The Happiness Hypothesis
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Here is a summary of each chapter. You can read the introduction and a few
chapters (as PDF files) by clicking on the highlighted links.

Introduction: Too much wisdom  

Words of wisdom flood over us. Which ones can transform us? A brief introduction to why this book was written, how the ten ideas were chosen, and what lies ahead.

Ch.1: The divided self


For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh... (St. Paul)

The mind is divided in many ways, but the division that really matters is between conscious/reasoned processes and automatic/implicit processes. These two parts are like a rider on the back of an elephant. The rider’s inability to control the elephant by force explains many puzzles about our mental life, particularly why we have such trouble with weakness of will. Learning how to train the elephant is the secret of self-improvement.

Ch.2: Changing your mind  

The whole universe is change and life itself is but what you deem it. (Marcus Aurelius)

Why are some people optimists and others pessimists? Why do people tend to choose mates, and even professions, whose names resemble their own? The automatic emotional reactions of the elephant guide us throughout our lives. Learn how to change those automatic reactions, using using meditation, cognitive therapy, and Prozac

Ch.3: Reciprocity with a vengeance  

Zigong asked: ‘Is there any single word that could guide one's entire life?’ The Master said: ‘Should it not be reciprocity? What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others.’ (Analects of Confucius)

Many species have a social life, but among mammals, only humans (and naked mole rats) are ultra-social – able to live in very large cooperative groups. The golden rule, supplemented with gossip, is the secret of our success. Understanding the deep workings of reciprocity can help you to solve problems in your own social life, and guard against the many ways people try to manipulate you.

Ch.4: The faults of others  

Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? (Jesus)

Part of our ultra-sociality is that we are constantly trying to manipulate others perceptions of ourselves, without realizing that we are doing so. We see the faults of others clearly, but are blind to our own. Hypocrisy is part of human morality, and it sets us all up for lives of conflict. Learn how to take off the moral glasses and see the world as it really is.

Ch.5: The pursuit of happiness  

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)

We often hear that happiness comes from within, you can’t seek it in external things. And for a while, in the 1990s, psychologists agreed with the ancient sages that external conditions don’t matter. But now we know that some do. Find out what you can do to improve your happiness, including spending money well. Buddha and Epictetus may have gone too far; the Western emphasis on action and striving is not so bad, when done right.

Ch.6: Love and attachments  

No one can live happily who has regard to himself alone and transforms everything into a question of his own utility; you must live for your neighbour, if you would live for yourself. (Seneca)

There are so many kinds of love, but they all begin to make sense when you see where love comes from, and what it does. Understanding the different kinds of love can help explain why people make so many mistakes with love, and why philosophers hate love and give us bad advice about it.

Ch.7: The uses of adversity  

What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger. (Nietszche)

Yes, unless it gives you post-traumatic stress disorder. This chapter explains how and why some people grow from their suffering, and what you can do to improve your odds of finding post-traumatic growth.

Ch.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 (Epicurus)

Is virtue its own reward? Yes, but in the modern West we’ve lost the ability to grow most virtues in good soil, and we’ve reduced virtue to just being nice. Where did we go wrong, and how can we forge a common morality in a diverse society?

Ch.9: Divinity with or without God  

We must not allow the ignoble to injure the noble, or the smaller to injure the greater. Those who nourish the smaller parts will become small men. Those who nourish the greater parts will become great men. (Meng Tzu)

The perception of sacredness and divinity is a basic feature of the human mind. The emotions of disgust, moral elevation, and awe tell us about this dimension, but not everybody listens. The “religious right” can only be understood once you see this dimension, which most liberals and secular thinkers do not understand – at their peril. Understanding this dimension is also crucial for understanding the meaning of life – the topic of the last chapter.

Ch.10: Happiness comes from between  

Who sees all beings in his own Self, and his own Self in all beings, loses all fear.... (Upanishads)

What is the meaning of life? The question is unanswerable in that form, but with a slight rephrasing we can answer it. Part of the answer is to tie yourself down, commit yourself to people and projects, and enter a state of “vital engagement” with them. The other part is to attain a state of "cross-level coherence" within yourself, and within your life. Religion is an evolved mechanism for satisfying these needs. We can find meaning and happiness without religion, but we must understand our evolved religious nature before we can find effective substitutes.

Ch.11: On Balance  

All things come into being by conflict of opposites (Heraclitus)

The ancient idea of Yin and Yang turns out to be the wisest idea of all. We need the perspectives of ancient religion and modern science; of east and west; even of liberal and conservative. Words of wisdom really do flood over us, but only by drawing from many sources can we become wise.