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Unformatted text preview: THE HAPPINESS HYPOTHESIS Jonathan Haidt teaches psychology at the University Virginia This is his first book for the general reader ALSOBYJONATHANHAIDT Flourishing: Positive Psychology and the Live Well-Lived ( c o - e d i t o r ) THE HAPPINESS HYPOTHESIS JONATHAN HAIDT Putting Ancient Wisdom and Philosophy to the Test of Modern Science arrowbooks PublishedbyArrowBooks,2006 4 6 8 10 9 7 5 Copyright©JonathanHaidt,2006 J o n a t h a n H a i d t h a s a s s e r t e d his right u n d e r t h e C o p y r i g h t , D e s i g n s a n d Patents Act 1 9 8 8 t o b e identified a s t h e a u t h o r o f this w o r k T h i s b o o k is sold s u b j e c t to the c o n d i t i o n t h a t it shall n o t , by way of trade or o t h e r w i s e , be lent, resold, hired o u t , or o t h e r w i s e c i r c u l a t e d w i t h o u t the p u b l i s h e r ' s prior c o n s e n t i n a n y f o r m o f b i n d i n g o r c o v e r o t h e r t h a n that in w h i c h it is p u b l i s h e d a n d w i t h o u t a s i m i l a r c o n d i t i o n , i n c l u d i n g this c o n d i t i o n , b e i n g i m p o s e d o n t h e s u b s e q u e n t p u r c h a s e r First p u b l i s h e d in G r e a t Britain in 2 0 0 6 by William H e i n e m a n n R a n d o m H o u s e , 2 0 Vauxhall B r i d g e R o a d , L o n d o n S W 1 V 2SA A d d r e s s e s for c o m p a n i e s within T h e R a n d o m H o u s e G r o u p L i m i t e d c a n b e f o u n d at: w w w . r a n d o m h o u s e . c o . u k TheRandomHouseGroupLimitedReg.No.954009 A C I P c a t a l o g u e r e c o r d for this b o o k is a v a i l a b l e f r o m t h e British Library ISBN:0099478897 I S B N 13: 9 7 8 0 0 9 9 4 7 8 8 9 8 M i x e d Sources —_ J Product group from w*l-manjg«d ^ ^U forests and other con tool ltd sources. 17 o Cert no. TT-COC-2139 J ? O V _ < c 1996 Forest Stewardship Council Printed i n the U K b y C P IBookmarque,Croydon,CRO4TD forJayne i it Contents 1 T h e Divided Self 2 Changing Your Mind 3 Reciprocity with a Vengeance 4 T h e Faults of Others 5 T h e Pursuit of Happiness 6 Love and Attachments 7 T h e U s e s of Adversity 8 T h e Felicity of Virtue 9 Divinity With or Without G o d 1 0 H a p p i n e s s C o m e s from Betwee n 1 1 Conclusion: On Balance Acknowledgments Notes References Index Introduction: Too Much Wisdom W H A T S H O U L D I DO, ho w should I live, an d w h o m shoul d I b e c o m e ? M a n y of us ask such questions, and, modern life being what it is, we don't have to go far to find answers. W i s d o m is now so c h e a p and abundant that it floods over us from calendar pages, tea bags, bottle caps, and m a s s e-mail messages forwarded by well-meaning friends. We are in a way like residents of Jorge Luis Borges's Library of Babel—an infinite library whose b o o k s contain every possible string of letters and, therefore, somewhere an explanation of why the library exists and how to u s e it. But Borges's librarians s u s p e c t that they will never find that book amid the miles of n o n s e n s e . O u r prospects are better. Few of our potential sources of w i s d o m are nonsense, and many are entirely true. Yet, b e c a u s e our library is a l s o e ffectively infinite—no one person can ever read more than a tiny f r a c t i o n — w e f a c e the paradox of a b u n d a n c e : Quantity u n d e r m i n e s the quality of our engagement. With s u c h a vast and wonderful library spread out b e f o r e us, we often skim books or read just the reviews. We might already have e n c o u n tered the Greatest Idea, the insight that would have transformed us had we savored it, taken it to heart, and worked it into our lives. This is a book about ten Great Ideas. E a c h chapter is an a t t e m p t to savor one idea that has b e e n discovered by several of the world's civilizations—to question it in light of what we now know from scientific research, a n d to extract from it the lessons that still apply to our modern lives. I am a social psychologist. I do experiments to try to figure out one corner of human social life, and my corner is morality and the moral emotions. I am also a teacher. I teach a large introductory psychology class at the University of Virginia in which I try to explain the entire field of psychology in twenty-four lectures. I have to present a thousand research findings on everything from the structure of the retina to the workings of love, and then hope that my students will u n d e r s t a n d and r e m e m b e r it all. As I struggled with this challenge in my first year of teaching, I realized that several ideas kept recurring across lectures, and that often these ideas had been stated eloquently by past thinkers. To summarize the idea that our emotions, our reactions to events, and s o m e mental illnesses are caused by the mental filters through which we look at the world, I could not say it any more concisely than Shakespeare: "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."1 I began to u s e such quotations to help my students remember the big ideas in psychology, and I began to wonder just how many such ideas there were. To find out, I read dozens of works of ancient wisdom, mostly from the world's three great zones of classical thought: India (for example, the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, the sayings of the Buddha), China (the Analects of Confucius, the Tao te Ching, the writings of M e n g Tzu and other philosophers), and the cultures of the Mediterranean (the Old and N e w Testaments, the Greek and Roman philosophers, the Koran). I also read a variety of other works of philosophy and literature from the last five hundred years. Every time I found a psychological c l a i m — a statement about human nature or the workings of the mind or heart—I wrote it down. Whenever I found an idea expressed in several p l a c e s and times I considered it a possible Great Idea. But rather than mechanically listing the top ten all-time most widespread psychological ideas of humankind, I decided that coherence was more important than frequency. I wanted to write about a set of ideas that would fit together, build upon each other, and tell a story about how human beings can find happiness and meaning in life. Helping people find happiness and meaning is precisely the goal of the new field of positive psychology,2 a field in which I have been active,3 so this book is in a way about the origins of positive psychology in ancient wisdom and the applications of positive psychology today. M o s t of the research I will cover was done by scientists who would not consider themselves positive psychologists. Nonetheless, I have drawn on ten ancient ideas and a great variety of modern research findings to tell the best story I c a n about the causes of human flourishing, and the obstacles to well being that we place in our own paths. T h e story begins with an account of how the human mind works. Not a full account, of course, just two ancient truths that must be understood before you can take advantage of modern psychology to improve your life. T h e first truth is the foundational idea of this book: T h e mind is divided into parts that sometimes conflict. Like a rider on the back of an elephant, the conscious, reasoning part of the mind has only limited control of what the elephant does. Nowadays, we know the causes of these divisions, a n d a few ways to help the rider and the elephant work better as a team. T h e second idea is Shakespeare's, about how "thinking makes it so." (Or, as B u d d h a 4 said, "Our life is the creation of our mind.") But we can improve this ancient idea today by explaining why most people's minds have a bias toward seeing threats and engaging in useless worry. We can also do something to change this bias by using three techniques that increase happiness, one ancient and two very new. T h e second step in the story is to give an account of our social lives— again, not a complete account, just two truths, widely known but not sufficiently appreciated. O n e is the Golden Rule. Reciprocity is the most important tool for getting along with people, and I'll show you how you can use it to solve problems in your own life and avoid being exploited by those who use reciprocity against you. However, reciprocity is more than just a tool. It is also a clue about who we humans are and what we need, a clue that will be important for understanding the end of the larger story. The second truth in this part of the story is that we are all, by nature, hypocrites, and this is why it is so hard for us to follow the Golden Rule faithfully. Recent psychological research has uncovered the mental mechanisms that make us so good at seeing the slightest speck in our neighbor's eye, and so bad at seeing the log in our own. If you know what your mind is up to, and why you so easily see the world through a distorting lens of good and evil, you can take steps to reduce your self-righteousness. \ o u can thereby-reduce the frequency of conflicts with others who are equally convinced pf their righteousness. At this point in the story, we'll be ready to ask: Where does happiness c o m e from? T h e r e are several different " h a p p i n e s s h y p o t h e s e s . " O n e is that happiness c o m e s from getting what you want, but we all know (and research confirms) that such happiness is short-lived. A more promising hypothesis is that happiness c o m e s from within and cannot be obtained by making the world conform to your desires. This idea was widespread in the ancient world: B u d d h a in India a n d the S t o i c philosophers in ancient G r e e c e and Rome all counseled people to break their emotional attachments to people and events, which are always unpredictable and uncontrollable, and to cultivate instead an attitude of acceptance. This ancient idea deserves respect, and it is certainly true that changing your mind is usually a more effective response to frustration than is changing the world. However, I will present evidence that this second version of the happiness hypothesis is wrong. Recent research s h o w s that there are s o m e things worth striving for; there are external conditions of life that can make you lastingly happier. O n e of these conditions is r e l a t e d n e s s — t h e bonds we form, and need to form, with others. I'll present research showing where love comes from, why passionate love always cools, and what kind of love is "true" love. I'll suggest that the h a p p i n e s s hypothesis offered by Buddha and the Stoics should be a m e n d e d : H a p p i n e s s c o m e s from within, and happiness comes from without. We need the guidance of both ancient wisdom and modern science to get the balance right. T h e next step in this story about flourishing is to look at the conditions of human growth and development. We've all heard that what doesn't kill us makes us stronger, but that is a dangerous oversimplification. Many of the things that don't kill you can d a m a g e you for life. Recent research on "posttraumatic growth" reveals when and why people grow from adversity, and what you can do to prepare yourself for trauma, or to c o p e with it after the fact. We have also all heard repeated urgings to cultivate virtue in ourselves, because virtue is its own reward, but that, too, is an oversimplification. I'll show how concepts of virtue and morality have changed and narrowed over the centuries, and how ancient ideas about virtue and moral development may hold promise for our own age. I'll also show how positive psychology is beginning to deliver on that promise by offering you a way to "diagnose" and develop your own strengths and virtues. T h e conclusion of the story is the question of meaning: Why do s o m e people find meaning, purpose, and fulfillment in life, but others do not? I begin with the culturally widespread idea that there is a vertical, spiritual dimension of human existence. Whether it is called nobility, virtue, or divinity, and whether or not G o d exists, people simply do perceive sacredness, holiness, or s o m e ineffable goodness in others, and in n a t u r e . I'll present my own research on the moral emotions of disgust, elevation, and awe to explain how this vertical dimension works, and why the d i m e n s i o n is so important for understanding religious fundamentalism, the political culture war, and the h u m a n quest for m e a n i n g . I'll also c o n s i d e r what people mean when t h e y a s k , "What is the meaning of life?" And I'll give an answer to the question-—an answer that draws on ancient ideas about having a purpose but that uses very recent research to go beyond these ancient ideas, or any ideas you are likely to have encountered. In doing so, I'll revise the happiness hypothesis one last time. I could state that final version here in a few words, but 1 could not explain it in this brief introduction without cheapening it. Words of wisdom, the meaning of life, p e r h a p s 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. That is my goal in this book. 1 The Divided Self For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. —ST.PAUL,GALATIANS5:I7' If Passion drives, let Reason hold the Reins. —BENJAMINFRANKLIN^ I F I R S T R O D E A M O R S E in 1 9 9 1 , in Grea t Smok y Nationa l Park, Nort h Car olina. I'd been on rides as a child where s o m e teenager led the horse by a short rope, but this was the first time it was just me and a horse, no rope. I wasn't alone—there were eight other people on eight other horses, and one of the people was a park ranger—so the ride didn't ask m u c h of me. There was, however, one difficult moment. We were riding along a path on a steep hillside, two by two, and my horse was on the outside, walking about three feet from the edge. Then the path turned sharply to t h e left, and my horse was heading straight for the edge. I froze. I knew I h a d to steer left, but there was another horse to my left and I didn't want to crash into it. I might have called out for help, or s c r e a m e d , "Look out!"; but some part of me preferred the risk of going over the edge to the certainty of looking stupid. So I just froze. I did nothing at all during the critical- five seconds in which my horse and the horse to my left calmly turned to the left by themselves. As my panic subsided, I laughed at my ridiculous fear. T h e horse knew exactly what she was doing. She'd walked this path a hundred times, and she had no more interest in tumbling to her death than I had. S h e didn't need me to tell her what to do, and, in fact, the few times I tried to tell her what to do she didn't much s e e m to care. I had gotten it all so wrong because I had spent the previous ten years driving cars, not horses. Cars go over edges unless you tell them not to. H u m a n thinking depends on metaphor. "We understand new or complex things in relation to things we already know.3 For example, it's hard to think about life in general, but once you apply the metaphor "life is a journey," the metaphor guides you to s o m e conclusions: You should learn the terrain, pick a direction, find s o m e good traveling companions, and enjoy the trip, because there may be nothing at the end of the road. It's also hard to think about the mind, but once you pick a metaphor it will guide your thinking. Throughout recorded history, people have lived with and tried to control animals, and these animals m a d e their way into ancient metaphors. Buddha, for example, compared the mind to a wild elephant: In days gone by this mind of mine used to stray wherever selfish desire or lust or pleasure would lead it. Today this mind does not stray and is under the harmony of control, even as a wild elephant is controlled by the trainer.4 Plato used a similar metaphor in which the self (or soul) is a chariot, and the calm, rational part of the mind holds the reins. Plato's charioteer had to control two horses: The horse that is on the right, or nobler, side is upright in frame and well jointed, with a high neck and a regal nose; . . . he is a lover of honor with modesty and self-control; companion to true glory, he needs no whip, and is guided by verbal commands alone. The other horse is a crooked great jumble of limbs . . . companion to wild boasts and indecency, he is shaggy around the ears—deaf as a post—and just barely yields to horse-whip and goad combined.5 For Plato, some of the emotions and passions are good (for example, the love of honor), and they help pull the self in the right direction, but others are bad (for example, the appetites and lusts). T h e goal of Platonic education was to help the charioteer gain perfect control over the two horses. Sigmund Freud offered us a related model 2 , 3 0 0 years later.6 Freud said that the mind is divided into three parts: the ego (the conscious, rational self); the superego (the conscience, a sometimes too rigid c o m m i t m e n t to the rules of society); and the id (the desire for pleasure, lots of it, sooner rather than later). T h e metaphor I use when I lecture on Freud is to think of the mind as a horse and buggy (a Victorian chariot) in which the driver (the ego) struggles frantically to control a hungry, lustful, and disobedient horse (the id) while the driver's father (the superego) sits in the back scat lecturing the driver on what he is doing wrong. For Freud, the goal of psychoanalysis was to escape this pitiful state by strengthening the ego, thus giving it more control over the id and more independence from the superego. Freud, Plato, and Buddha all lived in worlds full of domesticated animals. They were familiar with the struggle to assert one's will over a creature m u c h larger than the self. But as the twentieth century wore on, cars replaced horses, and technology gave people ever more control over their physical worlds. When people looked for metaphors, they saw the mind as the driver of a car, or as a program running on a computer. It became possible to forget all about Freud's unconscious, and just study the mechanisms of thinking and decision making. That's what social scientists did in the last third of the century: Social psychologists created "information processing" theories to explain everything from prejudice to friendship. Economists created "rational choice" models to explain why people do what they do. T h e social sciences were unit-ing under the idea that people are rational agents who set goals and pursue them intelligently by using the information and resources at their disposal. But then, why do people keep doing such stupid things? Why do they fail to control themselves and continue to do what they know is not good lor t h e m ? I, for one, can easily muster the willpower to ignore all the desserts on the menu. But if dessert is placed on the table, I can't resist it. I can resolve to focus on a task and not get up until it is done, yet somehow I find myself walking into the kitchen, or procrastinating in other ways. I can resolve to wake up at 6 : 0 0 A.M. to write; yet after I have shut off the alarm, my repeated c o m m a n d s to myself to get out of bed have no effect, and I understand what Plato meant when he described the bad horse as "deaf as a post." But it was during s o m e larger life decisions, about dating, that I really began to grasp the extent of my powerlessness. 1 would know exactly what I should do, yet, even as I was telling my friends that I would do it, a part of me was dimly aware that I was not going to. Feelings of guilt, lust, or fear were often stronger than reasoning. (On the other hand, I was quite good at lecturing friends in similar situations abo...
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