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The Happiness Hypothesis


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About the Author

Jonathan Haidt is a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia. His research examines morality, the moral emotions, and the intuitive foundations of politics and religion. He is the co-editor of Flourishing: Positive Psychology and the Life Well-Lived, and the author of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. He lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.


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. (Jan.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

Psychologist Haidt (Univ. of Virginia) studies morality across cultures and historical periods, bringing prophets and philosophers together with contemporary science to forge a fresh, serious, elevating guide to living everyday life better. Integrating research from Harry Harlow's monkeys and John Bowlby's toddlers and the positive psychology of A.H. Maslow, Martin Seligman, and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi with his own, Haidt proves to be a teacher who brings psychology to a new level of relevance for general readers. Finding common ground among cultures and diversity within them, he advocates for balance, empathy, and respect-and against naive realism as in the myth of pure evil. "Gossip is a policeman and a teacher. Without it there would be chaos and ignorance" sums up several typical pages of discussion girded with apt studies. Happiness comes from relationships, he concludes, but this oversimplifies his method, which presents deep learning enriched with creative thinking, feeling, life experience, and a touch of self-disclosure that makes the reader want to know him. Along with Gregory Berns's Satisfaction and Philip Cushman's Constructing the Self, Constructing America, this makes a trio of great books on self, society, and the sacred for public and academic libraries.-E. James Lieberman, George Washington Univ. Sch. of Medicine, Washington, DC Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Seattle Times "A disarming, original book, reassuring to those more conversant with worriment than merriment... Smart and serious without pomposity." The Oregonian "Haidt explains why what doesn't kill us makes us stronger and why the Golden Rule works." Library Journal "A fresh, serious, elevating guide to living everyday life better." Bookpage "Haidt is a fine guide on this journey between past and present, discussing the current complexities of psychological theory with clarity and humor... Haidt's is an open-minded, robust look at philosophy, psychological fact and spiritual mystery, of scientific rationalism and the unknowable ephemeral -- an honest inquiry that concludes that the best life is, perhaps, one lived in the balance of opposites." Antonio Damasio, author of Looking for Spinoza "Jonathan Haidt leaves no doubt about the importance of emotion in the creation of personal meaning. This is a delightful and courageous book." David M. Buss, author of The Evolution of Desire: Strategies of Human Mating "The Happiness Hypothesis is a wonderful and nuanced book that provides deep insight into the some of the most important questions in life--Why are we here? What kind of life should we lead? What paths lead to happiness? From the ancient philosophers to cutting edge scientists, Haidt weaves a tapestry of the best and the brightest. His highly original work on elevation and awe--two long-neglected emotions--adds a new weave to that tapestry. A truly inspiring book." Daniel Wegner, author of The Illusion of Conscious Will "Should we live our lives by age-old wisdom or the latest discoveries? Haidt gives us the luxury of not having to choose, bringing together both sources of insight in this sparkling investigation into the psychology of life and happiness." William Damon, Director, Stanford Center on Adolescence and author of The Moral Child "It would be something of an exaggeration to say that Jonathan Haidt has found the final answer to happiness, but he has come as close as any other writer of our times. Every page of his book provides gems of insight about the good life and where to look for it. Anyone who is interested in humannature and its potential must read this book." Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of FLOW "This fresh and original book goes to the heart of what people have found out about happiness, across cultures and times. Enjoyable, important, and eminently readable." David G. Myers, Professor of Psychology, Hope College, author of Intuition: Its Powers and Its Perils "An intellectual tour de force that weaves into one fabric wisdom that is ancient and modern, religious and scientific, Eastern and Western, liberal and conservative--all with the aim of pointing us to a more meaningful, moral, and satisfying life." Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less "In this beautifully written book, Jonathan Haidt shows us the deep connection that exists between cutting-edge psychological research and the wisdom of the ancients. It is inspiring to see how much modern psychology informs life's most central and persistent questions" Library Journal, Best Books 2006 "With singular gusto, Haidt measures ten 'Great Ideas' against past/present research in psychology and science. LJ 's verdict: Dr. Phil et al. don't have diddly on the old-school sages. No man is an island, indeed, and no modern reader should be without this carefully considered demystification of life." Darrin McMahon, The Washington Post "[T]he psychologist Jonathan Haidt shows in his wonderfully smart and readable The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom [that] modern science and history have a lot to say to each other." People "[An] inspiring nuanced study." Nature "This is a delightful book... Haidt's writing embraces spiritual and mystical viewpoints while retaining scientific and rational coherence." Guardian (London) "[A] marvelous book... I don't think I've ever read a book that laid out the contemporary understanding of the human condition with such simple clarity and sense." Psychology Today "Haidt's remedy for the modern glut of frivolous self-help literature is to review and revise the classics, examining the ideas of thinkers like Plato, Buddha and Jesus in light of modern research into human behavior. Along the way, Haidt, a social psychologist, provides practical advice for parenting, romance, work and coping with the political and cultural divisions currently preoccupying the country. The new science he outlines mostly confirms ancient wisdom, but Haidt finds several instances where the two disagree, suggesting that the surest path to happiness is to embrace and balance both old and new thinking." Sunday Times (London) "This unusual book sets itself apart from the self-help category with its extensive scientific references, and intelligent, neutral prose, while the author's illuminating illustration of how the human mind works is both educational and refreshing." "Haidt has served up a hearty dish of conventional wisdom, accompanied by a selection of psychological science of excellent vintage... This book not only offers practical suggestions to help us succeed in these efforts, but also discusses why we should reexamine much of what we have been taught in the light of new psychological knowledge."

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