7 Essential Books on the Art and Science of Happiness. Do site Brain Pickings

Artigo originalmente publicado no site Brain Pickings (http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2011/01/25/must-read-books-happiness/)

From Plato to Buddha, or what imperfection has to do with the neuroscience of the good life.

If you, like me, are fascinated by the human quest to understand the underpinnings of happiness but break out in hives at the mere mention of self-help books, you’re in luck: I’ve sifted through my personal library, a decade’s worth of obsessive reading, to surface seven essential books on the art and science of happiness, rooted in solid science, contemporary philosophy and cross-disciplinary insight. From psychology and neuroscience to sociology and cultural anthropology to behavioral economics, these essential reads illuminate the most fundamental aspiration of all human existence: How to avoid suffering and foster lasting well-being.

The Happiness Hypothesis

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The question of what makes us happy is likely as old as human cognition itself and has occupied the minds of philosophers, prophets and scientists for millennia. In The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom, psychology professor Jonathan Haidt unearths ten great theories of happiness discovered by the thinkers of the past, from Plato to Jesus to Buddha, to reveal a surprising abundance of common tangents. (For example, from Shakespeare: “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” From Buddha: “Our life is the creation of our mind.”)

“Human rationality depends critically on sophisticated emotionality. It is only because our emotional brains work so well that our reasoning can work at all.”

Haidt takes this ambitious analysis of philosophical thought over the centuries and examines it through the prism of modern psychology research to extract a remarkably compelling blueprint for optimizing the human condition for happiness.

Stumbling on Happiness


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Nearly four years ago, Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbertpublished Stumbling On Happiness. To this day, it remains the best-researched yet captivatingly digestible book on the art and science of happiness, exposing with equal parts wit and scientific rigor the many misconceptions we have about happiness, the tricks our minds play on us in its pursuit and how the limitations of our imagination get in the way of the grand quest.

Sample the book’s nuggets of wisdom with Gilbert’s excellent TED talk from 2008:

We have within us the capacity to manufacture the very quality we are constantly chasing.” ~ Daniel Gilbert

The Art of Happiness

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Science may be a reliable source of illumination, but it would be short-sighted to let it completely eclipse centuries of spiritual tradition investigating the underbelly of human nature. There is hardly a cultural figure more revered in that realm than His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

The Art of Happiness, a landmark articulation of the philosophy of peace and compassion as a foundation of happiness by Gyatso, His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, has served as a powerful guide to well-being for secular and spiritual happiness seekers alike for the past twelve years.

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” ~ His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama

Both timeless and timely in today’s cultural landscape of ubiquitous moral, political and environmental turmoil, where it’s all the more important to develop the skills for finding inner peace amids chaos, The Art of Happinesscaptures with eloquent simplicity the most important point of all: Happiness, like any art, requires diligent study and disciplined practice.

Happiness

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French scientist-turned-Buddhist-monk Matthieu Ricard is one of our greatest intellectual heroes. The son of prominent French philosopher and intellectual Jean-François Revel, Ricard got a degree in molecular genetics, then decided to step away from his career in science and devote his life to the study of Buddhism. His inner scientist, however, remained wide awake as he developed a keen interest in the neurological effects of meditation and mindfulness training.

In Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill, he distills 25 centuries of Buddhist spiritual tradition alongside bleeding-edge neuroscience and the most compelling findings of Western cognitive psychology — an intelligent and refreshing vision for fusing the life of the mind and the life of the heart into a path of genuine psychoemotional fulfillment.

For a taste of Ricard’s genius, don’t miss his fantastic TED talk, one of our top five of all time:

The Happiness Project

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On a rainy afternoon in 2006,New York Magazine writerGretchen Rubin found herself having one of those inevitable carpe diemepiphanies about the fleeting nature of life and the importance of savoring the moment. Instead of shrugging it off as a contrived truism, however, Rubin decided to turn it into an experiment: She set out to test humanity’s ample arsenal of theories about what makes us happy, from ancient philosophies to pop culture prescriptions to the latest scientific studies. She chronicled the experience on her blog and eventually adapted it in The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun — an enlightening and entertaining record of her journey through awkward moments and surprising successes that together weave a rich mesh of existential insight.

We reviewed it in full in 2009 and, after having the pleasure of meeting Gretchen recently, fully recommend the The Happiness Project as a profound yet pragmatic guide to personal growth.

Authentic Happiness

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Back in the day, we had the pleasure of studying under Dr. Martin Seligman, father of the thriving positive psychology movement — a potent antidote to the traditional “disease model” of psychology, which focuses on how to relieve suffering rather than how to amplify well-being.Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment offers a toolkit for harnessing our core strengths to make everyday interactions more fulfilling, complete with a range of assessment tools and self-tests rooted in cognitive science and behavioral psychology research.

Relieving the states that make life miserable… has made building the states that make life worth living less of a priority. The time has finally arrived for a science that seeks to understand positive emotion, build strength and virtue, and provide guideposts for finding what Aristotle called the ‘good life.’” ~ Martin Seligman

Seligman gives a provocative primer on positive psychology in this must-see TED talk:

The Gifts of Imperfection

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Brené Brown is no ordinary sociologist. She calls herself, quite accurately, a “researcher-storyteller” and her seminal research on vulnerability, shame and empathy has brought about a whole new understanding of an intricate dimension of human authenticity and worth: Something she calls “wholeheartedness.” Her most recent book, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, isn’t the self-help bible the title may mislead you to expect. Rather, it’s a treasure trove of insight on emotional health and psychological balance, rooted in a decade’s worth of rigorous research but delivered in a deeply human way. It’s so fantastic, in fact, that when we first featured it late last year, it quickly became one of the most-read, most-sharedBrain Pickings articles in all of 2010.

Brown’s talk from TEDxHouston is our favorite TEDx talk of all time and absolutely unmissable, so we’ll repost it here in case you did miss it:

In order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen — really seen.

The Gifts of Imperfection examines one of the greatest foundations of happiness — our sense of and need for belonging, both with others and in our own skin — and brings to it a level of authenticity and understanding that fundamentally changes the way we relate to ourselves and each other.

Último post de encerramento de 2013. How to Master Simple Living in 2014. By Roman Krznaric

Artigo de Roman Krznaric publicado originalmente na YES! Magazine (http://www.yesmagazine.org/happiness/the-movement-to-live-more-simply-is-older-than-you-thought)

 

The Movement to Live More Simply is Older Than You Thought

O filósofo grego Diógenes, que levou a vida simples ao extremos de ir morar em um barril. Pintura de Jean-Léon Gérôme

O filósofo grego Diógenes, que levou a vida simples ao extremos de ir morar em um barril. Pintura de Jean-Léon Gérôme

When the recently elected Pope Francis assumed office, he shocked his minders by turning his back on a luxury Vatican palace and opting instead to live in a small guest house. He has also become known for taking the bus rather than riding in the papal limousine.

The Argentinian pontiff is not alone in seeing the virtues of a simpler, less materialistic approach to the art of living. In fact, simple living is undergoing a contemporary revival, in part due to the ongoing recession forcing so many families to tighten their belts, but also because working hours are on the rise and job dissatisfaction has hit record levels, prompting a search for less cluttered, less stressful, and more time-abundant living.

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At the same time, an avalanche of studies, including ones by Nobel Prize-winning psychologistDaniel Kahneman, have shown that as our income and consumption rises, our levels of happiness don’t keep pace. Buying expensive new clothes or a fancy car might give us a short-term pleasure boost, but just doesn’t add much to most people’s happiness in the long term. It’s no wonder there are so many people searching for new kinds of personal fulfillment that don’t involve a trip to the shopping mall or online retailers.

If we want to wean ourselves off consumer culture and learn to practice simple living, where might we find inspiration? Typically people look to the classic literature that has emerged since the 1970s, such as E.F. Schumacher’s book Small is Beautiful, which argued that we should aim “to obtain the maximum of wellbeing with the minimum of consumption.” Or they might pick up Duane Elgin’sVoluntary Simplicity or Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin’s Your Money or Your Life.

I’m a fan of all these books. But many people don’t realize that simple living is a tradition that dates back almost three thousand years, and has emerged as a philosophy of life in almost every civilization.

What might we learn from the great masters of simple living from the past for rethinking our lives today?

Eccentric philosophers and religious radicals

Anthropologists have long noticed that simple living comes naturally in many hunter-gatherer societies. In one famous study, Marshall Sahlins pointed out that aboriginal people in Northern Australia and the !Kung people of Botswana typically worked only three to five hours a day. Sahlins wrote that “rather than a continuous travail, the food quest is intermittent, leisure abundant, and there is a greater amount of sleep in the daytime per capita per year than in any other condition of society.” These people were, he argued, the “original affluent society.”

In the Western tradition of simple living, the place to begin is in ancient Greece, around 500 years before the birth of Christ. Socrates believed that money corrupted our minds and morals, and that we should seek lives of material moderation rather than dousing ourselves with perfume or reclining in the company of courtesans. When the shoeless sage was asked about his frugal lifestyle, he replied that he loved visiting the market “to go and see all the things I am happy without.” The philosopher Diogenes—son of a wealthy banker—held similar views, living off alms and making his home in an old wine barrel.

We shouldn’t forget Jesus himself who, like Guatama Buddha, continually warned against the “deceitfulness of riches.” Devout early Christians soon decided that the fastest route to heaven was imitating his simple life. Many followed the example of St. Anthony, who in the third century gave away his family estate and headed out into the Egyptian desert where he lived for decades as a hermit.

Later, in the thirteenth century, St. Francis took up the simple living baton. “Give me the gift of sublime poverty,” he declared, and asked his followers to abandon all their possessions and live by begging.

Simplicity arrives in colonial America

Simple living started getting seriously radical in the United States in the early colonial period. Among the most prominent exponents were the Quakers—a Protestant group officially known as the Religious Society of Friends—who began settling in the Delaware Valley in the seventeenth century. They were adherents of what they called “plainness” and were easy to spot, wearing unadorned dark clothes without pockets, buckles, lace or embroidery. As well as being pacifists and social activists, they believed that wealth and material possessions were a distraction from developing a personal relationship with God.

But the Quakers faced a problem. With growing material abundance in the new land of plenty, many couldn’t help developing an addiction to luxury living. The Quaker statesman William Penn, for instance, owned a grand home with formal gardens and thoroughbred horses, which was staffed by five gardeners, 20 slaves, and a French vineyard manager.

Partly as a reaction to people like Penn, in the 1740s a group of Quakers led a movement to return to their faith’s spiritual and ethical roots. Their leader was an obscure farmer’s son who has been described by one historian as “the noblest exemplar of simple living ever produced in America.” His name? John Woolman.

Woolman is now largely forgotten, but in his own time he was a powerful force who did far more than wear plain, undyed clothes. After setting himself up as a cloth merchant in 1743 to gain a subsistence living, he soon had a dilemma: his business was much too successful. He felt he was making too much money at other people’s expense.

In a move not likely to be recommended at Harvard Business School, he decided to reduce his profits by persuading his customers to buy fewer and cheaper items. But that didn’t work. So to further reduce his income, he abandoned retailing altogether and switched to tailoring and tending an apple orchard.

Woolman also vigorously campaigned against slavery. On his travels, whenever receiving hospitality from a slave owner, he insisted on paying the slaves directly in silver for the comforts he enjoyed during his visit. Slavery, said Woolman, was motivated by the “the love of ease and gain,” and no luxuries could exist without others having to suffer to create them.

The birth of utopian living

Nineteenth-century America witnessed a flowering of utopian experiments in simple living. Many had socialist roots, such as the short-lived community at New Harmony in Indiana, established in 1825 by Robert Owen, a Welsh social reformer and founder of the British cooperative movement.

In the 1840s, the naturalist Henry David Thoreau took a more individualist approach to simple living, famously spending two years in his self-built cabin at Walden Pond, where he attempted to grow most of his own food and live in isolated self-sufficiency (though by his own admission, he regularly walked a mile to nearby Concord to hear the local gossip, grab some snacks, and read the papers). It was Thoreau who gave us the iconic statement of simple living: “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.” For him, richness came from having the free time to commune with nature, read, and write.

Henry David Thoreau, circa 1850

Henry David Thoreau, circa 1850

Simple living was also in full swing across the Atlantic. In nineteenth-century Paris, bohemian painters and writers like Henri Murger—author of the autobiographical novel that was the basis for Puccini’s opera La Bohème—valued artistic freedom over a sensible and steady job, living off cheap coffee and conversation while their stomachs growled with hunger.

Redefining luxury for the twenty-first century

What all the simple livers of the past had in common was a desire to subordinate their material desires to some other ideal—whether based on ethics, religion, politics or art. They believed that embracing a life goal other than money could lead to a more meaningful and fulfilling existence.

Woolman, for instance, “simplified his life in order to enjoy the luxury of doing good,” according to one of his biographers. For Woolman, luxury was not sleeping on a soft mattress but having the time and energy to work for social change, through efforts such as the struggle against slavery.

Simple living is not about abandoning luxury, but discovering it in new places. These masters of simplicity are not just telling us to be more frugal, but suggesting that we expand the spaces in our lives where satisfaction does not depend on money. Imagine drawing a picture of all those things that make your life fulfilling, purposeful, and pleasurable. It might include friendships, family relationships, being in love, the best parts of your job, visiting museums, political activism, crafting, playing sports, volunteering, and people watching.

There is a good chance that most of these cost very little or nothing. We don’t need to do much damage to our bank balance to enjoy intimate friendships, uncontrollable laughter, dedication to causes or quiet time with ourselves.

As the humorist Art Buchwald put it, “The best things in life aren’t things.” The overriding lesson from Thoreau, Woolman, and other simple livers of the past is that we should aim, year on year, to enlarge these areas of free and simple living on the map of our lives. That is how we will find the luxuries that constitute our hidden wealth.

Roman is an Australian cultural thinker and cofounder of The School of Life in London. This article is based on his new book, How Should We Live? Great Ideas from the Past for Everyday Life (BlueBridge). www.romankrznaric.com @romankrznaric

Roman Krznaric is an Australian cultural thinker and cofounder of The School of Life in London. This article is based on his new book, How Should We Live? Great Ideas from the Past for Everyday Life (BlueBridge). http://www.romankrznaric.com @romankrznaric