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21 BOOKS FOR 2021: (1) The Happiness Hypothesis

I read this book because I can’t really say what happiness is. In 2019 my boss (then) asked me what I wanted, and I said “to not be unhappy”. I didn’t know if I was particularly sad either but I knew I wasn’t what I would describe as happy. I was at best “Eh”. So this book was interesting to me from the title and from reviews I had seen online.

Jonathan Haidt is a psychologist and evidently a reader. He analyses and critiques in many instance the philosophical wisdom including ideas based on major religions and schools of thought. The author states that it is not a self-help book (as if that’s a dirty label) but it pretty much is.


He analyses for instance the impact of adversity on people and how reframing, sharing and understanding traumatic events irrespective of the nature of such trauma, can be of positive health benefits.


The idea is that our redisposition to be optimistic or pessimistic and therefore generally whether we are “Happy” is very much influenced by genes rather than environment. He states that much as rich people tend to be richer, happy people get more happiness. He doesn’t say that environment is not responsible for a part of happiness. In fact – money, free time, a loving family, religion and a short commute to work are some of the environmental factors that are likely to affect our happiness.

The Elephant and the rider

My favourite analogy in the book and which I have since found quite useful is the elephant and the rider analogy. The idea is that each of us is more like a sum of different persons than a unitary being and there is an analytical rational part of us and the emotional, sympathetic, instinctive feely person. He suggests that the rider cannot flog the elephant to reasoning and suggests that this may be a shortcoming of behavioural psychology thinking. We don’t appeal to the elephant in us through logic but through feeling. You can only will yourself into so much. I think the elephant is comparable to Carl Jung’s “Id” and is generally the wild side of anyone. He references many other interesting critiques of behavioural psychology.

There is no single big story in the book. There are very many examples to read and think through and I generally think this is a worthwhile read. I will definitely be rereading it.

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