Bibliotherapy: The Happiness Hypothesis

The book The Happiness Hypothesis written by psychologist Johnathan Haidt draws on scientific research and philosophy to explore ideas surrounding mental wellness and coping skills. This book is a great read to challenge your current way of thinking, and gain insight about how to cope with the age old questions of “what is happiness…how do we achieve it…what makes up happy”. Johnathan highlights in his book how the way we think influences our happiness. He states that learning how our mind works helps us cope and healthy social relationships are essential to well-being. This book has some challenging concepts to our social and cultural norms and should be taken with a grain of salt. However, Johnathan outlines ten ideas about happiness and explores them with research and philosophy in a way that helps one understand their own brain and highlights the importance of community and introspection that can help promote insight for the reader.

“Happiness is not something that you can find, acquire, or achieve directly. You have to get the conditions right and then wait. Some of those conditions are within you, such as coherence among the parts and levels of your personality. Other conditions require relationships to things beyond you: Just as plants need sun, water, and good soil to thrive, people need love, work, and a connection to something larger. It is worth striving to get the right relationships between yourself and others, between yourself and your work, and between yourself and something larger than yourself. If you get these relationships right, a sense of purpose and meaning will emerge.”

This quote highlights the fleeting nature of happiness. Like all emotions it’s temporary and doesn’t always come when we want it or in a timely manner. If happiness were something we could go find, acquire, or achieve there wouldn’t be this pursuit of happiness that humans find themselves stuck in.

Jonathan emphasizes the internal and external needs that need to be met to give us an opportunity to experience a sense of purpose or meaning. He states that when we have less incongruence within ourselves, living more authentically, we have a better chance at feeling a sense of purpose or meaning. This act of living with less internal conflict means we have to practice a lot of self-compassion. We may have to accept parts of ourselves that are uncomfortable or acknowledge negative behavior patterns or coping skills we picked up along the way that have become obstacles instead of stepping stones. Maybe in the past, in the home, you needed to swallow what you had to say to take the path of least resistance, to keep the peace, to keep yourself safe whether it was physical or emotional. Now as an adult swallowing what you have to say and taking that path of least resistance leads to turmoil in relationships, as well as within yourself. If you don’t get to say what you need to say, and don’t get your needs met. You may then sometimes resent the people around you for not knowing what you want, when it’s you who can’t tell them. When you are able to accept the parts of yourself that you might want to change you are able to be more yourself and be more authentic. What once helped you survive could now be holding you back. Being able to change the way you operate requires you to be able to acknowledge it as well as give yourself radical acceptance. Radical meaning compassionate and non-judgmental acceptance recognizing that it was once what you needed and isn’t now and there is nothing righteous or disdainful about that.

As well as within yourself, you have to look outside yourself. You have to ensure that the things you are pouring into yourself in your environment are meeting your needs. Plants need consistency of sun, water, and good soil to thrive and each of our needs that need to be met to thrive are something that we should pay attention to. What fills our bucket, what drains our bucket, and how to fill the bucket when needed. Plants know what they need and even in environments that aren’t ideal they seek out those needs in order to thrive. Like the weeds that keep reappearing in the cracks of the driveway despite there being no visible soil or water. Plants are a good metaphor for how we as humans need to care for ourselves too. Unfortunately, unlike plants we don’t always instinctively know what we need, and it may take some insight and time for us to figure out what those needs are and how to meet them. Sometimes, just like the driveway, the conditions aren’t ideal. If being with peers and friends fills your bucket, but you consistently isolate, you drain your own bucket without filling it and put yourself in the negative. Your relationship with yourself is important. By not filling your own bucket you are telling yourself that your needs don’t matter, and your needs should matter the most because they are yours, more than anyone else’s. That is what it means to put yourself first. The way Jonathan portrays happiness outlines the need for practice. That we have to practice looking inward and seeking outward to give ourselves the best opportunity to cope more positively. This way of thinking also highlights personal responsibility which is daunting and freeing at the same time. Realizing that you’re the only one in control of you. Realizing that it’s your responsibility to take back control too.

This is by no means a formula for happiness, no such thing exists, but it challenges our view of happiness, what it is, and what it means for us to feel it. The practice of putting yourself first, realizing your needs, filling your bucket, and coping when you need it can be easier said than done. If this resonated with you, and you would like to talk more with an experienced mental health counselor, please contact Life Enhancement Counseling Services at 407-443-8862 to schedule an appointment.



Arielle Teets