Sep 30

Finding Happiness: Quotes from the Experts

I use the term happiness to refer to the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile. Sonja Lyubomirsky, The How of Happiness, on finding happiness

Finding happiness is a preoccupation for many. The following quotes from various authors and experts may help point you in the right direction.

Jonathan Haidt, The Happiness Hypothesis: Happiness is not something that you can find, acquire, or achieve directly. You have to get the conditions right and then wait. Some of those conditions are within you, such as coherence among the parts and levels of your personality. Other conditions require relationships to things beyond you: Just as plants need sun, water, and good soil to thrive, people need love, work, and a connection to something larger. It is worth striving to get the right relationships between yourself and others, between yourself and your work, and between yourself and something larger than yourself. If you get these relationships right, a sense of purpose and meaning will emerge.

Matthieu RicardHappinessHappiness is a state of inner fulfillment, not the gratification of inexhaustible desires for outward things.

Sonja Lyubomirsky, The How of Happiness: If we observe genuinely happy people, we shall find that they do not just sit around being contented. They make things happen. They pursue new understandings, seek new achievements, and control their thoughts and feelings. In sum, our intentional, effortful activities have a powerful effect on how happy we are, over and above the effects of our set points and the circumstances in which we find themselves. If an unhappy person wants to experience interest, enthusiasm, contentment, peace, and joy, he or she can make it happen by learning the habits of a happy person.

Raj Raghunathan, author of If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy? in an interview with Joe Pinsker, The Atlantic: On the one hand, we are hard-wired to focus more on negative things. But at the same time, we are also all hard-wired to be seeking a sense of happiness and the desire to flourish, and to be the best we can be. Ultimately, what we need in order to be happy is at some level pretty simple. It requires doing something that you find meaningful, that you can kind of get lost in on a daily basis.

Paul Dolan, Happiness By Design: Change what you do, not how you think. You are what you do, your happiness is what you attend to, and you should attend to what makes you and those whom you care about happy.

Brené Brown: I don’t have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness–it’s right in front of me if I’m paying attention and practicing gratitude.

David Steindl-Rast, Music of Silence: Look closely and you will find that people are happy because they are grateful. The opposite of gratefulness is just taking everything for granted.

Gretchen Rubin, The Happiness ProjectThe belief that unhappiness is selfless and happiness is selfish is misguided. It’s more selfless to act happy. It takes energy, generosity, and discipline to be unfailingly lighthearted, yet everyone takes the happy person for granted. No one is careful of his feelings or tries to keep his spirits high. He seems self-sufficient; he becomes a cushion for others. And because happiness seems unforced, that person usually gets no credit.

Sonja Lyubomirsky, The How of Happiness: To be sure, most of us do become happier at some point during our lives. Indeed, contrary to popular belief, people actually get happier with age.

Daniel M. Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness: We are happy when we have family, we are happy when we have friends and almost all the other things we think make us happy are actually just ways of getting more family and friends.

Apr 17

“Climate Change Denial Disorder” (Funny ‘Cause It’s True)

Some people actually believe climate change doesn’t exist. Why is climate change denial so common when almost all scientists agree in its existence?

Among those who wonder this is the popular website Funny or Die.  And they posit, in their own way, that one weird thing we can really believe in is Climate Change Denial Disorder (CCDD). You can watch it below:

Witness (in the clip) a partial list of office holders who have the disorder. Over half of Congressional Republicans question the science behind climate change.

It’s heartening to learn, though, that there’s a simple remedy for this (see end of video).

What’s the real psychology behind climate change denial? Here are just some of the theories:

  • Psychologist Daniel Gilbert: “Gilbert describes four key reasons ranging from the fact that global warming doesn’t take a human form — making it difficult for us to think of it as an enemy — to our brains’ failure to accurately perceive gradual change as opposed to rapid shifts. Climate change has occurred slowly enough for our minds to normalize it, which is precisely what makes it a deadly threat, as Gilbert writes, ‘because it fails to trip the brain’s alarm, leaving us soundly asleep in a burning bed’.” (Time)
  • Psychologist Robert Gifford: “Gifford lists factors such as limited cognition or ignorance of the problem, ideologies or worldviews that may prevent action, social comparisons with other people and perceived inequity (the ‘Why should we change if X corporation or Y country won’t?’) and the perceived risks of changing our behavior.” (Time)
  • Psychologist Daniel Kahneman: Author of Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change. Believes people have too much difficulty believing sacrifices need to be made now in order to prevent undeterminable or inconceivable harm down the line.
  • Margaret Klein (Psychology Today): Your mind can’t grasp the enormity of the situation; and/or you can only intellectualize, not feel the dangers; and/or you feel you’ve done enough on your end already, e.g, recycling.
  • Philosopher Paul Thagard (Psychology Today): “…a natural thinking tendency called motivated inference, in which beliefs are based on people’s goals and emotions rather than on good evidence.” And/or “worry-driven inference avoidance” and/or “processes of social interaction that encourage people to talk and think in some ways rather than others” (Psychology Today).
Jul 06

“The Happiness Hypothesis”: How to Find Happiness and Meaning

Author Jonathan Haidt‘s newest book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion, sounds timely and interesting. However, it’s his previous The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom (2005) that’s today’s topic.

Haidt explains the universal condition of “the divided self” by using a Buddhist metaphor of the rider and the elephant. From a summary of this concept on his website:

The mind is divided in many ways, but the division that really matters is between conscious/reasoned processes and automatic/implicit processes. These two parts are like a rider on the back of an elephant. The rider’s inability to control the elephant by force explains many puzzles about our mental life, particularly why we have such trouble with weakness of will. Learning how to train the elephant is the secret of self-improvement.

Although, Haidt notes, the baseline level of happiness for each of us is largely determined by the biological stuff we’ve inherited from our parents, the thing we can learn to change is “the elephant.” He offers some possible solutions.

Publishers Weekly: “Riches don’t matter much, he observes, but close relationships, quiet surroundings and short commutes help a lot, while meditation, cognitive psychotherapy and Prozac are equally valid remedies for constitutional unhappiness. Haidt sometimes seems reductionist, but his is an erudite, fluently written, stimulating reassessment of age-old issues.”

Another key point of The Happiness Hypothesis: “Reciprocity is the most important tool for getting along with people.” As in the Golden Rule. Do unto others…

So, will we really figure out from reading this book how to attain happiness and meaning? Psychologist Daniel Nettle,, breaks it down:

Haidt quotes from the Monty Python film The Meaning of Life, in which the answer is given as: ‘Try to be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try to live in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations.’ This spoof formulation nonetheless contains an important point: there is, in fact, no single meaning to life. However, life has a definite form, a set of recurring emotions, interactions and experiences, and even if there is no ultimate solution to the dilemmas they pose, there are ways of understanding them better and navigating them with greater wisdom and purpose. And, as Haidt has shown, the ancient sages and modern psychologists often agree on these.

Ultimately, balance is essential. Haidt quotes Heraclitus: “All things come into being by conflict of opposites.” Further elaboration on this point is available on his website:

The ancient idea of Yin and Yang turns out to be the wisest idea of all. We need the perspectives of ancient religion and modern science; of east and west; even of liberal and conservative. Words of wisdom really do flood over us, but only by drawing from many sources can we become wise.

Below is an interesting mash-up of recent college commencement speeches—because what are commencement speeches after all other than advice from the older and wiser about how to find happiness, how to find meaning.