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 countrythe 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.
What is happiness-is it an unpredictable emotion like joy? A rational construct like personal fulfillment? Or is it some subtle, elusive combination of both? In this enjoyable, thought-provoking book, Nettle digs into the subject with great insight and just a bit of cheeky irreverence. In clear, succinct prose, he argues "that what we are programmed for by evolution is not happiness itself, but a set of beliefs about the kinds of things that will bring happiness, and a disposition to pursue them." He cites survey after survey that report that people's sense of their own happiness outstrips their actual material well-being. Nettle, a biological psychologist at Britain's Open University, describes the pursuit of happiness in stark binary terms-fear and attraction, fight and flight, need and desire. Hard-wired to survive in a world of immediate physical danger, human beings are left to muddle through in today's world of relative safety. Nettle traces the modern epidemic of anxiety and depression to these vestigial aspects of our brain and hormonal structure. Ending on an optimistic note, the author sees a population buoyed by advances in both psychotherapy and medication. With absolute clarity and admirable brevity, Nettle explores the pursuit of happiness and, happily, makes good sense of it all. 15 b&w illus. (July) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.