How do we achieve happiness? And besides, what is happiness? For thousands of years, Man has asked himself these questions and never come up with definitive answers. If people don’t agree on specific answers or how to get there, each person can decide for themselves. So, to achieve this there’s nothing better than to take inspiration from a well-chosen book on happiness.
To try to achieve happiness, there are a multitude of books on personal development that can help. If some people think that it is the consequence of a well led life, others consider it, conversely, as the reason for our fulfillment. Each one offers precepts and tips from different spiritual or scientific teachings, and it is up to us to choose the ideas and advice that we want to put into practice based on our beliefs and abilities. Whether we are from an Eastern or Western culture, the paths we take will generally involve daily routines to help us to achieve a level of happiness.
The road may seem long, but each book on happiness is a mine of information to help us along and considerably increase our propensity for happiness. Well then, are you ready to start this worthwhile & hugely beneficial venture?
Choose your book on happiness
Your book on happiness is definitely out there. Here I present an outline of three renowned books of which you can find more detailed reviews on “Books to change your life”:
- “The five secrets you must discover before you die“ by John Izzo
In this book on happiness, the author focused his interviews on hundreds of people over sixty years of age. His aim is to understand what steps we need to take to achieve happiness in later life.
- “The Art of Happiness“ by The Dalai Lama and Howard Cutler
Buddhism is certainly one of the most peaceful teachings there is. Its approach to life and its precepts are valuable paths to a sense of well-being. In this book on happiness, the advice given by the Dalai Lama himself helps us to fully integrate and apply them.
- “The Happiness Hypothesis“ by Jonathan Haidt.
In this book, the author delves into all the Western and Eastern traditions and practices that lead to happiness. Whilst he doesn’t seek to counter them, he does suggests that we can draw inspiration from them but that we should form our own opinions to help us move along the path, closer to happiness.
1 – “The five secrets you must discover before you die”
By John Izzo, 2009, 235 pages.
Note to the reader: this book is based on a well-known television program in Canada and the United States called “the five pearls of wisdom you need to know before you die”.
John Izzo lost his father when he was a child and this experience left a deep impression on him. Then he realized that amongst those who died, there were those who were peaceful and those who were filled with regret. As a result, he set out to question hundreds of people, and asked them, among other things, this question:
“What do we need to know about life before we die?“
1 – Dying happy is possible
We need to be aware that our life is based on two principles. First, the length of our existence is limited and indeterminate. Second, we have the ability to choose various different directions in our lives.
The author then expands on three ideas:
- Wisdom, more than knowledge, shows us the goals we wish to achieve before we leave this world.
- We always look for pleasure and satisfaction in order to feel happy. However, the real quest is to understand what makes us feel totally alive, the meaning of life, in order to achieve happiness.
- John Izzo realized that everyone knows the five pearls of wisdom that emerged from the interviews he conducted: common, universal pearls of wisdom that are primarily based on common sense.
John Izzo emphasizes that every testimony is important. In conclusion he says:
- We only make the journey of our lives once, that’s why it must be done in the best way.
- To write “The five secrets you must discover before you die“, he selected 235 people out of 15,000 and asked them questions about happiness.
- Elders are our guides: in our culture, we prioritize the young, but many other countries have a real respect for their elders. This is why the elderly make the most important collective and individual decisions in some countries.
2 – Summary of the five pearls of wisdom
From the analysis of all these interviews, the author discovered five main principles that he called the five pearls of wisdom. These are summarized below.
First pearl of wisdom: listen to your heart and remain faithful to it.
- Live in full consciousness
This is the basis of a successful life, because we must make the effort every day to follow a path that we ourselves have chosen. In reality, if we are true to ourselves it means we listen to our heart and focus our life on what really matters to us.
- Target everything that brings happiness
What makes us happy is often the satisfaction of a job well done. In similar fashion, to give priority to what brings us pleasure gives us meaning and leads us to happiness.
- Fulfillment in an activity
When we lose track of time when we complete a job or task, then we can be sure that we have made the right choice.
- Arm ourselves with courage
It is often the case that our choices in life are criticized by those around us and it takes courage to withstand these criticisms in order to continue to listen to our hearts and to persevere.
“To remain true to oneself means to listen to this voice that calls us even if others cannot hear it.”
To help us integrate this pearl of wisdom, we can ask ourselves 4 questions:
- Did my day bring me satisfaction?
- Did I behave as I wish?
- Is what I do consistent with what I like?
- What can I improve upon to grow this pearl of wisdom even more so?
Second pearl of wisdom: regrets are bitter
In his interviews, John Izzo realized that it is not death that scares us the most. In fact, the most horrible thing at the end of life is to not have accomplished what we should have done, rather than to have failed to try to do it.
- Take the right kind of risks
If you opt for security, it plants the seeds of future regret, in the view of this book. We are not afraid of the failures we have experienced, but it’s more to do with if we don’t take a chance for fear of failure.
- Agree to deviate from its trajectory
There are times in life when opportunities present themselves to us. We have to break our routine to experience them, otherwise, when we retire, we will live to regret it.
- Our time is limited
Besides, time can suddenly stop. So we have to live as if we have very little time available to us.
- Regrets are obstacles to progression.
That is why we should try to drive them out so that we can continue to move forward.
To incorporate this pearl of wisdom, we should ask ourselves these 4 questions:
- What would I do if I had little time left to live?
- Do I behave appropriately in the face of my difficulties?
- Do I follow my convictions?
- How can I do it immediately, courageously, and overcome my fear?
Third pearl of wisdom: love is at the center of life
Throughout all the conversations that this book on happiness describes, love is presented as a vital component to our existence.
- Self-love as a central pillar
While we can hardly force others to love us, we have the power to love ourselves a little more. The beliefs that we decide to nurture will develop: so we must give priority to the most generous ones.
- Love must be a priority
John Izzo insists that we should give more importance to people than to objects, because they are not what will accompany us towards the end of our lives.
Here are 4 questions we can ask ourselves to incorporate this pearl of wisdom:
- Have I given enough consideration to my friends?
- What thoughts did I have today?
- Did I choose relationships with people who make me feel good?
- Are the thoughts I cultivate flowers or weeds?
Fourth pearl of wisdom: treat this moment as precious, as if it were the last.
Many people who answered the survey expressed their sorrow that their life had seemed to whizz by, so they must live the remainder to the fullest.
- A constant presence
We must constantly be aware of and take full advantage of all the opportunities that the present moment offers us.
- Live as if it were the last day of our lives
The author has met many people who suffer from incurable diseases and all are unanimous: for them, time has taken on a whole new dimension and everyone recognizes that it is essential to savor the present time in order to enjoy it to the fullest.
- The present moment as a priority
It is of no benefit to brood about things that have happened or to constantly dwell on regrets, as this slows down our attainment of happiness.
To integrate this pearl of wisdom, we can ask ourselves these 4 questions:
- Did what I achieved today to make me happy?
- Have I exploited all the sources of pleasure I had within my reach?
- Did I feel happy?
- Have I lived the present moment to its fullest?
Fifth pearl of wisdom: it is more important to give than to receive
- From the world to our funeral
Dependent on how we behave, we will leave a different impression when we disappear.
- What the world expects from us
It is more important to make sense of what we can achieve for others than to live with only thoughts of ourselves.
- To accumulate assets and experiences while you neglect to take an interest in other people.
This is a mistake that many of us make and one that must absolutely be avoided, as this book on happiness explains. In reality, altruism, love and relationships with the world must take precedence over our desire to possess.
To know if we have understood this pearl of wisdom, we can ask ourselves 4 questions:
- Have I helped make the world a better place?
- Have I shown enough concern to those around me?
- In what ways can I make better use of this pearl of wisdom?
- Have I managed to put aside my insignificant self?
3 – Put it into practice: understand, integrate and take action
- Knowledge is not enough
We know a lot of things that we don’t practice, such as if you smoke it is harmful. However, if you know something but don’t follow it up and act on that knowledge, then it won’t apply.
- Use the 5 pearls of wisdom to increase our attention
Each week we can put time aside to reflect on these pearls and how we use them.
- Answers are within us
Generally, we have to do more than just write them down and reflect on them in order to make them relevant.
- The evolution of our thoughts
We start with our thoughts, which then become words to be transformed into actions and then into habits. Be careful with our habits, because they form our character, which is the source of our destiny.
“Action without vision is just a waste of time, vision without action is just a daydream.”
Finally, the author points out that no matter when we become aware of the pearls of wisdom, no matter how old we are, it is the time to start to use them. In this book on happiness, we learn that the most important thing is to put them to the test as soon as we are aware of them.
Review of “The five secrets you must discover before you die” by John Izzo
This book is incredibly informative and I recommend it to anyone in search of meaning and purpose in their life. The personal stories of these 200 people, all over sixty years of age, help us realize that there are priorities in life that we should apply so that we do not have regrets. This will help us to take risks and choose our own destiny. This book also makes us realize that it is crucial to take care of our loved ones, to give them the attention and time they deserve. Finally, this book helps us to view our elders with more respect and interest, because they can offer us valuable guidance.
- It’s a book which will help you to act;
- With guidance, you can make good personal and professional decisions;
- Some of the testimonials are very poignant.
- It is a shame that none of the suggested methods are presented from start to finish;
- Certain ideas are repeated several times.
Have you read “The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die”? How do you rate it?
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2 – “The Art of Happiness”
By His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Howard Cutler, 1998, 296 pages.
In this book on happiness, Howard Cutler, an American psychiatrist, interviewed the Dalai Lama at length. His Holiness is a being who symbolizes love, generosity, goodness, etc. Howard Cutler has gathered the principles of life instilled by his mentor, to document them in an extensive book on happiness.
Part One – Define the Purpose of Life
Everyone has the right to happiness
The Dalai Lama believes that happiness should be our main goal in life. To achieve this, we must train our minds to eliminate the factors that cause suffering and develop those that lead to happiness.
Happiness lies at the source
Humans can create happiness, even in situations that are not conducive to it.
- Adopt a positive point of comparison
In this book on happiness, the Dalai Lama presents us with four elements through which we will have access to the desired state. These are spirituality, awakening, material satisfaction and wealth.
- Know how to be satisfied without the need to bury your head in the sand
When we feel desire for something, we must consider the consequences if we put too much emphasis on it. For this reason, it is important to work to have only part of it.
- Do not confuse desire and happiness
The question we have to ask ourselves is: “will this bring me happiness?”. The Dalai Lama believes that this question is the assurance of our awareness of destructive pleasures (drugs, various addictions, etc.) and our ability to avoid them.
Happiness can be worked on
- A path to follow
To follow the right road to happiness, one must exercise one’s mind to recognize both positive and negative emotions.
- It’s all about discipline
If the recipe for happiness is simple, it turns out to be more complicated to implement it in our daily lives. However, with perseverance and patience, you will embark on a journey that leads you to happiness.
Inner happiness is the goal
- Initially, how we are ourselves
The Dalai Lama is convinced that each of us has the keys to happiness. For some, feelings of compassion or kindness are not so apparent, but they do exist.
- To live, yes, but to what end?
If we can assess what gives meaning to our existence, we can identify what has real value in the construction of our future.
Part Two – Compassion to develop human warmth
Redefine the notion of intimacy
This ability to form genuine and long-term bonds with our loved ones is one of the secret ingredients of happiness underlined by the Dalai Lama.
The others are our allies
- Sympathy is an asset
To be able to interact with others, we need to put ourselves in their shoes in an honest and compassionate way, to open our minds and understand them better.
- Meaningful relationships
In this book on happiness, the Dalai Lama explains that a relationship based on success or power has no value. It is authenticity that allows for a healthy and respectful relationship.
Compassion is a great tool
- So what is the discussion about?
In Tibetan, “Tse-wa” means “a non-violent, non-offensive, non-aggressive state of mind”. It is also the Dalai Lama’s definition of compassion.
- For what purpose?
We learn from the Dalai Lama that if we volunteer to help others, we could increase our life expectancy. It calms us, reassures us and energizes us.
Part Three – Suffering is Changeable
Cope with suffering
Pain, dissatisfaction or suffering will inevitably catch up with us one day or another. Therefore, these feelings should not be minimized or ignored; the best way to deal with them is to confront them.
Be careful not to create your own suffering
Often, we are tempted to think that our woes have their roots in an external cause. If we acknowledge our share of the blame, we can move away from this sense of injustice to other forms of reflection.
Take a different perspective
In his book on happiness, the Dalai Lama encourages us to consider other people from many different perspectives.
- Make our enemies into a strength to grow: To try to have compassion for someone we hate is a perfect exercise to help develop our tolerance.
- Show flexibility of mind: It is through our open-mindedness that we will be able to differentiate between important and futile things.
- Remain flexible to better adapt: every existence is punctuated by hazards and changes that are sometimes brutal and painful, so it is by adaptability that we will be able to overcome these trials.
- A precarious but essential balance: we must avoid extremes and exaggerated behavior. We will blossom better with a balanced and calm attitude.
Suffering and pain are messages to be taken into account.
We learn in “The Art of Happiness” that suffering can strengthen our character and that it is good to see it as an experience that makes us stronger. There is a need to learn to endure physical pain. Although it may not be something we generally consider, physical pain can be amplified by our psyche. We must try to put fear, anger and all those negative feelings that can intensify it, to one side.
Part Four – Barriers are made to be overcome
Time for change has come
- A multiple layered process
A multi-faceted process
The Dalai Lama believes that the process of change involves 5 steps:
More than a sum of things, we must understand that each one leads to another, the most important of which is effort, without which nothing can be accomplished.
- We can continually improve ourselves
Through effort and determination, we will grow over time. If we can gain knowledge and dispel ignorance then we can achieve compassion, indulgence and love.
Anger and fear management
To live a tranquil life, this book on happiness teaches us to avoid mental inclinations such as rage, hostility and anger. The latter makes us particularly unpleasant. This is why we must confront it whenever it occurs with restraint and self-discipline.
Self-love is a weapon against anguish
We are provided with the ability to react in case of danger, thanks to reflexes associated with anxiety and fear. However, when we are aware that certain problems cannot be avoided, it is pointless to torment ourselves for no reason.
- Be honest with yourself
Both excessive and low self-confidence are equally negative. If we evaluate our abilities and our own value, we can be open to others with equanimity.
- Self-hatred is not a natural characteristic.
This feeling develops in society, but we can diffuse it and get rid of it for good.
Part Five – Spiritual Life, Instructions for Use
In this last part, the author elaborates why the spiritual dimension is the basis of a happy life. In his opinion, it encompasses kindness, compassion, goodness and concern for others.
A critique of “The Art of Happiness” by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Howard Cutler
In addition to its simplicity and clarity, the philosophy to achieve happiness, proposed to us in this book by the Dalai Lama, is full of common sense and positivity. And if there is one message to be retained from this book on happiness, it is the idea that we are ultimately the ones who are solely responsible for our access to happiness. “The Art of Happiness” is a book that I recommend to all those who are in search of happiness and seek inner peace first and foremost.
- Short, easy-to-read chapters ;
- Clear and straightforward principles ;
- Well considered parallel between Buddhism and the West.
- A somewhat irrelevant story;
- More illustrations would be useful to help you visualize yourself in a more realistic way.
Have you read “The Art of Happiness”? How do you rate it?
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3 – “The Happiness Hypothesis
By Jonathan Haidt, 2006, 320 pages.
The art to know how to lead one’s life is a question that has been addressed many times and in many books. In this book on happiness, Jonathan Haidt addresses 9 paths taken by philosophers or religions that he reinterprets with a modern outlook, supported by scientific theories.
1. Paradoxes of the Ego
Plato, the Greek philosopher, believed that the soul can be thought of as a cart driven by reason. In contemporary thinking, the human mind is more likely to be viewed scientifically, with the use of various theories to explain human behavior.
The author elaborates on two points that need to be understood, with regard to the behaviors of individuals, which aren’t easy to explain:
- Our body and mind are not always in unison, and we can sometimes be overwhelmed by movements or behaviors.
- Our brain is made up of two distinct parts that do not function in the same way. Some functions have been developed by humans for a long time, while others are much more recent. Also, the unconscious part is often more reactive than the conscious part, which is the part that allows us to consider things in the long term. When the two parts contradict each other, it causes a malfunction.
2. Stay in control of your mind
The beliefs of Stoicism and Buddhism are that your own vision is responsible for the interpretation of your environment. In other words, if you can control your perception of the world, then you can manage and regulate it. Yet, the belief of Western psychologists is that many of us have too much interest in the control of our lives. Instead, they believe that our ability to be optimistic or pessimistic depends on genetic predispositions.
A variety of techniques are taught in this book with regard to happiness, in order to help people born with a tendency to be rather unhappy. Probably one of the oldest, as well as one of the most tried and tested, is meditation. Through meditation, we detach ourselves from the events that affect us, which helps to improve our ability to reduce our suffering in order to increase our joy.
The western equivalent of eastern meditation is undoubtedly, in the opinion of the author, cognitive therapy. This is how depressed people are advised to learn every day to develop moments of happiness. The only thing that is strictly forbidden to get out of a lethargic state is the use of drugs, which is a genuine curse in the long term.
3. Do not do to others what you do not wish to be done to you.
What philosophers call reciprocity is widespread on a highly socialized human scale. In the same way, the author explains that the responsibility is shared in many disputes. He believes it very rarely happens that a violent act is committed by one person alone. In most cases, Jonathan Haidt believes that the alleged victim also played an important role in the process.
4. A greater capacity to adapt in the event of severe hardship
To believe that the things we think are really best for us is a misjudgment. In this book on happiness, the author takes two very extreme and opposite cases. One involves someone who has won a staggering amount of money in the lottery, while the other involves someone who has been in a serious car accident which leaves them disabled. On the face of it, it seems obvious that the first situation is hugely advantageous. In both cases, however, the likelihood of happiness is not that far off.
The lottery winner will find themselves in a situation where everyone close to them is angry with their new-found wealth and find themselves in a form of isolation. In the second case, the protagonist will be closely surrounded and will be able to count on their family to support them. While the former will find it increasingly difficult to be surprised, the latter will feel that every minute of life is a gift from heaven.
5. Take part in voluntary activities
The belief in Buddhism and ancient philosophy, is that happiness needs to be sought from within.
A more modern vision of happiness is to include the importance of social connections. Sheldon’s magic formula would be as follows: H=S+C+V, which means that the level of happiness (H) is the sum of three things. First, biological genetic set-points (S) are essential, complemented by the living conditions in which we live (C) and our voluntary activities (V). The latter seem to have a huge influence on our attainment of happiness. Indeed, it is common to see people fulfilled because they help others or carry out projects that are close to their hearts. These activities can take various forms, if you read a book, volunteer for projects, put some time aside for yourself. They are probably the most obvious keys to the development of your own potential happiness.
6. Reinvent the notion of happiness
In his book on happiness, Jonathan Haidt presents the work of Robert Biswas-Diener, a nomadic and adventurous psychologist. On his travels around the world, he focused the questions he posed to people, on their level of satisfaction. He has deduced that living conditions have less of an impact on them than the love of their loved ones. Even if this attachment to others sometimes involves disappointment and pain, it remains the source of our greatest joys.
In fact, for the author, it is to consider happiness in accordance to the principle of ying and yang:
“Happiness comes from within, and happiness comes from without.”
7. ducation: Do neither too much nor too little
Nietzche states with authority that “everything that does not kill us makes us stronger” and yet this is, in some cases, an aberration. Indeed, some events are particularly traumatic and can destroy a life. However, it can be true that the difficulties we encounter can help us achieve happiness. If we knew what our child’s life would consist of when they were born, we would be tempted to eliminate the painful ordeals. However, this would be a grave mistake, because it is through our capacity to learn how to deal with these situations that we increase our potential for happiness.
8. The ability to give increases the ability to be happy
Whatever people may believe, it seems that virtue is an essential component in the attainment of happiness. This is why it is important to be altruistic and generous, because it helps you to feel better and to increase your self-esteem.
9. Find the right balance
The last premise of the book “The Happiness Hypothesis” is to encourage us to draw, from different cultures, the paths to happiness. For ancient philosophers or modern scientists don’t have all the answers that lead to happiness. In the same way, both Eastern and Western philosophies have their limits. It would be more a question to make ying and yang the “great idea”, since it represents a balance between two contradictory principles. In reality, it’s all about balance and moderation, because each culture has developed notions, but none has found the miracle and comprehensive solution to achieve happiness.
Review of “The Happiness Hypothesis” by Jonathan Haidt
This book on happiness puts forward many relevant points of interest because the author discusses many theories that come from all civilizations and all philosophical or spiritual beliefs. We also learn how to review our relationship to money and how to accept criticism from others. He also encourages us to practice meditation and to make our own choices among the various teachings made available to us by the different beliefs. In short, “The Happiness Hypothesis” is perfect for readers who want to reflect on what happiness is in various guises, be they scientific, philosophical or spiritual: they will be able to take what appeals to them and make up their own rules to try to achieve happiness.
- A multitude of tips to inspire us to take action;
- Solid arguments to support relevant ideas;
- A very comprehensive book on the subject.
- A few passages which are rather tedious;
- Lacks some more in-depth exploration of certain points.
My rating :
Have you read “The Happiness Hypothesis”? How do you rate it?
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