Who wouldn’t want to be happy? A book review of The Happiness Hypothesis

By Kaylea Dillon

the happiness hypothesis with tea


What makes you happy? Maybe it is long walks in the woods. Or hanging out with friends and going to get late night snacks together. Or maybe it is just cuddling up with a blanket and a warm cup of tea. I know my favorite is curling up somewhere with a good book. Today I am going to share a review of a book, but not just any book. This book is about happiness; ancient wisdom and current philosophies on how to make more of it. Do you want to be happier? Well, The Happiness Hypothesis Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom by Johnathan Haidt, an American social psychologist, might just be the book for you. 

Have you ever thought about comparing your brain to an elephant with a rider? Well, that is the metaphor that Haidt successfully weaves through this novel to talk about our conscious and unconscious mind. Our unconscious “elephant” leads the charge with our conscious “rider,” coming up with the reasons why we are going a certain way – which illustrates that we are not quite as in charge as we all like to think. After we learn some about this background of the mind, Haidt dives right into ways that we can affect the unconscious “elephant” and the conscious “rider” to align their goals more closely along a path of happiness. 

The Happiness Hypothesis Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom


Each of the following chapters of The Happiness Hypothesis focuses on one specific topic that can improve happiness. We learn about how reciprocity (defined as exchanging things for mutual benefit) not only affected people back when we were living in caves, but also how it plays a large role in our everyday modern lives. What about gossip, can it be beneficial? Haidt sure seems to think so in his research. In Chapter 5, there is a focus on pursuing happiness and the teaching of sages to give up mortal attachments such as money and possessions. Yet, there are ways to find a balance; it is hardly possible to talk about happiness without talking about love — whether that is a love for a friend or a lover. In Chapter 7, he begins to talk about adversity and how it shapes us into the people we are. Can you see the benefits you have reaped from your sorrows? Or would you be better off without them? Towards the end of the book Haidt goes on to discuss virtue and divinity. He weaves in the teachings of Ben Franklin, Confucius, and numerous religious figures, exploring how our morals and the morals of society play a role in our happiness. He finishes the book strong with his final hypothesis on happiness. 


the happiness hypothesis and tea


Throughout reading this book I enjoyed how Haidt threads scientific experiments, ancient quotes, and real-life stories together to make a coherent argument for happiness. As a lifelong student, and someone who majored in psychology, I loved seeing studies I recognized as well as some that were previously unfamiliar. At the beginning of each chapter, there are some quotes that may be familiar to some, that speak on the topic of the chapter. I love quotes and enjoy seeing these ancient wisdoms, while getting a strong sense of what the upcoming chapter is going to focus on. Furthermore, Haidt uses his life experiences through his travels and time spent teaching psychology at universities that bring his teachings into reality. His students really were able to use their  strengths to become happier. Each of these techniques makes Haidt more effective in conveying a message based in science, stemming from ancient truths, and able to be applied in real life through the stories he tells.  

A comprehensive review of a book is not done until I mention the drawbacks. There are few. To start, for people that enjoy fantasy or works of fiction, this is not the book for you. This book goes into a lot of scientific detail and facts. There are times when it can become a bit dry, but overall it has a good variety of detail for a nonfiction book. Additionally, as you will learn should you pick this book up, there is no magic pill for happiness. Personally, I sometimes just want to be told “Yes, this is how to be happy! No further work needed.” This book cannot give you that. It will, however, guide you through some ways that will work if you make the effort. Despite these faults, The Happiness Hypothesis is still a worthwhile read. 

The Happiness Hypothesis Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom Smiley


I would give this book a solid 8 out of 10. I have read it before and will probably pick it up again from my shelves of books. It is a classic positive psychology book and really makes the reader think about their own happiness. Can you improve your happiness? Haidt makes a convincing argument for improvements you can use, while explaining benefits and drawbacks to his methods. Personally, I am always looking for ways to understand my brain and my ability to be happy (or lack thereof) and this gave me some more food for thought on some adjustments I can make in my own life to be happier. I recommend that you pick up this book. You might just be happier for it.

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