Happiness Hypothesis

Understand your disposition as both an elephant and a rider.

Our default state of happiness is largely in our genes – upwards of 50% of our general disposition. We make snap decisions about the world (the elephant) and only afterward rationalize those instincts (the rider). We can learn and train ourselves to reduce and adapt to these patterns, but only to lessen their impact.

That’s one of the big themes around happiness that appears in Happiness Hypothesis, the 2006 positive psychology book from Jonathan Haidt. Though 15 years old, it’s part of a library of positive psychology books that I’ve been making my way through. It still offers a good foundation, and so I recommend it. (I also recommend the Happiness Equation, and this essay)

“Happiness is not something that you can find, acquire or achieve directly,” Haidt writes, pulling from extensive research. “You have to get the conditions right and then wait“

Those right conditions for happiness are love, the right goals for flow and engagement. Happiness doesn’t only come from within, then, and certainly not only from without but from between. He even shares his Happiness formula: H Happiness = S (Set Point, genes or temperature range) + C (conditions of life that can’t change as easily) + V (voluntary activities we do)

Below find my extensive notes for my research purposes in the future.

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Stumbling on Happiness

To get happier? Practice, coaching and surrogation (of people in current state not remembering)

Want to be happier? Put time into practice, welcome coaching and use “surrogation” or seeking advice from those currently in a similar situation to one you’ll soon be in.

That’s a big lesson from the 2006 book “Stumbling Upon Happiness” by psychologist Dan Gilbert. Broadly, the book argues that our ability to imagine future events both helps and hurts our advancement. With work, we can plan and make decisions that improve our lives. Also, though, we make inaccurate predictions about how we will feel in the future.

Another general theme I appreciated: We spend too little time being thankful for the good times and spend too much time worrying about the bad times. Changing that is the quickest path to greater levels of happiness.

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How to be happy

version of this essay was published as part of my monthly newsletter several weeks back. Find other archives and join here to get updates like this first.

I spent a lot of time living in Tokyo 15 years ago on my bicycle, riding to this park or that garden with one or another book on Eastern philosophy or Asian history. Two concepts I learned about happiness have endured.

One is from a famous passage attributed to ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu. He’s translated as writing: “Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.”

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The Happiness Equation

Develop your internal motivation. Focus. Be kind. Ignore the rest.

I read Neil Pasricha’s 2016 book The Happiness Equation as part of a pandemic-fatigue powered period of self-discovery. It certainly has its gimmicks and many of the concepts felt familiar to me. Still, I did appreciate the book and came away refocused on returning to being a happier person during such a tumultuous time.

Below I share a few of my notes from reading the book, though I recommend you buy a copy yourself.

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