Book: The Happiness Hypothesis

happinesshypothesisIn The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Widsom, psychologist Jonathan Haidt explores a vast range of philosophy and scientific inquiry on the topic of happiness.  His conclusion pulls from several different values, since humans are shaped by both individual selection and group selection.  He combines the idea of happiness coming from within, as Epictetus and Buddha say, with other widsom – suggesting that “happiness comes from between.”

Lessons for Yogis:

1) Many people examining religion, from David Wilson to William James, find mysticism in every tradition, always “about transcending the self and merging with something larger than the self.”  This is where Buddhists and Hindus used the practices of Yoga and Meditation, and Christian and Muslim mysticism used repetitive prayer to reach the same goal of “supreme peace, bliss, and illumination.”  So, what we’re doing on the yoga mat is is not just an ancient tradition in itself, but one of many ancient traditions helping humans reach a higher level of consciousness.

2) Ok this is cool: So, Samadhi is the final, blissful limb of the eight-fold tree of yoga.  Haidt suggests that we think about this and other mystical experiences as an “off” switch for the self, and explains what might be happening here:  “The neuroscientist Andrew Newberg has studied the brains of people undergoing mystical experiences, mostly during meditation, and has found where that off-swicth might be.  In the rear portion of the brain’s parietal lobes are two patches of cortex Newberg calls the ‘orientation association areas.’  The patch in the left hemisphere appears to contribute to the mental sensation of having a limited and physically defined body… the corresponding area in the right hemisphere maintains a map of the space around you.  These two areas receive input from your senses to help them maintain an ongoing representation of your self and its location in space.  At the very moment when people report achieving states of mystical union, these two areas appear to be cut off… The person feels merged with something vast, something larger than the self”  (Page 236-237)  Isn’t that AMAZING?????

3) Rituals of repetitive movement and chanting are believed to help set up “resonance patterns” in the brain – especially when you’re doing these with other people.  So that’s what’s going on when we chant in yoga – whether it’s our tune-in or a longer chanting ritual.  Or maybe as we sing the alma mater after a basketball game in the Dean Dome.  (For more on this, Barbara Ehrenreich has a great book I’ve got called Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy)

4) “Love and work are crucial for human happiness because, when done well, they draw us out of ourselves and into connection with people and projects beyond ourselves.  Happiness comes from getting these connections right.” (p.223) So, this is where the yamas might come in, thinking about how we want to conduct ourselves, and placing a value on healthy, enriching relationships with other people.

5) “Happiness is not something that you can find, acquire, or achieve directly.  You have to get the conditions right and then wait.”  Some of these conditions are within, as we  find our true self and adjust our patterns of thinking.  And some are practicing a right livelihood, right relationships, and right action.

I got this book from the library, but it’s also on kindle, audible, or paperback if you’d like a copy to keep!