4 Key Takeaways From The Happiness Hypothesis

“The Happiness Hypothesis” answers the question, what is happiness? Haidt examines happiness through a historical lens, to demonstrate what has made people happy throughout the ages. The reader is taken on a journey back in time using psychology, history and science to fully immerse themselves in the deeper questions within the quest for happiness.

My key Takeaways from “The Happiness Hypothesis" by Jonathan Haidt:

Takeaway #1 Our Inner Elephant

Have you ever stopped to ponder what happiness actually is and how it can be achieved? We know that our mind can control how happy we are but without being part medical student part psychologist it can be difficult to understand how happiness works. That's where the fun metaphor of you being a wild elephant ridden by a human comes in!

Takeaway #2 Controlling The Elephant

Our conscious thoughts cannot fully control our body. If we look at our heart as an example, our heart is not controlled by our thoughts but by an autonomously acting second brain, therefore, our heart rate is controlled by how fast our inner elephant is running, not by the thoughts the rider sends to the elephant.

Usually, the rider plans ahead to direct and control the wild elephant's instincts so as to control basic drives such as hunger but when it comes to emotions, we usually let the elephant take charge and unfortunately, the elephant evaluates most things negatively. This is due to early humans relying on their ability to recognize danger to stay alive – fear would cause them to flee from the wild animal whilst joy was a rather redundant feeling. Right to this day, our inner elephant is wired to respond more strongly to negative things than positive things causing us to overreact with worry and fear to the modern world.

Genetics also come into play, determining how pessimistic or optimistic you are meaning that some elephant riders will need to work harder at controlling their elephant, training it to be happier through methods such as CBT and meditation.

Takeaway #3 Lifting The Blinkers on Both Elephant & Rider

We are hard-wired to not see our own faults since the realization that we're fallible isn't pleasant. However, living life with blinkers on can cause huge conflicts with those around us – just think how many times you've become angry or frustrated wondering why your partner or colleague couldn't see their own errors... it's likely that they will have also thought the same thing about you.

Our inability to recognize our shortcomings is so strong that when we're accused of doing something wrong, our inner elephant's automatic reaction is to deny it, with the rider rushing in to defend the elephant. It is possible to lift the blinkers when you make a conscious effort to find your flaws and mistakes you have made, this weakens our cognitive bias. Thanks to another human nature; reciprocity, when we admit our mistakes the other person will likely admit their own errors too resulting in a sincere apology and the conflict resolved.

Takeaway #4 All You Need Is Love

The Beatles were right, this basic yet vital feeling is a must in our lives. As adults, we often substitute our need for romantic love (this type of love including the positive feelings we received from our parents) with passionate love - the feeling of being in love that fades fast. When passionate love is over it doesn't mean the relationship is over, it just means you need to move on to the third type of love – compassionate love. This type of love grows over time and resembles the love we felt for and from our parents.

There are other ways to feel love that lead us to happiness – Doing a job because you love it rather than because it pays the bills, surrounding yourself with people that make you feel loved and part of a team, and practicing altruistic – showing unselfish concern for the well-being of others which gives meaning to our life.

Our desire to help others can sometimes come into conflict with helping ourselves, that's because we're social creatures programmed yet we're also highly individual creatures – Aligning the two states can feel like a balancing act but getting the balance right ensures happiness.

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