Clifton Molina

Books I've Read

The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom

  • — by Jonathan Haidt
  • 978-0465028023
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my reading notes



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)