The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom
© 2006 by Jonathan Haidt. Published by Basic Books. All rights reserved.
Below is chapter 8 from
The Happiness Hypothesis
To understand it without reading the previous
chapters you need to know that chapter 1 described how the self is divided into parts that often conflict.
The central metaphor developed in that chapter is that our minds are like a rider on an elephant. The rider
is our conscious, linguistic self. It is what social psychologists call controlled processing. The elephant is
everything else – the 99% of mental processes about which we simply can’t be aware. It is automatic
mental processes. The rider may think he’s in control, but whenever the elephant really wants to do
something, it’s going to do it. Real change and growth can only come from training the elephant (covered
in chapter 2).
Chapter 3 covered reciprocity, and chapter 4 covered hypocrisy, especially “the myth of
pure evil”, which is the human tendency to divide the world into perfect good versus perfect evil. For
more information, please see:
Chapter 8: The Felicity of Virtue
It is impossible to live the pleasant life without also living sensibly, nobly and justly, and it is
impossible to live sensibly, nobly and justly without living pleasantly
Set your heart on doing good. Do it over and over again, and you will be filled with joy. A fool is
happy until his mischief turns against him. And a good man may suffer until his goodness flowers
When sages and elders urge virtue on the young, they sometimes sound like snake oil salesmen.
The wisdom literature of many cultures essentially says, “Gather round! I have a tonic that will make you
happy, healthy, wealthy, and wise! It will get you into heaven, and bring you joy on earth along the way!
Just be virtuous!” Young people are extremely good, though, at rolling their eyes and shutting their ears.
Their interests and desires are often at odds with those of adults, and they quickly find ways to pursue
their goals and get themselves into trouble, which often becomes character-building adventure. Huck Finn
runs away from his foster mother to raft down the Mississipi with a runaway slave; the young Buddha
leaves his father’s palace to begin his spiritual quest in the forest; Luke Skywalker abandons his foster
parents to join the galactic rebellion. All three reject the security and moral guidance offered by adults
and set off on their own journeys, journeys that make each into an adult, complete with a set of new
virtues. These hard-won virtues are especially admirable to us as readers because they reveal a depth and
authenticity of character that we don’t see in the obedient kid who simply accepts the virtues proposed by
. In Epicurus, 1963, p.297.