The Happiness Hypothesis

By Jonathan Haidt, PhD (Basic Books, 2006)

Willpower, decision-making, adversity, love — these are a few of the key players in the production of human happiness that social psychologist Jonathan Haidt examines in this fascinating book. He doesn’t try to explain them single-handedly, but employs the help of cognitive psychology, neuroscience, and Eastern and Western philosophical traditions. His study of adversity pits Nietzsche’s idea that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger against modern research on posttraumatic growth. And he considers the Buddha’s maxim that life is created by the mind in light of the “cortical lottery,” a concept in neuroscience that shows why certain brains are hemispherically biased to be cheerful or grumpy. 

Haidt presents studies affirming his own view, but the book does more than just make another case for the mind-body connection. It shows the enduring nature of certain insights (for example, money does not make us happier; close relationships and fulfilling work do) that have pervaded the study of the mind for millennia and backs them up with psychological and neuroscientific research. This is a substantial and thought-provoking exploration of a topic that has inspired more than its share of fluff.

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