Happiness: The Science behind Your Smile

Happiness: The Science behind Your Smile

Happiness: The Science behind Your Smile

Happiness: The Science behind Your Smile

Synopsis

In a world obsessed by happiness, this is the first book to look thoroughly at what happiness is and how it works. Bringing together the latest insights from psychiatry, psychology, and philosophy, Daniel Nettle sheds brilliant light on this most basic of human desires.

Nettle examines whether people are basically happy or unhappy, whether success can make us happy, what sort of remedies to unhappiness work, why some people are happier than others, and much more. The book is packed with fascinating observations. We discover the evolutionary reason why negative thoughts are more powerful than positive ones. We read that happiness varies from country to country--the Swiss are much more happy than Bulgarians. And we learn that, in a poll among people aged 42 years old (peak mid-life crisis time) more than half rated their happiness an 8, 9, or 10 out of 10, and 90% rated it above 5. (Like the children of Lake Wobegon, Nettle quips, pretty much everyone is above average in happiness.) Nettle, a psychologist, is particularly insightful in discussing the brain systems underlying emotions and moods, ranging from serotonin, "the happiness chemical"; to mood enhancing drugs such as D-fenfluramine, which reduces negative thinking in less than an hour; to the part of the brain that, when electrically stimulated, provides feeling of benevolent calm and even euphoria. In the end, Nettle suggests that we would all probably be happier by trading income or material goods for time with people or hobbies. But most people do not do so.

Happiness offers a remarkable portrait of the feeling that poets, politicians, and philosophers all agree truly makes the world go round.

Excerpt

‘We hold these truths to be self-evident,’ wrote Thomas Jefferson in the American Declaration of Independence in 1776, ‘that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness’. Of these three, it is the third that seems most able to imbue our lives with purpose. Without its guiding light, there would be no way of knowing what to do with life and liberty, or so it would seem. Jefferson’s rights one and two wake the horse up and open the stable door, but only number three—the pursuit of happiness—is going to make it go anywhere.

The idea that happiness is central to the point of the human experience goes back to the ancients. The Greek philosopher Aristippus argued in the fourth century bc that the goal of life is to maximize the totality of one’s pleasures. If this is true, which is more debatable than it might seem, then happiness becomes the overarching explanatory concept in all of psychology, and surely the most urgent of personal questions for any human being to solve. More than this, happiness also moves to the centre of political and economic . . .

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