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Happiness: The Science Behind Your Smile

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Overview

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 country—the 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.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Provocative.... The author unearths a few everyday characteristics shared by people who say they are happy, including good health, a feeling of autonomy, and social connectiveness. To that list, one might add browsing through this thought-provoking book."—O: The Oprah Magazine

"Buy the couch or go for the resort vacation? Scientists around the world have explored such questions to learn what makes the human animal happy. In 'Happiness,' Daniel Nettle translates recent studies on brain systems, dopamine, anti-depressants, hallucinogens and the marketing of happiness.... He also quotes Nathaniel Hawthorne: 'Happiness is like a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.'"—Los Angeles Times

"The glib, pop-psych title of biological psychologist Daniel Nettle's book belies a provocative argument: Our unending quests for life's big and little perks—a new iPod, a tenured professorship—have little or no impact on our happiness. Most of Happiness is devoted to assailing popular myths about happiness.... But, as if to compensate for reducing these assumptions to ashes, Nettle presents an unexpected jewel: Understanding the irrational characteristics of happiness makes it easier to manipulate ourselves into being happy."—San Francisco Chronicle

"For your summertime science reading, there's Daniel Nettle's 'Happiness: The Science Behind Your Smile'.... Nettle picks through the latest research in psychology, psychiatry and philosophy to tell us who the happiest people are around the world and why; how negative thoughts served evolving humans; and how the brain systems behind emotions and moods really work."—los Angeles Times Book Review

"In this enjoyable, thought-provoking book, Nettle digs into the subject with great insight and just a bit of cheeky irreverence.... With absolute clarity and admirable brevity, Nettle explores the pursuit of happiness and, happily, makes good sense of it all."—Publishers Weekly

"Nettle's presentation of evolutionary, societal, and brain chemistry-related forces that influence how we define and try to achieve greater happiness makes for a thought-provoking read." —Library Journal

"From page one, Nettle takes a commanding, level-headed approach to his subject, turning out accessible cleverness and even intermittent cheekiness. Nettle recognizes the prevailing backbone of happiness—our constant need to outdo and out-consume—as a fairly sizable sham. And he predicts our perception of happiness is so closely tied to competition with others that there will always be a disparity between what we have and what we think we want."—Ottawa Citizen

"Engagingly and accessibly written."—Buffalo News

Publishers Weekly
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.
Library Journal
Here are two very different takes on happiness. Ryan (Attitudes of Gratitude) returns with a delightful book of encouragement and practical ideas for experiencing happiness. The emphasis is on remaking one's attitude, not one's face or environment. The chapters are short and brisk, with engaging life stories and well-formed thoughts to ponder. The substantial bibliography lists more than 39 happiness-related titles, which Ryan uses effectively throughout the text. Sure to be popular with patrons, this book is recommended for all self-help collections. While Ryan takes the straight self-improvement approach, Nettle (biological psychology, Open Univ., U.K.) presents a thoughtful analysis of scientific research on hedonics, or the study of pleasure. He combines research findings from the various social sciences to present his thesis that people are born with an evolutionary set of beliefs about the nature of happiness, which provides the incentive and direction for our pursuit of well-being without necessarily increasing the likelihood of its attainment. Nettle's presentation of evolutionary, societal, and brain chemistry- related forces that influence how we define and try to achieve greater happiness makes for a thought-provoking read. Recommended for public and academic libraries.-Crystal Renfro, Georgia Inst. of Technology Lib. & Information Ctr., Atlanta Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780192805584
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 7/1/2005
  • Pages: 221
  • Product dimensions: 6.90 (w) x 4.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Daniel Nettle is Lecturer in Biological Psychology at the Open University. He is the author of Strong Imagination: Madness, Creativity, and Human Value and co-author of Vanishing Voices (with Suzanne Romaine). He lives in the U.K.

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Table of Contents

Introduction

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 23, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Daniel Nettle takes a sober, thoughtful look at happiness

    If you want a happy self help book that gives you a quick list of directions on the road to happiness, look elsewhere. If you want to take a slower path and look at the more complex issues that make up the mosaic of what happiness is, then this is the book. I was going to give a copy to a friend and decided not to because of their general point of view. The meaning behind the book would have been lost and it would have been put on a shelf or in a landfill. Not for all. Great for some.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 3, 2005

    Good

    This book made me smile

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 8, 2005

    'Happiness is like a butterfly...'

    This brief but scholarly and entertaining little book is not the expected 'self-help book' - or is it? Daniel Nettle explores studies collecting data on people¿s views of whether or not they are happy (polls), on brain systems (biology), on anti-depressants, hallucinogens, and dopamine (biochemistry), and on the media/marketing blitz of recipes for achieving happiness. It is all very concise, non-biased, and informative.But by far the most helpful and sensible information contained in this book is Nettle's quiet explanation of how we as humans are geared to determine 'happiness' on comparisons with our fellow beings: is my income as big as theirs, my car/house/lifestyle, business success and yes, even sexual achievement as gratifying as my neighbors'? It often boils down to a polarity between 'wanting' and 'liking' - the decision is ultimately ours. Nettle contends that in constantly pursuing happiness (or questioning why our levels don't meet expectations), the most we can hope for is 'what psychologists call subjective well-being'. He then closes with rays of hope that with increased scientific and biochemical investigation, the goal of happiness just may be closer at hand.Nettle quotes Hawthorne: 'Happiness is like a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.' A well-written, necessary book for today's society. Grady Harp

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