vengeance     45
    • The Faults of Others     59
    • The Pursuit of Happiness     81
    • Love and Attachments     107
    • The Uses of Adversity     135
    • The Felicity of Virtue     155
    • Divinity With or Without God     181
    • Happiness Comes from Between     213
    • Conclusion: On Balance     241
    • Acknowledgments     245
    • Notes     247
    • References     265
    • Index     291