Happiness Hypothesis Review Chpt 1-4

Where we left off…

 I want to explore how we obtain happiness in our everyday lives. How do we cut down on stress and worry, and start living our lives to the fullest. To tackle this seemingly impossible task, I’ve decided to write a series of posts to review and summarize Dr. Haidt’s book and other works out there on happiness.


I’d say I’m about 1/3 done with the book and so far, Dr. Haidt has reiterated points we’ve all heard before—things like, you are in charge of your destiny and, life is about the journey. He makes it interesting by also including psychological studies that back up these points and give them a bit more “scientific merit.”

So far the book has been centered on our perceptions of ourselves and how are brain works to create these perceptions. But for me the most interesting thing has been on how our perception of ourselves can help us resolve (or at least give a different view of) our conflicts with others.

This is not about improving our self-image or self-esteem…

When talking about the way we see ourselves, specifically in a moral sense, Dr. Haidt brings to light our tendency to think ourselves morally above our peers. In the book he details a series of experiments where people can more accurately guess the moral compass of others, while having a skewed (favorable) perception of their own morality. This observation helps us explain in part why we can be so hypocritical, judgmental and self-righteous at times.

Dr. Haidt cleverly gives us the solution to this problem at the very beginning of the Chapter with these two ancient proverbs;

“Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?… You hypocrite, first tale the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye. “

Mattew 7:3—5

“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 winnowed in the wind, but one conceals one’s own faults as a cunning gambler conceals his dice.”


Now what?

In Chapter 4’s closing paragraph, Dr. Haidt invites us to use this knowledge of ourselves to improve our relationships with others. Next time you get into a fight with someone, he encourages you to think about what you might have done wrong and offer that in the discussion. According to him, this will trigger our natural tendency for reciprocity, wherein, the person we are at odds with will also offer something they did wrong and the two will get closer to resolving the issue.

Final Thoughts

I liked Dr. Haidt’s suggestion of looking within and I appreciated him backing it up with the theory of reciprocity, mentioned earlier in the book. I think he misses something important though…by trying to make the explanation very scientific and data driven, he misses the humanizing effect of looking within. For me, the idea of accepting some blame or responsibility for our own contributions to a problem also serves to remind us of our humanity. If we can see the fault in ourselves, we can more easily accept the fault in others, whereby, softening our judgments and our animosity.

Does this bring us closer to happiness? I think so. We are social beings, who thrive on meaningful, healthy relationships; Improving them can only make us happier.

This post is part of the Happiness Series. View more posts from this series.

Check out Dr. Haidt’s book site: Thehappinesshypothesis.com

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