2 happiness related book reviews

2 happiness related book reviews

by Prof. Sharp (aka Dr. Happy) from The Happiness Institute’s free weekly eNewsletter (January 17 2011)

I read two books towards the end of 2010 both of which, in different ways, touched upon this issue of choice.

Firstly, and most obviously Jonah Lehrer’s “How we decide” provides a fascinating insight into the human brain and how it works, especially when it comes to decision making processes. Now one could say this about pretty much any book, or any good book anyway, but Lehrer’s “How we decide” simply cannot be summarised in a few hundred words. And that’s largely because it’s so good and it says so much…

“How we decide” is not for the fainthearted; it’s packed full of neuropsychological and social psychological and medical and many other types of research. It looks into the brain and the cockpit of airplanes and even the football field. But what it really explores, is the process of making decisions which many of us simply don’t understand and which, according to Lehrer, has been misrepresented time and time again in writings and discussion.

In short, Lehrer argues that for too long the process of making decisions has been seen as a battle between logic and emotion; from the Ancient Greek philosophers to modern day neuroscientists the ideal goal has been seen to be mastering the emotional parts of the brain so logic and rationality can win out. He argues that most who’ve gone before have argued that if we were able to make more rational decisions then we’d be happier and healthier and more successful.

But, and this is a big but, Lehrer provides a compelling argument for scrapping this approach and for realising that far from being some sort of dangerous evil that should be controlled, emotions are instead necessary and important (and, in fact, that without them we’d be in all sorts of moral and ethical trouble). Essentially, Lehrer argues that there are times for emotional or intuitive decision making and there are times for more logical, rational decision making and that happiness or success or whatever you want to call it comes to those who know how and when to decide the right way!

Food for thought! I thought so and if you’re in any way interested in these sort of geeky, popular science type books (as I am!) then do yourself a favour and check out “How we decide” by Jonah Lehrer…it may well be the best decision you make all year!

I also read “The Happiness Equation” by Dr. Nattavudh (Nick) Powdthavee who’s a behavioural economist (in the process of moving from the University of York to Nanyang University in Singapore). Dr. Powdthavee’s “Happiness Equation” is quite different to Jonah Lehrer’s “How we decide” but the common them is one of decision making.

These days, a new happiness book seems to pop out every few minutes so I can’t review them all and I don’t even want to try; but what I liked about this one, and what’s different is that it comes from an economist’s perspective and what this means is that it addresses the question of how to value and how we value different aspects of our lives (including happiness).

So, for example, how do you measure different life experiences? How much happiness will each life choice bring? How much is that job worth? How much is a sunny day worth? And how do you compare, in happiness terms, the cost of a Ferrari versus spending time with friends?

These, and other questions are asked and answered by Powdthavee in an easy to read, accessible style. For those of you who like the writings of Ross Gittins and other popular economists who have, increasingly in recent times, written about happiness and positive psychology, this could well be a book for you and for your 2011 planning considerations.

PS: If you’ve read any good books, that are relevant to those of us interested in happiness and positive psychology, then let us know and, if you’re interested, send us a review and we’ll consider publishing it in our eNewsletter!