Summary of Happier by Tal Ben-Shahar: For Tal Ben Shahar, happiness is within everyone’s reach. It is up to us to work at building it every day through positive actions and by balancing immediate gratification with future benefits.
By Tal Ben-Shahar, 2008, 252 pages.
Full title: “Happier: Learn the secrets to daily joy and lasting fulfilment
Chronicle and summary of Happier by Tal Ben-Shahar
Happier starts with a preface by Christophe André, a renowned psychiatrist and psychotherapist. He is also a leading figure in theories of cognitive and behavioural therapy. As a teacher and the author of several books, Christophe André was a forerunner in introducing full consciousness meditation to psychotherapy. He also gives pride of place to happiness in healing his patients.
Preface by Christophe André, doctor in psychiatry at Saint Anne’s Hospital, Paris
Before beginning, Christophe André invites readers to read Happier by Tal Ben-Shahar for at least three reasons.
Three good reasons (among others) to read this book
Christophe André believes that Happier deserves to be read because:
- Happiness is one of the biggest issues facing our civilisation.
- While our happiness is rooted in a genetic heritage, there are many things we can do to improve it.
- Tal Ben-Shahar, known as the “happiness professor”, offers quality educational material.
Tools for happiness
As a psychiatric doctor and psychotherapist, Christophe André has a vision of his profession that goes somewhat against the precepts of traditional psychology. This branch of human science is not necessarily focussed on becoming successfully happy. Considered to be too simple and superficial, professional do not consider “tips” to be credible. But for Christophe André, the problem lies elsewhere. The reason that the tips and advice offered do not work is because we do not apply them.
Simplicity and positivity
Simplicity can reveal itself in the form of uninterestingly mundane acts and deeds. But it can also be the fruit of a lengthy thought process and in-depth experimentation. Leonardo da Vinci called this simplicity “supreme refinement”.
In Happier, Tal Ben-Shahar regularly relies on positive psychology. This practice allows people to achieve remarkable things throughout their life. According to this way of thinking, nothing is insurmountable and unattainable. Everyone can excel with a little effort.
Happiness is the ultimate wealth
In his introduction, Christophe André also explains that bibliotherapy is a key aid in self-fulfilment. He also tackles the importance of practising in order to succeed. And that is precisely what Tal Ben-Shahar proposes throughout his book. It is worth making this effort. If we follow his advice to the letter, Christophe André promises us a radiant future.
Tal Ben-Shahar begins his book by quoting Philip Stone, his mentor and the first chair of positive psychology at Harvard University.
One year after hosting a seminar at Harvard, Stone asked Tal Ben-Shahar to give a year long class at the university. The author talks about the success of his happiness class. Over the years, it became the most popular course. In the class, he encouraged students to define a midway point between comfort and panic. In his opinion, the greatest things are achieved in this uncertain state.
The ancestral quest for happiness
The growing success of Tal Ben-Shahar led to media and researchers asking questions about our need for happiness. They found traces of the search for happiness that went back centuries in the Western world. Plato, Aristotle and Confucius also addressed the topic in their writings.
The new unhappy
The number of people suffering from depression is now ten times higher in the United States that during the 1960s. It also seems that this illness is affecting people much earlier than in the past. Many figures demonstrate this, spreading the idea that the mental health of young people has greatly deteriorated. This lack of optimism is also a consequence of the fact that our fundamental needs are, for most people, satisfied. This is a paradox in which wealthy people are unhappy. They do not expect anything new to appear that will bring meaning to their lives.
Positive psychology to the rescue
For Tal Ben-Shahar, positive psychology is the perfect concrete tool to bind knowledge to popular culture. According to him, positive psychology can bring together “the rigour of academe and the fun of the self-help movement”.
Advice from Tal Ben-Shahar about reading Happier
The author of Happier insists on the fact that his work is intended to be more like a manual than a book. In fact, it regularly asks readers to reflect and take action. In the same way, it offers readers the opportunity to meditate and breathe in order to digest the advice. That is why there are pauses in the book from time to time. These moments of introspection are completed by exercises to perform at the end of each chapter.
The book is broken into three parts:
- What constitutes happiness, its nature and major components.
- Putting the theories about happiness into practice in the fields of education, professional life and relationships.
- Seven meditations about the nature of happiness and its place in our life.
Part one: what is happiness?
The first part of Happier is devoted to defining the essential factors of a happy life.
Chapter 1 – The question of happiness
In the first chapter of Happiness, Tal Ben-Shahar talks about how he came to want a better life.
One of the best moments of his life
The author has distant memories of moments of happiness. One of the most striking was when he won the Israeli national squash championship. He talks about the many hours of practice that led to this result. But he also explains that once the competition was over and the moment of triumph passed, he noticed that he felt empty and confused. His tears of joy turned to bitter tears. He was surprised at the lack of happiness in that moment. This part of his life was a highly successful time for him, and yet he was not happy.
Picturing happiness differently
This observation and his surprise led Tal Ben-Shahar to conduct deep research into happiness. He moved towards studies in psychology and philosophy, and became aware of the “major concepts”. He read all the essential authors. To his surprise, he noticed how few of his fellow students seemed to be happy. They were not trying to change this state of discontent either. The author of Happier found this even more troubling because they seemed destined to continue along this path after their studies.
At this stage in his thought process, Tal Ben-Shahar wondered about the nature of happiness. Among other things, he wondered whether it matched an emotion. Was it the equivalent of a feeling of pleasure or, on the contrary, was it simply related to an absence of suffering?
Tal Ben-Shahar was not satisfied with these definitions. He noticed that the word happiness was rooted in the Icelandic language and that it signified luck. And yet, he refused to believe that happiness was simply a question of chance.
In the next part of the chapter, the author of Happiness asks the following question: “Am I happy?” In reality, he is convinced that a state of sustainable and permanent bliss does not exist. Tal Ben-Shahar prefers to ask, “How can I become happier?” rather than seek out perfect happiness.
In this first exercise, Tal Ben-Shahar:
- Invites us to “create rituals” in our daily life. The idea is to bring about change to lead us on the path to happiness.
- Suggests a little exercise that consists of noting every evening five things that made you happy. Express your gratitude towards these situations.
Chapter 2 – Reconciling present and future
The second chapter of Happiness is the opportunity for Tal Ben-Shahar to differentiate between happiness and immediate satisfaction.
He remembers a period in his life when he followed a special diet before a squash competition. Once the competition was over, he decided to order four hamburgers as a treat. But he noticed that once the hamburgers were served, he didn’t want them anymore. He drew a theory from this that he goes on to introduce in detail.
The hamburger model
In Happiness, Tal Ben-Shahar lists four archetypes to illustrate his theory:
- Hedonism consists of seeking pleasure and avoiding pain with an equation that equates immediate benefit with future prejudice. He enjoys it when he eats fatty food, but he knows that he will feel bloated afterwards.
- Choosing a less fatty, vegetarian hamburger. In this case, he will not feel the same pleasure when he eats it, but he knows it will do him good in the long term. This corresponds to the rat race archetype, putting off immediate gratification for a vague future reward.
- Nihilism is the worst of the four archetypes. It corresponds to a lack of enjoyment in the moment associated with a poor outcome. He equates it to eating a hamburger with no taste and no health benefits.
- Happiness offers the whole package: a moment of memorable tastiness and a beneficial promise of future reward.
Each archetype has a character
Tal Ben-Shahar goes on to associate several characters with the four archetypes outlined in this chapter of Happier.
- The rat racer
Tal Ben-Shahar draws the portrait of Timon, someone he describes as a rat racer. He analyses his childhood, his time as a student and his professional career. It turns out that Timon is eternally dissatisfied. He has a constant impression that something is missing in order for him to be happy. This makes perfect sense in a society that attaches more importance to the result than the process. But after the moment of relief offered by success, the rat racer moves on to the next challenge.
- The hedonist
Now Tal Ben-Shahar turns to the hedonist. This person puts all their efforts into achieving immediate pleasure with no regard for the consequences. For this person, the present moment is all that counts, and the enjoyment it can offer. He will soon find himself without a long-term goal living a life that has lost its meaning. The hedonist often ends up feeling bored and unhappy.
- The nihilist
Now comes the turn of the nihilist or defeatist who is convinced that his future will not be any better than his current unhappy state. This state of mind is a genuine handicap because it prevents the person from making decisions and improving his life with a view to being happy.
- The happiness archetype
Tal Ben-Shahar now draws on the example of one of his students. He talks about how she understood that she needed to find present and future benefit in order to grow. We need to try to preserve a balance between what offers present happiness and the consequences that it will have in the future.
As at the end of every chapter, Tal Ben-Shahar suggests an exercise. He calls this one The four quadrants. It consists of remembering the emotions we feel as we take on each type of character and writing them down. He ends this part of the book by suggesting a Meditation on Happiness.
Chapter 3 – Happiness explained
As we read the third chapter of Happier, we learn that we need to find “both meaning and pleasure” in what we accomplish.
Definition of happiness
Tal Ben-Shahar defines happiness as “the overall experience of pleasure and meaning.” This means finding a purpose, while experiencing positive feelings on a daily basis. He adds that it is not necessary to try to apply this formula to specific situations, but instead to picture our overall existence in the many details of daily life.
The author of Happier now tackles the concept of pleasure and insists on the fact that from an etymological point of view, “emotions cause motion; they provide a motive that drives our action […] Emotions move us away from a desireless state, providing us motivation to act.” A man with no emotions cannot feel motivation However, we are talking here about positive emotions. They are our best ally when it comes to getting through the tough times and moving towards the joy of being alive.
The main characteristic that separates us from the animals lies in our capacity to reflect upon the source of our emotions and demonstrate a certain spirituality. We also have the ability to set a goal which constitutes the path which we have given ourselves. Whatever the choice of goal, once it matches our personal values and passions, it will be the right one.
Idealism and realism
These two callings are often perceived to be contradictory. Yet according to the author of Happier, being an idealist actually means being a realist in the deepest sense. Additionally, the translates into the overall meaning we give to our life. Daily concrete facts are just the unavoidable means by which we achieve it.
Potential and happiness
We need to keep in mind that we have certain aptitudes and that we have to take our personal potential into account. The challenge that we choose to face must match our abilities. In turn, we can apply them to different goals, chosen in relation to our values.
Success and happiness
Tal Ben-Shahar defies the well-worn phrase “no pain, no gain.” He believes that success comes from the satisfaction of doing something we want to achieve instead of achieving a quantifiable success. Therefore, happiness lies in the pleasure of the process we undertake, not in obtaining a result at any cost.
The need for meaning and pleasure
A single goal may not be enough to fulfil us. We will find it difficult to stay on course for an extended period, especially if we do not feel any immediate benefits. For Tal Ben-Shahar, we must live out the meaning we give to our lives and ensure that it goes hand in hand with positive emotions. Having several compatible and often complementary goals offers us a better chance of success.
Quantity and quality
In Happier, Tal Ben-Shahar teaches us how to measure out quality and quantity. We all feel affinity with certain specific activities, but this does not mean that we have to practice them all the time. It is up to us to find the right balance and listen to our heart, while leaving some essential room for reason.
Now the author suggest two exercises called Mapping your life and Integrity mirror. They are designed to help readers position themselves in relation to managing all the ingredients that are essential to happiness.
Chapter 4 – The ultimate currency
Tal Ben-Shahar is convinced that happiness should be the reference value in how we lead our life. To illustrate he begins this chapter with the story of Marva Collins. The actions of this woman to help children moved Tal Ben-Shahar. In the 1980s, she assisted dozens of children who did not fit into traditional school institutions. Marva Collins has always insisted that “the ultimate wealth is not gold, or prestige, but happiness.” She found happiness by watching her students make progress and succeed.
Happiness as the “supreme currency”
We estimate the value of a company in terms of the amount of money it generates. But this cannot apply to human beings, for whom the reference value should be happiness. A conversation or dialogue that is rich in emotions has a much higher value than money made working (even if it is essential in order to meet our basic needs).
Happiness and prosperity
Our universal reference to acquire goods is money, but in fact, human beings should be remunerated with happiness. Money can give us many things, but it is not the most precious thing. Monetary wealth should simply offer us the opportunity to have positive experiences.
The accumulation of material goods is a source of losses before it becomes a source of benefits to human beings. This feeling of having a constant desire for things leads to the desire to constantly make more money. But this also causes a general emotional absence that leads to personal, social and family problems.
At the end of this chapter of Happiness, Tal Ben-Shahar suggests two exercises: Sentence completion and Creating a happiness map. The first one is about self-esteem, and the second one finishes the map that was started in chapter 3.
Chapter 5 – Setting goals
In this chapter of Happier, Tal Ben-Shahar concerns himself with linking the theories he is introducing to life goals. Each of us should determine what our life goals are.
Goals and success
Setting goals increases our capacity for success. We all have an internal belief that we are capable of achieving our goals. Once we are committed to achieving them, it becomes harder to walk away. We all have to face the initial struggles that cannot be avoided. Thanks to those struggles, the conditions will be in place for the good things to happen.
Goals and well-being
Beliefs anchored in our mentality lead us to think that a result that we have waited to see for a long time must make us happy, while any kind of failure causes despair. Researchers have looked into the happiness levels of lottery winners. They return to the same level as before some time after they have pocketed their winnings. Success is therefore not necessarily synonymous with happiness.
How goals work
For the author of Happier, it is more important to have goals than to actually achieve them. “Goals are means, not just ends.” In the same way, our goals need to be meaningful. The path towards them must be a pleasant one in order to reap the benefits of happiness along the way.
Tal Ben-Shahar insists on the necessity of having goals designed to express an individual choice rather than goals designed to impress other people. Monetary goals lead to negative consequences. In addition to this, people who pursue this kind of goal are rarely happy and often very anxious. The quest for money can give meaning to life, but not if it is an goal in itself.
Want-to versus Have-to
In this part of Happier, the author tackles the concepts of wanting to do something and having to do something. Taking himself as an example, he explains that he finds happiness in teaching. In contrast, he finds little enjoyment in spending many hours correcting copies. So, to get a high happiness ratio, Tal Ben-Shahar advises reducing obligations to a minimum. Once we achieve this balance, we need to act gradually to try to favour doing things we want to do as much as possible.
At last, the author suggests two exercises. The first invites readers to set self-concordant goals, and the second gathers together what he calls the Happiness Board. This group of people should include people we don’t want to disappoint in our quest for happiness. We can then talk to them regularly about the progress we have made.
Part two: Happiness applied
In the second part of the book Happier, the author applies his advice to the fields of education, work and relationships with other people.
Chapter 6 – Happiness in education
In this chapter of Happier, Tal Ben-Shahar tackles the place of happiness in education. He noticed that students often had little interest in their classes generally and he wondered about this. Learning is an interesting tool through which to access happiness, but he feels that educators attach too much importance to the result instead of nurturing the desire to learn.
This is the encounter with the immediate experience and performance when both are at their peak. Some people call this being “in the zone.” This state corresponds to the moment when our capacity is at its peak, and we find enjoyment in the effort. It is about finding the middle ground. It lies somewhere between anxiety about not succeeding and boredom at finding the task to be too simple.
The underprivilege of privilege
Parents who constantly help their child navigate obstacles and challenges are not doing them any favours. The path to happiness is a winding one. You have to learn to fight to achieve your goal. What’s more, by overprotecting their children, the adults place involuntary pressure on them, “forcing” them to be happy.
Emotions as the great equaliser
According to Tal Ben-Shahar, accessing happiness is the same for people of all ages and all walks of life, once their fundamental needs are met. The unhappiness of rich people is neither less frequent, nor less justified than that of poorer people. In the same way, it is only by deeply experiencing our emotions that we can escape emotional poverty.
Prejudice against work
From our earliest age, educators teach children to work, to set themselves to the task. But they often forget to pass on the enjoyment of doing and understanding. The nature and the process of working should bring positive feelings. In the same way, learning should not be considered simply as the sum of knowledge. In reality, it constitutes the basis for tremendous research into our “ultimate currency”.
Tal Ben-Shahar suggests two exercises:
- The first consists of inventing an educational programme which will allow us to improve our personal and professional development.
- The second exercise is called The privilege of hardship. It invites us to write about some hardship encountered in our life and the benefit or the knowledge we gained from it.
Chapter 7 – Happiness in the workplace
In the seventh chapter of Happier, Tal Ben-Shahar puts forward the idea that we must absolutely not seek a compromise between happiness and a professional life.
Slave to passions
In Hebrew, the word “work” stems from the same room as the word “slave”. It is true that many of us have to work in order to live. But we must not think that happiness and work cannot go together. We have to ask ourselves about what kind of job we could do that is as close as possible to our desire for personal fulfilment. We must be emotionally invested in our work, because emotion is an engine and motion is the fuel.
Finding our calling
Is your work simply a job, a career you want to develop, or a vocation you want to live to the full? In the last example, the work becomes an end in itself, more important than the salary, even though salary is an important aspect in order to live. In this case, work is experienced as a privilege instead of being perceived as an obligation. To find our calling, we have to concern ourselves more with what we want to do in relation to what we know how to do.
The Meaning, Pleasure, Strengths (MPS) process
The author of Happier goes on to talk about the MPS process: meaning, pleasure, strengths.
- Meaning corresponds to what feeds life and gives importance to the things we are trying to accomplish. For example, this could be teaching, solving problems or standing up for a cause.
- Each of us can find pleasure in doing things, like cooking, reading, being in contact with children, etc.
- Finally, strengths represent things we find it easy to do for a successful career: sense of humour, problem-solving or being enthusiastic.
Once these lists are established, it becomes easier to picture ourselves working in one or more jobs that are aligned, as much as possible, in terms of meaning, pleasure and strengths.
Crafting our calling
Whatever work we do, it is up to us whether it’s just a job or whether we can turn it into a tool for creativity. In the workplace, studies show that different employees will have a different approach to the same task. The perception is what counts, not the nature of the work in itself.
Focusing on happiness
In order to become happy, we first have to perceive its potential. Then we can turn it into reality. Therefore, we have to open our minds to match our attention to the possibilities that come from deep within. We should ask the question “What can I not live without?” instead of “What can I live with?”. Taking internal and external factors into account, we can reach the best decisions.
The author now offers readers two exercises. The first one is called The three-question process. It helps us determine our meaning, pleasure and strengths. With the next exercise, Crafting your work, Tal Ben-Shahar invites us introduce new activities to our daily working life so that it better meets our expectations.
Chapter 8 – Happiness in relationships
Foremost, according to several studies, people who have rich, quality relationships with the people around them (friends, family, partner) have a better chance of being happy. Our happiness capital is partially fed by all our relationships with others.
For Tal Ben-Shahar, unconditional love corresponds to being loved for the person we are. The author emphasizes two points:
- The rational side of love, which is not just a simple sensation devoid of reason.
- We fall in love for conscious and unconscious reasons. That is why we are sometimes unable to explain precisely why we love a person so deeply.
The core self
The core self corresponds to our character. It translates into our behaviour. Depending on our deep characteristics, we naturally move towards one kind of profession. Things that we undertake may or may not turn out to be successful, often related to external factors. What counts most is that we are loved for the qualities that make us undertake something, not whether or not we succeed in the undertaking. That is what it means to be unconditionally loved.
The circle of happiness
It has been seen that when children play in close proximity to their mother, their games are more creative, as if there was a sort of circle of creativity. They take more risks, are unafraid to try new things and to try something a second time if they do not succeed at first. Among adults, Tal Ben-Shahar believes in the existence of a circle of happiness, when we are in close proximity to people who love us unconditionally.
Meaning and pleasure in love
Unconditional love cannot exist without a form of immediate pleasure, nor can it only be fed by a future goal. In this way, a couple who would choose to work harder to ensure that they will have a secure future may spend little time together, which is a recipe for failure.
Love and sacrifice
People who live with another person out of obedience to a social or family imperative sometimes think that this sacrifice is synonymous with virtue. On the contrary, feeling under obligation rather that doing something out of desire is a bad choice. On the other hand, sacrificing oneself for one’s partner when in doing so we have the impression that we are also acting in our own interest is a genuine proof of love. We just have to be careful that this kind of sacrifice does not affect any part of our core self.
To be known rather than validated
Sexual desire and sincere love coexist in every loving relationship. Many of us think that our senses are most aroused when a relationship is new. But this is not true. In many lasting and passionate relationships, knowing the other person better is what counts. In this way, we should not seek recognition or approval. We should seek to be known. In other words, we should allow the other person to discover the most intimate aspects of our personality.
Cultivating over finding
In love, it is important to cultivate the relationship we have chosen, because after all, there is no single person “made” solely for us. That is why we must be careful to attentively maintain the existing relationship instead of pursuing a constant quest for new and perfect love. In time, we can successfully build solid foundations that can withstand the turbulent times and create happiness.
Finally, in the second part of his book Happier, Tal Ben-Shahar invites us to write a letter of gratitude to our loved ones and to speak to them directly. He offers a series of sentences to complete on the topic of the feeling of love.
Part three: Meditations on happiness
In the last section of the book Happier, Tal Ben-Shahar shares seven meditations on the substance of happiness and the space we should grant it.
Chapter 9 – First meditation: self-interest and benevolence
The first meditation on happiness is intended to set things straight. Tal Ben-Shahar invites us to think about how helping others and helping oneself are intertwined. And yet, in our society, people who act in their own self-interest are not considered altruistic.
Being happy allows us to help others
The author of Happier offers a diagram to show that our efforts to give to others can feed into our own happiness. He then completes this concept with an idea that he summarises like this: “The happier we become, the more inclined we are to help others.”
In this exercise, the reader is invited to meditate on benevolence, an extension of the exercise meditating on happiness from chapter 2.
Chapter 10 – Second meditation: happiness boosters
The second meditation is a visualisation of certain situations that are not conducive to happiness which we may find ourselves facing.
We all have “periods when much of what we do does not afford us satisfaction.” For Tal Ben-Shahar, people who manage to accumulate fleeting moments of happiness and store them up will get through these periods more easily.
Happiness boosters, generating transformation
Happiness boosters have the power to rejuvenate and reinvigorate. They are small pushes that have an effect on motivation. We can find them in spending time with the family, by volunteering or any kind of leisure activity.
Do not be afraid to instil change and occupy your free time.
It is far less stressful to work every day to trigger small moments of happiness than to make vast and sweeping changes to our life. A complete career change, for example, is not an easy thing to do. On the other hand, giving some of your free time to help other people outside of work is easier to envisage and set in motion.
In the same way, the author of the book Happier invites us to fill our free time with activities we enjoy. It is an efficient way to fill our store of emotional well-being.
In this exercise, called Boosting our happiness, the reader is invited to make a personal list of happiness boosters.
Chapter 11 – Third meditation: beyond the temporary high
According to Tal Ben-Shahar, it is an error to think that we all have a base level of happiness that we maintain for our whole life. We can add some occasional moments of additional happiness to it, but the results are not lasting, and we soon return to the base level.
Can we genuinely become happier
We are all genetically predisposed to some level of happiness. But there are way to immensely improve this level. While our genetically determined level of happiness is difficult to transform, our capacity to be happier is related to what we do and how we do it.
The error of the average
We do not need to be jealous of other people’s happiness. What we should be asking is how to be happy ourselves. It is important to move our centre of interest towards a goal that is not based on material things or prestige. Finally, people who manage to combine immediate and future benefits are probably the biggest winners.
In reality, there is no limit to the level of happiness that every one of us can try to achieve.
Here, Tal Ben-Shahar suggests carrying out an Appreciative Inquiry that consists of drawing lessons from our past positive experiences to create a happy future.
Chapter 12 – Fourth meditation: letting our light shine
The following meditation is the opportunity to remember that we all deserve to be happy. This is especially true in the professional setting, where many people take paths that draw them away from the “ultimate currency”.
Allow yourself to be happy
Many ideologies lead us to doubt whether we are worthy to be happy. It would seem that we are more frightened by the light than by darkness. So, we wonder whether we are worthy of happiness. The real question we should be asking is “Who are we not to be happy?”
If we want to become happy, we should:
- Be convinced that we deserve to be happy.
- Appreciate our core self.
- Constantly seek out sources of happiness.
- Accept that we have the talent to access joy and remain open to happiness.
At last, the exercise Sentence completion at the end of this chapter of Happier allows us to understand how to remove the barriers standing between us and happiness.
Chapter 13 – Fifth meditation: imagine
Tal Ben-Shahar asks us to imagine ourselves on the reverse path from death to life. Picture ourselves beginning life in old age and going back to youth. Like some patients who face serious illness, we may become aware that we are full of resources that are capable of making us happy.
Life is precious
Taking this journey through time helps us, according to Tal Ben-Shahar, to open our eyes to “life’s brevity and preciousness”. Many of us have this feeling inside, but many others are not aware of it. The key to avoid falling into this trap lies in our capacity for introspection and our power to ask the right questions.
The exercise at the end of this chapter is called Advice from your inner sage. We are asked to picture ourselves at the age of 110 and to write down the best advice we can give to achieve happiness.
Chapter 14 – Sixth meditation: take your time
Here the author reflects on the enjoyment he found in writing this book. However, he recognises that there were some less pleasant moments, during which the act of writing was a burden. When he thought about this feeling, he understood that it was simply because he did not have enough time to write and enjoy peace of mind.
Overall, we are too busy. We don’t have the time to take our time. This prevents us from enjoying doing simple things. Take the example of a mother with a million things to do and remember. She ends up finding no enjoyment in spending time with her children.
In order to free some time for ourselves, we have to simplify our life by restricting the number of things we do every day. This involves being able to say no to other people and establishing priorities in our daily actions.
When less is more
Working too hard kills our inner creativity and leads us to a state of permanent dissatisfaction. When we take our time, we are better prepared to enjoy the richness that life has to offer.
Tal Ben-Shahar suggests an exercise that he calls “Simplify!”. It consists of returning to the exercise Mapping your life from chapter 3 and thinking about how we can simplify our general busyness.
Chapter 15 – Seventh meditation: the happiness revolution
The scientific revolution and materialist thinking have largely supplanted mysticism and spirituality in today’s society. Unfortunately, they also swept away learning how to happy which fell into the background.
Recognising that happiness is the “ultimate currency” does not mean that we have to turn our back on material things. However, we do need to strike a balance and prioritise acts that offer meaning, as well as what offers short- and long-term enjoyment.
A peaceful revolution
The happiness revolution should in no way be seen as an external upheaval. It has to come from inside each one of us.
When the majority of people move from materialist thinking to thinking in terms of happiness, there will be less jealousy. We will be more inclined to accept other people’s successes, and draw inspiration from them. These conflicts also apply to relations that can be strained between entire countries. If the thinking is in terms of material benefit, then the relationship will never improve.
Achieving the happiness revolution involves a revolution in the way we think. We can go on to picture the quest for happiness without any idea of competition. Our goals will be complementary.
To complete the final meditation in his book Happier, Tal Ben-Shahar recommends performing the exercise called Conflict Resolution. He asks readers to think of a conflict that set you at odds with another person. Now try to see how this can evolve in a positive way with the goal of increasing your happiness capital.
Conclusion of Happier by Tal Ben-Shahar
The author’s conclusion
In his conclusion entitled “Here and now”, the author confides that he sincerely believes that the happiness revolution will come, even if it does not happen overnight. He is aware that his book is a theoretical work, unlike life, but Tal Ben-Shahar remains convinced that happiness can be taught and learned. Learning happiness, he believes, involves working towards it on a personal level every day.
He ends with several thoughts:
- Happiness can be carried around everywhere you go. It is expressed through peacefulness that comes from within. It can also move around without being altered. That is why a happy man is happy everywhere he goes, even though external factors can be important.
- Happiness is in the here and now: we have to forget the idea that happiness will come to us once we attain a specific goal. The reality will probably be the complete opposite. In the same way, we have to look at this past with a sense of detachment. It can prevent us from using our potential to become happy.
- Happiness is built: making our “ultimate currency” a reality involves working every day on the ordinary details of this complex mosaic. By deriving pleasure and meaning from our professional, friendly, family and social life, we are moving towards happiness. In the final analysis, happiness is an all-encompassing quest based on relatively simple things.
The key concepts in the book
In his book Happier, Tal Ben-Shahar helps us to understand what happiness really is. The goal is to achieve it.
In the book, he shares many thoughts on this topic, and they can be summarised in four key points:
- First, the author is convinced that every one of us is worthy of being happy, even if we are all conditioned by genetic capital. In his opinion, by making a conscious effort to achieve immediate and future happiness every day, we have every chance of succeeding.
- Next, we must not compare our own happiness with that of others, but work to create our own happiness. By giving meaning to our life and taking stock of our abilities and affinities, we can build our happiness.
- Tal Ben Shahar also emphasises that the people around us are also a source of happiness. In fact, by helping other people we become happy ourselves, and in return it is vital to be happy ourselves in order to be able to support other people.
- Finally, Happier teaches us how to attain happiness in our professional life, which does not necessarily mean walking away from everything to start over.
In Happier, Tal Ben-Shahar offers readers a positive and optimistic handbook about how to become happy. The principles he describes leads us gently along the path to happiness through internal change and awareness of all the aspects of our life.
- Each chapter begins with a quote and ends with a reading list to find out more about the topic explored.
- In the middle of the chapters, the author invites us to take a break in order to take in what we have just read.
- The exercises suggested at the end of the chapters are rich in teachings that apply to each of us and can help us to make concrete progress.
- Sometimes, the reading is a little complex, the ideas can be hard to take in and understand.
- Some ideas are repeated too often at the end of the book
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