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The Happiness Hypothesis

Page history last edited by Chris Yeh 16 years, 1 month ago

The Happiness Hypothesis

by Jonathan Haidt


Note: This summary is incomplete. I seem to have lost most of my notes; what follows are two pages worth recovered from a notepad I found in an old travel bag.


Why Meaning?

1) An era of abundance and freedom from the struggle to survive

2) Generational aging of the baby boom

3) Overwhelming information and choice


The World Values Survey: 58% of Americans think often about the meaning and purpose of life


Neuroscience shows the physiological basis for religion:

"Studies of our biological constitution make it increasingly clear that we are social creatures of meaning, who crave a sense of coherence and purpose. Yet, our modern way of life seems to provide fewer and fewer opportunities to engage in the group life that satisfies these human needs--indeed, many of its structures and institutions stunts these very needs."

--Steven R. Quartz



  • Duke: Regular prayers have lower blood pressure
  • Johns Hopkins: Attending religious services cuts the risk of death from heart disease, suicide, and cancer
  • Dartmouth: Faith & prayer are an indicator of survival among open-heart surgery patients


Mitnoff and Denton: "A Spiritual Audit of Corporate America"


Robert White: "The Effectance Motive"

  • The need or drive to develop competence through interactive with and controlling one's environment
  • "Joy's soul lies in the doing" --Shakespeare


Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: "Vital Engagement"

  • A relationship to the world that is characterized by experience of flow and by meaning


Csikszentmihalyi, Howard Gardner, William Damon: When doing good matches up with doing well, a profession is healthy


People gain a sense of meaning when their lives cohere across the three levels of their existence:

  • Physical
  • Psychological
  • Sociocultural


David Sloan Wilson: Group Selection (competition between groups)

  • Cultural evolution is faster than genetic selection (but both intertwine)
  • Religions always serve to coordinate and orient people toward each other and toward the group as a whole
    • Trust and trade are enhanced
    • Respect for rules is enhanced (via sacredness and ostracism)
    • Twin studies suggest a particular gene is associated with a stronger tendency to have religious and self-transcendent experiences
  • There is no contradiction with religions that preach love but cause hate. Group selection enhances cooperation within the group to better compete with other groups.


Mystical experience = when the sense of self is turned off

  • No representation of the body's boundaries
  • No fixed location in 3-dimensional space
  • Often induced by rituals with repetitive movement and chanting


How it all fits together

  • Individual selection = selfishness
  • Group selection = the longing to lose the self in something larger
  • Social creatures = We need love and attachment
  • Industrious = Effectance and vital engagement

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