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The Happiness Hypothesis
Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom
Jonathan Haidt
Read by Ryan Vincent Anderson

Hachette Audio
May 2018/ ASIN: B07D5JCWLD
Nonfiction/ Medical / Psychology / Philosophy / Audiobook – Unabridged / 10 hours and18 minutes

Reviewed by Leslie C. Halpern


This new audiobook about theories of happiness compares ancient philosophies with modern research and professional studies with popular culture for a comprehensive examination on everything concerning what makes humans happy. Although scholarly in nature, the tone is friendly (as professionally narrated by Ryan Vincent Anderson) and the information is easily accessible. The central metaphor introduced almost immediately and used throughout the book is that of an elephant and its rider. The elephant represents our unconscious thoughts and automatic responses, and the rider symbolizes our conscious thoughts and rational decisions. We are happiest when the rider and elephant cooperate with each other. Readers need to grasp the rider/elephant concept early because Haidt uses it frequently.

Each of the ten chapters examines ancient ideas about happiness by exploring past and current research on the selected subject. One such subject that’s inevitable in a book on happiness is the study of passionate, romantic love versus calmer companionate love. Studies by poets, writers, philosophers, psychologists (and anyone else who can get a research grant), describe romantic love as typically a short-lived, though more intense, happiness than companionate love. The author concludes that couples who last for decades tend to enjoy companionate love.

Other topics examined include the issue of self-esteem’s effect on happiness, dealing with trauma and anger, social constraints versus freedom, and working toward goals as opposed to achievement of goals. Some of the results are what readers might expect, while others could be surprising. The author also endorses three reliable techniques that can work individually or together to help most people achieve happiness, at least temporarily, if not longer: meditation, cognitive therapy, and Prozac (and similar mood-enhancing drugs that alter the brain’s chemistry).

Haidt, a psychologist and professor at New York University, provides a well-researched, carefully analyzed multi-disciplinary approach to understanding happiness. This isn’t a self-help book with step-by-step instructions on how to achieve happiness. Instead, this book is for thinkers who want to understand if they are unhappy by nature or by nurture, and what they can do to overcome their current state of unhappiness. As presented, the implementation of this important information can lead to a happier life by bridging communication and cooperation between the rider and the elephant.

Reviewed 2018