Book Club: What Makes People Happy

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
Happy post

This week in our reading from David Brooks’ The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement, we read about intelligence, making choices, and freedom versus commitment.

Andthe plot thickens.

We follow Erica into the professional world and cringe at the posturing of her uber-intelligent boss, Harrison, whose preoccupation with his own intelligence prevents him from succeeding in business. According to Brooks, no matter how intelligent one is, there are certain character traits and dispositions that lead to success. He quotes Keith E. Stanovich from his book What Intelligence Tests Miss.

… some of the mental dispositions that contribute to real world performance: “The tendency to collect information before making up one’s mind, the tendency to seek various points of view before coming to a conclusion, the disposition to think extensively about a problem before responding, the tendency to calibrate the degree of strength of one’s opinions to the degree of evidence available, the tendency to thing about future consequences before taking action, the tendency to explicitly weigh pluses and minuses of a situation before making a decision, and the tendency to seek nuance and avoid absolutism.”

We learn a lot in chapter ten about intelligence (such as the fact that the strongest predictor of a person’s IQ is the IQ of his or her mother, and environmental factors can play a significant role in shaping IQ, and above the IQ of 120 there is little relationship between higher intelligence and more success), but mostly we learn that it takes much more than intelligence to do well in real life.

Disillusioned with the corporate life, Erica decides to break out on her own. She forms a consulting business, determined to use her knowledge of culture to succeed. And in chapter eleven—through Erica’s trials and errors—we learn all about choice architecture (an unconscious set of structures that helps frame a decision) and behavioral economics (applying the insights of the cognitive revolution to the economy).

In the meantime, Harold is going through the odyssey years.

Harold was part of a generation that inaugurated a new life phase, the odyssey years. There used to be four life phases—childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and old age. Now there are at least six—childhood, adolescence, odyssey, adulthood, active retirement, and old age. Odyssey is the decade of wandering that occurs between adolescence and adulthood.

Brooks points us to statistics that show that people are postponing marriage more than they have in previous generations and they are taking more years to finish their education.

The changes have been caused by several interrelated phenomena. People are living longer, and so have more time to settle on a life course. The economy has become more complicated, with a broader array of career possibilities, so it takes a while for people to find the right one. Society has become more segmented, so it takes longer for people to find the right psychological niche. Women are better educated than before and more likely to be working full-time…

Harold is living it up—footloose and fancy-free. But the day comes when he reaches a turning point and decides he wants more from life. Brooks uses Harold’s milestone to launch into a discussion on happiness.

There is a lot of research out there about what makes people happy. Brooks says that one thing it has shown is that people are pretty bad at judging what will make them happy.

…People vastly overvalue work, money, and real estate. They vastly undervalue intimate bonds and the importance of arduous challenges…

Researchers also find the relationship between money and happiness is complicated—more money does not necessarily equate to more happiness. One clear finding is that people who prioritize material well-being are less happy than people who don’t.

So…what makes happy?

The deeper the relationships a person has, the happier he or she will be. People in long-term marriages are much happier than people who aren’t. According to one study, being married produces the same psychic gain as earning $100,000 a year. According to another, joining a group that meets even just once a month produces the same happiness gain as doubling your income…People who have one recurrent sexual partner in a year are happier than people who have multiple partners in a year. People who have more friends have lower stress levels and longer lives. Extroverts are happier than introverts. According to research…the daily activities most associated with happiness are all social—having sex, socializing after work, and having dinner with friends—while the daily activity most injurious to happiness—commuting—tends to be solitary…

But Erica wasn’t thinking about any of this. She was trying to make a business work. She finally comes to the realization that she needs an idea man—someone to help her turn research into practical advice. Through a friend of a friend she hears about a young man who sounds like he might fit the bill.

That man is Harold.

What do you think? Link up below with a post at your blog or simply leave us a thought in the comment section. We tackle three more chapters next week: Limerence, The Grand Narrative, and Metis.

Image by Ben Husmann. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr. Post by Laura J. Boggess.