Discussing The Happiness Hypothesis

Jul 19th, 2010 by Lady Liberty

Discussion“Why do some people find happiness, satisfaction, and fulfillment and others don’t?  The answer is in 2,500 years of wisdom, which Jonathan Haidt revisits and brings into the 21st century for all of us to use in our own lives.” — Acton teacher Jeff Sandefer

It’s time to start discussing the Happiness Hypothesis. A handful of Acton MBA alumni are kicking off the conversation and this is what they have to say. Respond or add your own viewpoint in the comments section. We’d love to hear what you think. Check out the reflection questions, too. 

Rankin QuoteChip Rankin, Acton 2007. Chip Rankin can tell you exactly why your brand should be connecting to consumers while they travel and then help you determine the best way to do precisely that.

I’m fascinated by the concept that science and faith are much more interwoven than our culture would have you believe and Mr. Haidt’s approach reminded me of “Don’t Discard.” Rather than take a side in any issue, he looked for the value and truth in all opinions and then reviewed it with a critical eye. He didn’t so this in the interest of being diverse or politically correct, but through his intent to learn from all and not to dismiss.

I was particularly engaged by evident human biological response to the divine experience, regardless of what names or words one chooses to call it. The suggestion that such relationship and epiphanies could be chemical and/or spiritual is sufficiently broad to cover a lot of bases, while still focusing on his point – spiritual bonds and community connections are integral for a balanced and happy life.

The question asking whether you’d choose to be a lottery winner or to become paraplegic in a crash was a fascinating one. “Happily ever after,” as might be perceived after a lottery score,  doesn’t work unless “ever after” includes a series of successful graduated tasks that build upon each other. I know I strive to “be happy” yet this book caused me to reframe the question and see that perhaps I already am.

Melendez QuoteEd Melendez, Acton 2007. A Lead Account Manager for Convio, Ed helps non-profits utilize technology and strategy to achieve their missions. His future goal? To create opportunities in Fourth Sector for-profit organizations that link private interest with public benefit.

Haidt’s book has really impacted me more than I expected. Lately, there are a lot of books out there packed with some type of zinger: “you think you know something, but you don’t.” What I love about Happiness Hypothesis is that Professor Haidt turns some myths on their head for sure, but he does something that a lot of other writers don’t: he gives you some practical and actionable approaches to use in your own life. He acknowledges the power of genetics in our mental disposition, but shows how we can still “manage that elephant” to make improvements in personal and professional endeavors.

For me, the most provocative part of the book is about the impact of adversity on individuals. Again, he suggests ways that adversity can be managed so that one does come out of it better and healthier for it.  That said, as a parent I find it hard to wish for any adversity in my child’s life, regardless of its potential positive impact.  Nonetheless, his thesis does give us hope about resilience and the ultimately beneficial life changes that can be brought about by misfortune and difficult times.

Highly recommend it.

Yellis QuoteNathanael Yellis, Acton 2009. Nathanael blogs at blog.inathanael.com and tweets @inathanael. He likes talking with people.

This book captured exactly why I was uncomfortable with Acton’s behavioral economics discussions. The author assumes that science is the ultimate arbiter of truth. This book brings the wisdom of the ancients (philosophy) to contemporary science, and judges philosophy with the ultimate of scientific tests: correlative studies. Some cool ideas emerged about why the ancients may have been right; but what I saw emerge was far more troubling.

The author assumes we can then connect the ‘is’ to some set of ‘oughts’ and then have a set of parameters along which to live. The conclusion of this book is that there are a whole bunch of factors we should consider, then we set ourselves somewhere in the middle and wait for happiness to happen. If we accept this, science is our ultimate truth. Everything starts with science’s best answer about what is.

I think a lot truth can be best understood through science. But when we are talking about the inner part of human beings, the soul, I think science has limits. I’d rather identify ends to pursue and actively work towards them. But science can’t help: it only covers what is, not what should be. I’m fine with considering philosophy in light of psychology (social science), but our conception of truth should be firmly rooted in the former.

Patterson QuoteTyler Patterson, Acton 2010. Tyler works as an online marketing and design consultant. Check out www.TylerPatterson.com.

What really makes people happy? Why are all humans naturally hypocrites? Is it possible to change how you live to live or think to have a better life?

Jonathon Haidt, a professor at the University of Virginia, examines in depth ten concepts from ancient to modern times and the relevance they have in today’s society.  The ideas are a blend of modern science, ancient Greek philosophy, Buddhism, Hindu, Christianity and more. As an entrepreneur, it’s a fascinating look at cognitive psychology with applications to understanding your employees, your customer and perhaps most importantly yourself.

Throughout the book, I kept thinking about the last year I spent at Acton. Many of the lessons in the book already seemed natural to me because I had picked up on them in the classroom. Haidt would likely be an advocate of 100 hour work weeks if a person is truly going to change their way of thinking. Haidt uses a recurrent metaphor of a rider on an elephant to illustrate the conscious and subconscious mind. It’s possible to train both the rider and the elephant to walk on an elevated path through life and the book is a roadmap on how to do so.

Burkett QuoteEleanor Burkett, Acton 2010. Eleanor is trying to merge her backgrounds in theatre, pastries, and now business into a new and exciting career while simultaneously recovering from Acton withdrawal.

My immediate post-Acton life is full of major decisions. The idea in the book that our minds are like a wild elephant with a semi-able rider made a lot of sense to me. Making well thought out decisions expeditiously is difficult especially as he describes our minds’ negative bias as: “bad is stronger than good.” I find myself stuck on the negative consequences of each decision, which leaves none of them looking particularly appealing. Haidt does an amazing job of weaving complex psychological research with stories and examples easily relatable to our everyday lives. This is a book that I will keep and read again as each time I know I will walk away with new and different learning.

What do you think?

Photo courtesy of Marc Wathieu.

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Posted in Books & Notes

4 Responses

  1. [...] « Passion And The Great Game Of Business Discussing The Happiness Hypothesis [...]

  2. Saleel says:

    Great book, easy read. Excellent recommendation. After all, isn’t happiness what it is all about? I really liked the way Haidt breaks it down to an equation and then focuses tangible actions to address one part at a time.

  3. [...] “When was the last time you found yourself in a state of flow?“  Their post – Discussing The Happiness Hypothesis – captures various responses to all the questions [...]

  4. [...] agree with all of his premises or not, the Happiness Hypothesis (which was the Acton Book Club’s inaugural book) raises a ton of interesting questions, especially ones tying his conclusions to business. So we [...]

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