Many people believe that our happiness in life depends upon our circumstances. If only they could find the right partner, get the right job or have a saner family, they would be happy. Interestingly, there’s not a scrap of truth in that assumption, however popular and ingrained the belief!
Dan Baker tackles this and other myths about happiness, including that it has anything to do with money, in this fascinating book What Happy People Know. Baker starts by talking about the physiology of the brain and how our brain chemistry affects our experience of life. Once we understand these principles, we can alter our own brain chemistry at will. It takes work and practice however and also involves a lot of courage. For some, staying unhappy is safer.
Particularly interesting was Baker’s discussion of “happiness traps”, meaning cultural ideas about what makes us happy. For most modern people, that means affluence. Baker presents a lot of data to prove that once the basic necessities of life are met, money has precious little to do with our happiness. Another common “trap” is the idea, mostly due to the influence (and failure) of modern psychiatry, that simply talking about our problems will help us resolve the past and it’s painful memories.
Baker explains how to put the new field of “positive psychology” to work for you. Far from being a simplistic positive thinking approach, it combines the best of cognitive therapy with what we know about hormones and brain chemistry to give you actual tools to put to work to make you happier.
Athough it requires a considerable amount of work, the book also equips you with lessons on constructive language and other methods of challenging your own negative thinking that may be leading you to be unhappy. For example, choosing to feel like a victim or a sense of entitlement leads you down the road to unhappiness.
This is a book that everyone should read once, and anyone who wants to be happier and have a better life should read multiple times. I couldn’t put it down!