The Happiness Hypothesis

This book is written by Jonathan Haidt. I’d read his other book, The Righteous Mind, and enjoyed it. I liked this one as well. What follows is not really a review. These are just notes I took from the book that I found interesting.


Not a metaphor: there’s literally a Gut brain , connected by vagus nerve with main one. Runs independently to manage the intestine. Huge lining of neurons in the lining. Triggers anxiety when infections are present.

Confabulation – seen in people with split brain problems. When something is observed by 1 half of the brain and it’s trying to rationalize it with a narrative.

Key to understanding many later parts of the book. Why we obey certain impulses but not others.

Marshmallow experiment: the crucial piece was emotional intelligence and strategy: knowing how to beat your emotions by distracting yourself, focus on other things etc. basically stimulus control.

How to change your mind:


Signs of a cooked-up hysteria (e.g. communism)

Evil doesn’t just come from the outside. There’s rounds of escalation before it gets violent. And a richer context than what you see on TV. Two things that we encourage as positive that actually lead to evil:

High self esteem (when unrealistic or narcissistic, problems arise). Rather than directly raising self esteem you should be teaching skills.

Moral idealism – people who believed that they were using violence for a larger cause. Ends justify the means. Outcome rather than path.

Conspicuous consumption is a zero sum game i.e. A Rolex is good only if other people have Casios. So focus on inconspicuous consumption like holiday trips.

Apparently experiences > material possessions

Especially if those experiences are with other people


Whereas early Greek philosophers focused on what makes a person virtuous e.g. should I return a wallet full of money, modern philosophy focuses more on actions and quandaries, e.g. do you kill one person to save dozens.

Some stuff on divinity and disgust that lines up pretty well with his work on Moral Foundations and his other book, the Righteous Mind.

On religion and how Group Selection incites violence only against apostates and outsiders. i.e. shifts the problem one level up, from individuals caring for self to individuals caring for their own group.


So for a Meaningful life: we as a species are social (so we need people), and industrious (we need vital engagement and flow in our work/hobbies).

So get the connections and conditions right in work, love etc. And happiness will come.