Books I've Read

The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom

  • — by Jonathan Haidt
  • 978-0465028023
Currently Reading....


Quantity undermines the quality of our engagement.

Shakespeare: "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."

Great Ideas: found across multiple zones of ancient thought

  • India
    • Upanishads
    • Bhagavad Gita
    • sayings of the Buddha)
  • China
    • Analects of Confucius
    • Tao te Ching
    • writings of Meng Tz
  • the Mediterranean
    • Old/New Testaments,
    • Greek and Roman philosophers
    • Koran

positive psychology - Helping people find happiness and meaning is precisely the goal



Two Truths

  1. The mind is divided into parts that sometimes conflict.
  2. Our life is the creation of our mind. - Buddha

Our Social Lives

  1. Reciprocity - the Golden Rule
  2. Hypocrites - recognition to reduce self-righteousness

Happiness Source: Relatedness - the bonds we form with others

Happiness comes from within (Eastern & Stoics), and happiness comes from without (Western). We need the guidance of both ancient wisdom and modern science to get the balance right.

Positive Psychology offers a way to diagnose and develop personal strengths and virtues

Vertical, spiritual dimension of human existence: nobility/virtue/divinity, a perceived sacredness, holiness, or goodness





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.

— S T . P A U L , G A L A T I A N S 5 : I 7


If Passion drives, let Reason hold the Reins.

— B E N J A M I N F R A N K L I N


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


The Mind's Divisions

  1. Mind's Body -
    1. involuntary bodily control
    2. gut brain -
      1. 100 million neurons in the gut functions even when connecting vagus nerve is severed
      2. SSRI's cause nausea & bowel function change
      3. 3 lower chakras corresponding to the colon, sex organs and gut
      4. where "gut feelings" come from
  2. Left vs Right
    1. Confabulation - left side of the brain as the interpreter module, whose job is to give a running commentary on whatever the self is doing, even though the interpreter module has no access to the real causes or motives of the self's behavior (in split-brain patients with the nerves connecting brain hemispheres severed)
    2. the mind is a confederation of modules capable of working independently a n d even, s o m e t i m e s , at cross-purposes.
  3. New vs Old
    1. Human rationality depends critically on sophisticated emotionality. Reasoning ability breaks down with out emotion.
    2. Newer parts of the primate brain are responsible for reason, memory, etc but also serve to enhance the older emotional centers
  4. Controlled vs Automatic
    1. controlled thought is sequential, automatic runs in parallel
    2. controlled thought requires language
    3. The automatic system has its finger on I he dopamine release button. The controlled system, in contrast, is better seen as an advisor
    4. "Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them." - Hume

Failures of Self-control

 Children who were able to overcome stimulus control and delay gratification for a few extra minutes in 1970 were better able to resist temptation as teenagers, to focus on their studies, and to control themselves when things didn't go the way they wanted.

Successful children were those who looked away from the temptation or were able to think about other enjoyable activities. These thinking skills are an aspect of emotional intelligence—an ability to understand and regulate one's own feelings and desires.

Mental Intrusions

The Imp of the Perverse - E.A. Poe

As the act of monitoring for the absence of the thought introduces the thought, the person must try even harder to divert consciousness.

The Difficulty of Winning an Argument

Moral arguments often rely on a instant reaction feeling, and are formed on the fly to justify said feeling.



Changing Your Mind

The whole universe is change and life itself is but what you deem it.


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.


Why is the automatic brain so pessimistic and worrying?


The Like-o-Meter

You have a like-dislike reaction to everything you are experiencing, even if you're not aware of the experience.

Negativity Bias - bad is stronger than good

relationships: it takes 5 good actions to make up for the damage done by one destructive act
finance: losses are felt more than gains

Your behavior is governed by opposing motivational systems: an approach system, which triggers positive emotions and makes you want to move toward certain things; and a withdrawal system, which triggers negative emotions and makes you want to pull back or avoid other things. Both systems are always active, monitoring the environment, and the two systems can produce opposing motives at the s a m e time

Amygdala is a neural shortcut of sensory data pathway to the frontal lobe which responds to patterns associated with danger and triggers the fight/flight response. Amygdala also talks to the frontal lobe to shift your thinking: Emotions triggering thoughts vs. the opposite

The Cortical Lottery

Affective Style - a person's average level of happiness.

Most people show more activity in either the right or left frontal cortex - and that correlates to tendencies toward positive/negative emotions.

How to change your mind

Can't be done by force of will, you have to do something to change your repertoire of available thoughts.

The three best methods:

  1. Meditation - conscious attempt to focus attention in a nonanalytical way in order to eliminate attachment. Give up the pleasure of winning, but also give up the larger pain of losing.
  2. Cognitive Therapy - Aaron Beck trained patience to catch and challenge distored thought processes.
    1. Cognitive Triad of depression
      1. I'm not good
      2. My world is bleak
      3. My future is hopeless
    2. Common distortions
      1. Personalization (I'm a terrible father)
      2. Overgeneralization + always/never thinking (Why do I always do wrong??)
      3. Magnification (Now xyz really terrible bad thing will happen)
      4. Arbitrary inference (Everyone will hate me)
    3. Prozac




Reciprocity with a Vengeance

Ultrasociality - extension of kin altruism beyond relatives

A species equipped with vengeance and gratitude responses can support larger and more cooperative social groups because the payoff to cheaters is reduced by the costs they bear in making enemies

In the animal kingdom, the logarithm of the brain size is almost perfectly proportional to the logarithm of the social group size

Gossip paired with reciprocity allow karma to work here on earth

humans are partially hive creatures, yet in the modern world we spend nearly all our time outside of the hive. Reciprocity, like love, reconnects us with others



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? . . . You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor's eye.

— MATTHEW 7 : 3 

It is easy to see the faults of others, but difficult to see one's own faults. One shows the faults of others like chaff win-nowed in the wind, but one conceals one's own faults as a cunning gambler conceals his dice.


Scandal is great entertainment b e c a u s e it allows people to feel contempt, a moral emotion that gives feelings of moral superiority while asking nothing in return. With contempt you don't need to right the wrong (as with anger) or flee the scene (as with fear or disgust). And best of all, contempt is made to share.

Moral Hyprocrisy - tendency to value the appearance of morality over the reality

"makes sense" stopping rule - we take a position then look for evidence to support it and stop there

"naive realism" - 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.

Good and evil do not exist outside of our beliefs about them.

Problem: an all-powerful god either allows evil or can't control it


  1. Dualism: There exists a good force and an evil force, they are equal and opposite, they fight eternally and we must choose a side.
  2. Monism: There is one God; he created the world as it needs to be, and evil is an illusion, a view that dominated religions that developed in India. We must break the illusion of emotion.
  3. Hybrid, doesn't make sense but christians believe it anyways

We all commit selfish and shortsighted acts, but our inner lawyer ensures that we do not blame ourselves or our allies for them. We are thus convinced of our own virtue, but quick to s e e bias, greed, and duplicity in others. We are often correct about others' motives, but as any conflict escalates we begin to exaggerate grossly, to weave a story in which pure virtue (our side) is in a battle with pure vice (theirs).

Evil: Inside Human Cruelty and Aggression - Baumeister "The myth of pure evil"

4 causes of violence and cruelty:

  1. Greed/ambition
  2. Sadism
  3. high-self esteem narcissists
  4. moral idealism


The Perfect Way is only difficult for those who pick and choose;

Do not like, do not dislike; all will then be clear.

Make a hairbreadth difference, and Heaven and Earth are -

set apart;

If you want the truth to stand clear before you, never be for or against.

The struggle between "for" and "against" is the mind's worst disease.

-- Sen-ts'an, an early Chinese Zen master


 Feelings Good - David Burns -- popular guide to cognitive therapy

 Write down your thoughts, learn to recognize the distortions in your thoughts, and then think of a more appropriate thought



The Pursuit of Happiness

pre-goal attainment positive affect - the pleasurable feeling you get as you make progress toward a goal.

post-goal attainment positive affect - arises once you have achieved something you want

the progress principle: Pleasure comes more from making progress toward goals than from achieving them

Happy people grow rich faster because, as in the marriage market, they are more appealing to others (such as bosses), and also because their frequent positive emotions help them to commit to projects, to work hard, and to invest in their futures

Happiness - strong relation to genes, weak relation to environment

H = S + C + V

The level of happiness that you actually experience (H) is determined by your biological set point (S) [actually a range] plus the conditions of your life ( C ) plus the voluntary activities (V) you do.

Some Conditions (C) [environmental factors] do matter to happiness:

  • noise
  • commuting
  • sense of control
  • shame
  • personal relationships

Keys to Flow: There's a clear challenge that fully engages your attention; you have the skills to meet the challenge; and you get immediate f e e d b a c k about how you are doing at each step

You can increase your happiness if you use your strengths, particularly in the service of strengthening connections — helping friends, expressing gratitude to benefactors.

Conspicuous consumption - things that are visible to others and that are taken as markers of a person's relative success. a zero-sum game: Each person's move up devalues the possessions of others.

Inconspicuous consumption - goods and activities that are valued for themselves, in private

Paradox of Choice applies mostly to "maximizers" versus "satisficers". Maximizers engage in more social comparison, and are therefore more easily drawn into conspicuous consumption. Paradoxically, they get less pleasure per dollar spent.






Love and Attachments

Behaviorist child rearing theory: Don't pick them up when they cry, don't cuddle or coddle them, just dole out benefits and punishments for each good and bad action.

Attachment theory begins with the idea that two basic goals guide children's behavior: safety and exploration

2/3: Secure attachment. 1/3: Avoidant and Resistant insecure attachment

4 defining features of attachment relationships:

  1. proximity maintanance
  2. separation distress
  3. safe haven
  4. secure base

Oxytocin hormone - stress hormone in women is secreted when attachment needs are not being met

Adult love is built out of two ancient and interlocking systems: an attachment system that bonds child to mother and a caregiving system that bonds mother to child.

How did human females come to hide all signs of ovulation and get men to fall in love with them and their children? (versus animal behavior)

Humans are the only creatures on Earth whose young are utterly helpless for years, and heavily dependent on adult care for more than a decade. This dependency means hunter-gatherer mothers had to rely on men to collect enough calories. Active fathers, male-female pair-bonds, male sexual jealousy, and big-headed babies all co-evolved. A man who felt s o m e desire to stay with a woman, guard her fidelity, and contribute to the rearing of their children could produce smarter children than could his less paternal competitors. Thus completes the speculative theory tying attachment system to mating system.

passionate vs companionate love (Ellen Berscheid and Elaine Walster) -
"wildly emotional state in which tender and sexual feelings, elation and pain, anxiety and relief, altruism and jealousy coexist in a confusion of feelings." vs "the affection we feel for those with w h o m our lives are deeply intertwined."

Passionate love functions like a drug in terms of dopamine release and reported symptoms. The brain reacts to a chronic surplus of dopamine, develops neurochemical reactions that oppose it, and restores its own equilibrium. At that point, tolerance has set in, and when the drug is withdrawn, the brain is unbalanced in the opposite direction: pain, lethargy, and despair follow withdrawal from cocaine or from passionate love. Strict believers in true love would leave once the passionate love flames out, as it must eventually.

Passionate love and companionate love are two separate processes, and they have different time courses which do not overlap or lead into one another.

The Time Course of the Two Kinds of Love (Short Run)

Danger points: making big commitments while under the influence of the passionate love drug and the day the drug wears off

The real true love is strong companionate love, not passionate love.

The Time Course of the Two Kinds of Love (Long Run)


Chritian Love

Caritas (the origin of our word "charity") is a kind of intense benevolence and good will; agape is a Greek word that refers to a kind of selfless, spiritual love with no sexuality, no clinging to a particular other person. (Of course, Christianity endorses the love of a man and a woman within marriage, but even this love is idealized as the love of Christ for his church—EPHESIANS 5:25) As in Plato, Christian love is love stripped of its essential particularity, its focus on a specific other person. Love is remodeled into a general attitude toward a much larger, even infinite, class of objects.


Emile Durkheim

Having strong social relationships strengthens the i m m u n e system, extends life (more than does quitting smoking), speeds recovery from surgery, and reduces the risks of depression and anxiety disorders.53 It's not just that extroverts are naturally happier and healthier; when introverts are forced to be more outgoing, they usually enjoy it and find that it boosts their mood


Seneca was right: "No one can live happily who has regard to himself alone and transforms everything into a question of his own utility."



When heaven is about to confer a great responsibility on any man, it will exercise his mind with suffering, subject his sinews and bones to hard work, expose his body to hunger, put him to poverty, place obstacles in the paths of his deeds, so as to stimulate his mind, harden his nature, and improve wherever he is incompetent.

— M E N G T Z U , 1 C H I N A , 3 R D C E N T , B C E


adveristy hypothesis - be careful, many face serious adversity and sometimes develop PTSD. Fifty years of research on stress shows that stressors are generally bad for people,3 contributing to depression, anxiety disorders, and heart disease.


Posttramautic Growth - the benefits of severe stress


Soft Version: (well-supported)

Survivor Inoculation - rising to a challenge reveals your hidden abilities, and seeing these abilities c h a n g e s your s e l f - c o n c e p t .

Dalai L a m a said: " T h e person who has had more experience of hardships can stand more firmly in the face of problems than the person who has never experienced suffering

Filter separates the fair-weather friends from the true; it strengthens relationships and it opens people's hearts to one another.


Strong version: (not strongly supported)

people must endure adversity to grow, and that the highest levels of growth and development are only open to those who have laced and overcome great adversity.

Ppsychologist D a n M c A d a m s has suggested that personality really has three levels,17 and too much attention has been paid to the lowest level, the basic traits

life story - an "evolving story that integrates a reconstructed past, perceived present, and anticipated future into a coherent and vitalizing life myth."

characteristic adaptations - includes personal goals, defense and coping mechanisms, values, beliefs, and life-stage concerns (such as those of parent-hood or retirement) that people develop to succeed in their particular roles and niches.

4 categories of character adaptations : work and achievement, relationships and intimacy, religion and spirituality, and generativity (leaving a legacy and contributing something to society).

basic traits - influence balance of character adaptations


People who strive primarily for achievement and wealth are, Emmons finds, less happy, on average, than those whose strivings focus on the other three categories.

When tragedy strikes it knocks you off the treadmill and forces a decision: Hop back on and return to business as usual, or try something else?

I here is a window of time—just a few weeks or months after the tragedy—during which you are more open to something else. During this time, achievement goals often lose their allure, sometimes coming to seem pointless. If you shift toward other goals—family, religion, or helping others—you shift to inconspicuous consumption, and the pleasures derived along the way are not fully subject to adaptation (treadmill) effects. The pursuit of these goals therefore leads to more happiness but less Wealth (on average). Many people change their goals in the wake of adversity; they resolve to work less, to love and play more. If in those first few months you take action—you do something that changes your daily life—then the changes might stick.

 Life Stories

the "commitment story," - the protagonist has a supportive family background, is sensitized early in life to the sufferings of others, is guided by a clear and compelling personal ideology, and, at s o m e point, transforms or redeems failures, mistakes, or crises into a positive outcome, a process that often involves setting new goals that commit the self to helping others. T h e life of the Buddha is a classic example.

a "contamination" sequence in which emotionally positive events go bad and everything is spoiled.

People who tell such stories are, not surprisingly, more likely to be depressed.22 Indeed, part of the pathology of depression is that, while ruminating, the depressed person reworks her life narrative by using the tools of Beck's negative triad: I'm bad, the world is bad, and my future is dark.

The psychologists Ken Sheldon and Tim Kasser have found that people who are mentally healthy and happy have a higher degree of "vertical coherence" a m o n g their goals—that is, higher-level (long term) g o a l s and lower-level (immediate) goals all fit together well so that pursuing one's short-term goals advances the pursuit of long-term goals.23

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.26

primary coping strategies:

active coping (taking direct action to fix the problem), reappraisal (doing the work within—getting one's own thoughts right and looking for silver linings), and avoidance coping (working to blunt one's emotional reactions by denying or avoiding the events, or by drinking, drugs, and other distractions).


People who have a basic-level trait of optimism (McAdams's level 1) tend to develop a coping style (McAdams's level 2) that alternates between active coping and reappraisal. Because optimists expect their efforts to pay off, they go right to work fixing the problem. But if they fail, they expect that things usually work out for the best, and so they can't help but look for possible benefits. When they find them, they write a new chapter in their life story (McAdams's level 3), a story of continual overcoming and growth.

In contrast, people who have a relatively negative affective style (complete with more activity in the front right cortex than the front left) live in a world filled with many more threats and have less confidence that they can deal with them. They develop a coping style that relies more heavily on avoidance and other defense mechanisms. They work harder to manage their pain than to fix their problems, so their problems often get worse.


If you are a pessimist, you are probably feeling gloomy right now. But despair not! T h e key to growth is not optimism per se; it is the sense making that optimists find easy. If you can find a way to m a k e sense of adversity and draw constructive lessons from it, you can benefit, too. A n d you can learn to b e c o m e a sense maker by reading J a m i e Pennebaker's Opening Up.30 Pennebaker began his research by studying the relationship between trauma, such as childhood sexual abuse, and later health problems.

Those who talk with their friends or with a support group were largely s p a r e d the health-damaging effects of trauma. It's not about letting off "steam" it's about "sense-making"

Write without concern for grammar/structure. Do your best to answer: Why did this happen? What good might I derive from it?

1) Do what you can, before adversity strikes, to change your cognitive style. If you are a pessimist, consider meditation, cognitive therapy, or even Prozac.

2) Cherish and build your social support network

Tacit knowledge is procedural (it's "knowing how" rather than "knowing that"), it is acquired without direct help from others, and it is related to goals that a person values.

Wisdom is the tacit knowledge that lets a person balance two sets of things.

1) wise people are able to balance their own needs, the needs of others, and the needs of people or things beyond the immediate interaction

2) wise people are able to balance three responses to situations: adaptation (changing the self to fit the environment), shaping (changing the environment), and selection (choosing to move to a new environment).


The Felicity of Virtue

Bentham vs. Kant - Consequentialists vs Deontologists (obligation)

Peterson and Seligman - psycologists who created the "DSM of virtues" (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders)
Virtues: wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, temperance, and transcendence
Character strengths as specific ways of displaying, practicing, and cultivating the virtues.

24 principle character strengths

1. Wisdom:

• Curiosity

• Love of learning

• Judgment

• • Ingenuity

• Emotional intelligence

• Perspective

2. Courage:

• Valor

• Perseverance

• Integrity

3. Humanity:

• Kindness

• Loving

4. Justice:

• Citizenship

• Fairness

• Leadership

5. Temperance:

• Self-control

• Prudence

• Humility

6. Transcendence:

• Appreciation of beauty and excellence

• Gratitude

• H o p e

• Spirituality

• Forgiveness

• Humor

• Zest

Studies have shown that volunteerism adds to happiness more later in life, as our life story stalls.

The Death of Character - James Hunter




Divinity With or Without God

Three Dimensions of Social Space

The evolutionary origins of digust.


Maslow suggested that all religions are based on the insights of somebody's peak experience.


Mark Leary - The Curse of the Self

The self is the main obstacle to spiritual advancement, in three ways.

 - constant stream of trivial concerns and egocentric thoughts keeps people locked in the material and profane world, unable to perceive sacredness and divinity.

- spiritual transformation is essentially the transformation of the self, weakening it, pruning it back in some sense, killing it—and often the self objects

- following a spiritual path is invariably hard work, requiring years of meditation, prayer, self-control, and sometimes self-denial

Which of the following quotations inspires you more: (1) "Self-esteem is the basis of any democracy"; (2) "It's not all about you."

(1) is attributed to Gloria Steinem,49 a founder of the feminist movement in the 1970s. The core idea of the ethic of autonomy: Individuals are what really matter in life, so the ideal society protects all individuals from harm and respects their autonomy and freedom of choice.
(2) is the opening line of the world's biggest-selling book in 2003 and 2004, The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. The core idea of the ethic of divinity: the ideal society helps people live in a way consistent with a potential divinity.









Happiness Comes from Between

The Holy Question - what is the meaning of life? -not literal

"Tell me something enlightening about life" -or- "what principles should I follow for a good life?"

Approaching the question as a subject, "how can I find the meaning of life?" best answered by theologians, philosophers, and psychologists.

Appraching the question as the observer, "Why does life exist?" best answered by theologians, physicists, and biologists

People aren't like computers. it doesn't fix itself. You have to open it up and do something to it, or bring it to a specialist for repair.

People are more like plants, a
s long as they are not completely dead, they will spring back to full and glorious life if you just get the conditions right. You can't fix a plant; you can only give it the right conditions and it will do the rest.

"effectance motive," which he defined as the need or drive to develop competence through interacting with and controlling one's environment.-psychologist Robert White

"occupational self direction." Men who were closely supervised in jobs of low complexity and much routine showed the highest degree of alienation (feeling powerless, dissatisfied, and separated from the work). Men who had more latitude in deciding how they approached work that was varied and challenging tended to enjoy their work much more. When workers had occupalional self-direction, their work was often satisfying.

a job, a career, or a calling: 1) do it for the money 2) work as a competition for competition's sake, to seek promotions, etc 3) connection to the larger enterprise, "flow"


Cross-level Coherence

all three levels—physical (biologists), psychological (psychologists), and sociocultural(sociologists and anthropologists)

interesting hybrid disciplines: cognitive neuroscience, cultural psychology

People gain a sense of meaning when their lives cohere across the three levels of their existence

selfishness vs altruism in evolution of groups and the free rider problem was based on oversimplified early computer simluations which left out how genes and cultures co-evolve; they mutually affect each other, and neither process can be studied in isolation for human beings.