Every culture rests on a bedrock of folk wisdom handed down through generations. The pronouncements of philosophers are homespun by our grandmothers, and find their way into our common sense: what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Do unto others as you would have done unto you. Happiness comes from within.
But are these 'truths' really true? Today we all seem to prefer to cling to the notion that a little bit more money, love or success will make us truly happy. Are we wrong?
In The Happiness Hypothesis, psychologist Jonathan Haidt exposes traditional wisdom to the scrutiny of modern science, delivering startling insights. We learn that virtue is often not its own reward, why extroverts really are happier than introverts, and why conscious thought is not as important as we might like to think...
Drawing on the rich inspiration of both philosophy and science, The Happiness Hypothesis is a remarkable, original and provocative book - ancient wisdom in our time.
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.