The Best Quotes From The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom


The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom is an excellent book and let’s face it: Who doesn’t want to be happy? So, I thought I’d put together a selection of some of the best quotes from the book. Enjoy!

(On how your mind works) In sum, the rider is an advisor or servant; not a king, president, or charioteer with a firm grip on the reins. The rider is Gazzaniga’s interpreter module: it is conscious, controlled thought. The elephant, in contrast, is everything else. The elephant includes the gut feelings, visceral reactions, emotions, and intuitions that comprise much of the automatic system. The elephant and rider each have their own intelligence, and when they work together well they enable the unique brilliance of human beings. But they don’t always work together well. — P.17

Buddhism, for example, in an effort to break people’s carnal attachment to their own (and others’) flesh, developed methods of meditating on decaying corpses. By choosing to stare at something that revolts the automatic nervous system, the rider can begin to change what the elephant will want in the future. — P.19

Automatic processes generate thousands of thoughts and images every day, often through random association. The ones that get stuck are the ones that particularly shock us, the ones we try to suppress or deny. The reason we suppress them is not that we know deep down, that they’re true (although some of them may be), but that they are scary or shameful. Yet once we have tried and failed to suppress them, they can become the sorts of obsessive thoughts that make us believe in Freudian notions of a dark and evil unconscious mind. — P.20

Responses to threats and unpleasantness are faster, stronger, and harder to inhibit than responses to opportunities and pleasures. This principle, called “negativity bias” shows up all over psychology. In marital interactions, it takes at least five good or constructive actions to make up for the damage done by one critical or destructive act. — P.29

As I suggested in the last chapter, we often use reasoning not to find the truth but to invent arguments to support our deep and intuitive beliefs. — P.37

Thus Niccolo Machiavelli, whose name has become synonymous with the cunning and amoral use of power, wrote five hundred years ago that, “the great majority of mankind are satisfied with appearances, as though they were realities, and more often influenced by things that seem than by those that are.” — P.61

A he-goat doesn’t realize that he smells. (Nigerian proverb) — P.63

Proving that people are selfish, or that they’ll sometimes cheat when they know they won’t be caught, seems like a good way to get an article into the Journal of Incredibly Obvious Results. What’s not so obvious is that, in nearly all these studies, people don’t think they’re doing anything wrong. It’s the same in real life. From the person who cuts you off on the highway all the way to the Nazis who ran the concentration camps, most people think that they are good people and that their actions are motivated by good reasons. Machiavellian tit for tat requires devotion to appearances, including protestations of one’s virtue even when one chooses vice. And such protestations are most effective when the person making them really believes them. — P.63

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. People acknowledge that their own backgrounds have shaped their views, but such experiences are invariably seen as deepening one’s insights; for example, being a doctor gives a person special insight into the problems of the health-care industry. But the background of other people is used to explain their biases and covert motivations; for example, doctors think that lawyers disagree with them about tort reform not because they work with the victims of malpractice (and therefore have their own special insights) but because their self-interest biases their thinking. It just seems plain as day, to the naive realist, that everyone is influenced by ideology and self-interest. Excerpt for me. I see things as they are. — P.71

Outside of children’s cartoons and horror films, people almost never hurt others for the sheer joy of hurting someone. The two biggest causes of evil are two that we think are good, and that we try to encourage in our children: high self-esteem and moral idealism. — P.75

The psychologist Linda Skitka finds that when people have strong moral feelings about a controversial issue — when they have a “moral mandate” — they care much less about procedural fairness in court cases. They want the “good guys” freed by any means, and the “bad guys” convicted by any means. — P.76

Pleasures must be spaced to maintain their potency. — P.96

When a crisis strikes, people cope in three primary ways: active coping (taking direct action to fix the problem), reappraisal (doing the work) within — getting one’s 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). — P.146

I concluded, at length, that the mere speculative conviction that it was our interest to be completely virtuous was not sufficient to prevent our slipping, and that the contrary habits must be broken, and good ones acquired and established, before we have any dependence on a steady uniform rectitude of conduct. — Ben Franklin, P.157

Better is a bushel given you by God
Than five thousand through wrongdoing…
Better is bread with a happy heart
Than wealth with vexation — Teaching of Amenemope, P.159

I believe that we have indeed lost something important — a richly textured common ethos with widely shared virtues and values. Just watch movies from the 1930s and 1940s and you’ll see people moving around in a dense web of moral fibers: Characters are concerned about their honor, their reputation, and appearance of propriety. Children are frequently disciplined by adults other than their parents. The good guys always win and crime never pays. It may sound stuffy and constraining to us now, but that’s the point: Some constraint is good for us; absolute freedom is not. — P.175

In his 1892 book promoting Darwin’s theory of evolution, Joseph Le Conte, a professor of geology at the University of California at Berkeley, practically quoted Meng Tzu and Muhammad: “Man is possessed of two natures — a lower, in common with animals, and a higher, peculiar to himself. The whole meaning of sin is the humiliating bondage of the higher to the lower.” — P.192

We got more pleasure from making progress toward our goals than we do from achieving them because, as Shakespeare said, “Joy’s soul lies in the doing.” — P.221

I may fall, but I do not die, for that which is real in me goes forward and lives on in comrades for whom I gave up in my life. — The Warriors: Reflections of Men in Battle, P.238

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