30+ quotes from The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom by Jonathan Haidt

Quotes from The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom

Jonathan Haidt ·  297 pages

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“If you are in passionate love and want to celebrate your passion, read poetry. If your ardor has calmed and you want to understand your evolving relationship, read psychology. But if you have just ended a relationship and would like to believe you are better off without love, read philosophy.”
― Jonathan Haidt, quote from The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom


“Happiness is not something that you can find, acquire, or achieve directly. You have to get the conditions right and then wait. Some of those conditions are within you, such as coherence among the parts and levels of your personality. Other conditions require relationships to things beyond you: Just as plants need sun, water, and good soil to thrive, people need love, work, and a connection to something larger. It is worth striving to get the right relationships between yourself and others, between yourself and your work, and between yourself and something larger than yourself. If you get these relationships right, a sense of purpose and meaning will emerge.”
― Jonathan Haidt, quote from The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom


“Those who think money can't buy happiness just don't know where to shop … People would be happier and healthier if they took more time off and spent it with their family and friends, yet America has long been heading in the opposite direction. People would be happier if they reduced their commuting time, even if it meant living in smaller houses, yet American trends are toward even larger houses and ever longer commutes. People would be happier and healthier if they took longer vacations even if that meant earning less, yet vacation times are shrinking in the United States, and in Europe as well. People would be happier, and in the long run and wealthier, if they bought basic functional appliances, automobiles, and wristwatches, and invested the money they saved for future consumption; yet, Americans and in particular spend almost everything they have – and sometimes more – on goods for present consumption, often paying a large premium for designer names and superfluous features.”
― Jonathan Haidt, quote from The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom


“Love and work are to people what water and sunshine are to plants.”
― Jonathan Haidt, quote from The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom


“The rider evolved to serve to the elephant.”
― Jonathan Haidt, quote from The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom


“Work on your strengths, not your weaknesses. How many of your New Year’s resolutions have been about fixing a flaw? And how many of those resolutions have you made several years in a row? It’s difficult to change any aspect of your personality by sheer force of will, and if it is a weakness you choose to work on, you probably won’t enjoy the process. If you don’t find pleasure or reinforcement along the way, then—unless you have the willpower of Ben Franklin—you’ll soon give up. But you don’t really have to be good at everything. Life offers so many chances to use one tool instead of another, and often you can use a strength to get around a weakness.”
― Jonathan Haidt, quote from The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom


“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
― Jonathan Haidt, quote from The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom


“Letting off steam makes people angrier, not calmer. Pennebaker discovered that it’s not about steam; it’s about sense making. The people in his studies who used their writing time to vent got no benefit. The people who showed deep insight into the causes and consequences of the event on their first day of writing got no benefit, either: They had already made sense of things. It was the people who made progress across the four days, who showed increasing insight; they were the ones whose health improved over the next year.”
― Jonathan Haidt, quote from The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom


“Each of us thinks we see the world directly, as it really is. We further believe that the facts as we see them are there for all to see, therefore others should agree with us. If they don’t agree, it follows either that they have not yet been exposed to the relevant facts or else that they are blinded by their interests and ideologies.”
― Jonathan Haidt, quote from The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom


“The word “coherence” literally means holding or sticking together, but it is usually used to refer to a system, an idea, or a worldview whose parts fit together in a consistent and efficient way. Coherent things work well: A coherent worldview can explain almost anything, while an incoherent worldview is hobbled by internal contradictions. …

Whenever a system can be analyzed at multiple levels, a special kind of coherence occurs when the levels mesh and mutually interlock. We saw this cross-level coherence in the analysis of personality: If your lower-level traits match up with your coping mechanisms, which in turn are consistent with your life story, your personality is well integrated and you can get on with the business of living. When these levels do not cohere, you are likely to be torn by internal contradictions and neurotic conflicts. You might need adversity to knock yourself into alignment. And if you do achieve coherence, the moment when things come together may be one of the most profound of your life. … Finding coherence across levels feels like enlightenment, and it is crucial for answering the question of purpose within life.

People are multilevel systems in another way: We are physical objects (bodies and brains) from which minds somehow emerge; and from our minds, somehow societies and cultures form. To understand ourselves fully we must study all three levels—physical, psychological, and sociocultural. There has long been a division of academic labor: Biologists studied the brain as a physical object, psychologists studied the mind, and sociologists and anthropologists studied the socially constructed environments within which minds develop and function. But a division of labor is productive only when the tasks are coherent—when all lines of work eventually combine to make something greater than the sum of its parts. For much of the twentieth century that didn’t happen — each field ignored the others and focused on its own questions. But nowadays cross-disciplinary work is flourishing, spreading out from the middle level (psychology) along bridges (or perhaps ladders) down to the physical level (for example, the field of cognitive neuroscience) and up to the sociocultural level (for example, cultural psychology). The sciences are linking up, generating cross-level coherence, and, like magic, big new ideas are beginning to emerge.

Here is one of the most profound ideas to come from the ongoing synthesis: People gain a sense of meaning when their lives cohere across the three levels of their existence.”
― Jonathan Haidt, quote from The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom


“Words of wisdom, the meaning of life,perhaps even the answer sought by Borges's librarians—all of these may wash over us every day, but they can do little for us unless we savor them,engage with them, question them, improve them, and connect them to our lives”
― Jonathan Haidt, quote from The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom


“What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow: our life is the creation of our mind. —BUDDHA”
― Jonathan Haidt, quote from The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom


“Finding fault with yourself is also the key to overcoming the hypocrisy and judgmentalism that damage so many valuable relationships. The instant you see some contribution you made to a conflict, your anger softens—maybe just a bit, but enough that you might be able to acknowledge some merit on the other side. You can still believe you are right and the other person is wrong, but if you can move to believing that you are mostly right, and your opponent is mostly wrong, you have the basis for an effective and nonhumiliating apology. You can take a small piece of the disagreement and say, “I should not have done X, and I can see why you felt Y.” Then, by the power of reciprocity, the other person will likely feel a strong urge to say, “Yes, I was really upset by X. But I guess I shouldn’t have done P, so I can see why you felt Q.” Reciprocity amplified by self-serving biases drove you apart back when you were matching insults or hostile gestures, but you can turn the process around and use reciprocity to end a conflict and save a relationship.”
― Jonathan Haidt, quote from The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom


“conflicts in relationships—having an annoying office mate or room-mate, or having chronic conflict with your spouse—is one of the surest ways to reduce your happiness. You never adapt to interpersonal conflict;45 it damages every day, even days when you don’t see the other person but ruminate about the conflict nonetheless.”
― Jonathan Haidt, quote from The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom


“The point of these studies is that moral judgment is like aesthetic judgment. When you see a painting, you usually know instantly and automatically whether you like it. If someone asks you to explain your judgment, you confabulate. You don’t really know why you think something is beautiful, but your interpreter module (the rider) is skilled at making up reasons, as Gazzaniga found in his split-brain studies. You search for a plausible reason for liking the painting, and you latch on to the first reason that makes sense (maybe something vague about color, or light, or the reflection of the painter in the clown’s shiny nose). Moral arguments are much the same: Two people feel strongly about an issue, their feelings come first, and their reasons are invented on the fly, to throw at each other. When you refute a person’s argument, does she generally change her mind and agree with you? Of course not, because the argument you defeated was not the cause of her position; it was made up after the judgment was already made.”
― Jonathan Haidt, quote from The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom


“If the only effect of these rampant esteem-inflating biases was to make people feel good about themselves, they would not be a problem. In fact, evidence shows that people who hold pervasive positive illusions about themselves, their abilities, and their future prospects are mentally healthier, happier, and better liked than people who lack such illusions.20 But such biases can make people feel that they deserve more than they do, thereby setting the stage for endless disputes with other people who feel equally over-entitled.”
― Jonathan Haidt, quote from The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom


“An important dictum of cultural psychology is that each culture develops expertise in some aspects of human existence, but no culture can be expert in all aspects. The same goes for the two ends of the political spectrum. My research3 confirms the common perception that liberals are experts in thinking about issues of victimization, equality, autonomy, and the rights of individuals, particularly those of minorities and nonconformists. Conservatives, on the other hand, are experts in thinking about loyalty to the group, respect for authority and tradition, and sacredness.4 When one side overwhelms the other, the results are likely to be ugly. A society without liberals would be harsh and oppressive to many individuals. A society without conservatives would lose many of the social structures and constraints that Durkheim showed are so valuable. Anomie would increase along with freedom. A good place to look for wisdom, therefore, is where you least expect to find it: in the minds of your opponents. You already know the ideas common on your own side. If you can take off the blinders of the myth of pure evil, you might see some good ideas for the first time.”
― Jonathan Haidt, quote from The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom


“If you are in passionate love and want to celebrate your passion, read poetry. If your ardor has calmed and you want to understand your evolving relationship, read psychology. But if you have just ended a relationship and would like to believe you are better off without love, read philosophy.”
― Jonathan Haidt, quote from The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom


“life is much like a movie we walk into well after its opening scene, and we will have to step out long before most of the story lines reach their conclusions. We are acutely aware that we need to know a great deal if we are to understand the few confusing minutes that we do watch. Of course, we don’t know exactly what it is that we don’t know, so we can’t frame the question well. We ask, “What is the meaning of life?”
― Jonathan Haidt, quote from The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom


“Does helping others really confer happiness or prosperity on the helper? I know of no evidence showing that altruists gain money from their altruism, but the evidence suggests that they often gain happiness. People who do volunteer work are happier and healthier than those who don’t; but, as always, we have to contend with the problem of reverse correlation: Congenitally happy people are just plain nicer to begin with,24 so their volunteer work may be a consequence of their happiness, not a cause. The happiness-as-cause hypothesis received direct support when the psychologist Alice Isen25 went around Philadelphia leaving dimes in pay phones. The people who used those phones and found the dimes were then more likely to help a person who dropped a stack of papers (carefully timed to coincide with the phone caller’s exit), compared with people who used phones that had empty coin-return slots. Isen has done more random acts of kindness than any other psychologist: She has distributed cookies, bags of candy, and packs of stationery; she has manipulated the outcome of video games (to let people win); and she has shown people happy pictures, always with the same finding: Happy people are kinder and more helpful than those in the control group.”
― Jonathan Haidt, quote from The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom


“When bad things happen to good people, we have a problem. We know consciously that life is unfair, but unconsciously we see the world through the lens of reciprocity. The downfall of an evil man (in our biased and moralistic assessment) is no puzzle: He had it coming to him. But when the victim was virtuous, we struggle to make sense of his tragedy. At an intuitive level, we all believe in karma, the Hindu notion that people reap what they sow. The psychologist Mel Lerner has demonstrated that we are so motivated to believe that people get what they deserve and deserve what they get that we often blame the victim of a tragedy, particularly when we can’t achieve justice by punishing a perpetrator or compensating the victim.”
― Jonathan Haidt, quote from The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom


“Leo Tolstoy wrote: “One can live magnificently in this world, if one knows how to work and how to love, to work for the person one loves and to love one’s work.”19”
― Jonathan Haidt, quote from The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom


“With such a vast and wonderful library spread out before us, we often skim books or read just the reviews. We might already have encountered the Greatest Idea, the insight that would have transformed us had we savored it, taken it to heart, and worked it into our lives.”
― Jonathan Haidt, quote from The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom


“changing an institution’s environment to increase the sense of control among its workers, students, patients, or other users was one of the most effective possible ways to increase their sense of engagement, energy, and happiness.”
― Jonathan Haidt, quote from The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom


“Do not seek to have events happen as you want them to, but instead want them to happen as they do happen, and your life will go well. —EPICTETUS”
― Jonathan Haidt, quote from The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom


“So now you know where to shop. Stop trying to keep up with the Joneses. Stop wasting your money on conspicuous consumption. As a first step, work less, earn less, accumulate less, and “consume” more family time, vacations, and other enjoyable activities.”
― Jonathan Haidt, quote from The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom


“People would be happier, and in the long run wealthier, if they bought basic, functional appliances, automobiles, and wristwatches, and invested the money they saved for future consumption; yet, Americans in particular spend almost everything they have—and sometimes more—on goods for present consumption, often paying a large premium for designer names and superfluous features.”
― Jonathan Haidt, quote from The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom


“to really get a mass atrocity going you need idealism—the belief that your violence is a means to a moral end. The major atrocities of the twentieth century were carried out largely either by men who thought they were creating a utopia or else by men who believed they were defending their homeland or tribe from attack.30 Idealism easily becomes dangerous because it brings with it, almost inevitably, the belief that the ends justify the means. If you are fighting for good or for God, what matters is the outcome, not the path. People have little respect for rules; we respect the moral principles that underlie most rules. But when a moral mission and legal rules are incompatible, we usually care more about the mission. The psychologist Linda Skitka31 finds that when people have strong moral feelings about a controversial issue—when they have a “moral mandate”—they care much less about procedural fairness in court cases. They want the “good guys” freed by any means, and the “bad guys” convicted by any means. It is thus not surprising that the administration of George W. Bush consistently argues that extra-judicial killings, indefinite imprisonment without trial, and harsh physical treatment of prisoners are legal and proper steps in fighting the Manichaean “war on terror.”
― Jonathan Haidt, quote from The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom


“The effectance motive helps explain the progress principle: We get more pleasure from making progress toward our goals than we do from achieving them because, as Shakespeare said, “Joy’s soul lies in the doing.”
― Jonathan Haidt, quote from The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom


“Even if we take Nietzsche figuratively (which he would have much preferred anyway), fifty years of research on stress shows that stressors are generally bad for people,3 contributing to depression, anxiety disorders, and heart disease.”
― Jonathan Haidt, quote from The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom


About the author

Jonathan Haidt
Born place: in Scarsdale, New York, The United States
Born date October 19, 1963
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