"Finding Happiness in a Frustrating World"
by Jim Johnson
Reading history and reviews
Finished on 13th September 2009Kyle bought this book after seeing it on Amazon while looking for others by physiotherapist Jim Johnson. She had been impressed by his "Treat Your Own Knees" book, in which Johnson emphasises an "evidence-based" approach, recommending treatments which have been demonstrated to be effective through published scientific studies. In "Finding Happiness", he turns his attention to asking why some of his patients are happier than others even when they might appear from the outside to be in a much worse condition.
It's a quick read which distils the key results of research into the psychology of happiness into plain language. At the core, this research suggests that there are three factors which determine how happy people are genetics, circumstances, and intentional activities (things that we do on purpose and put effort into). Johnson argues that while it's very difficult to do much about the first two factors, we can have a positive effect on our happiness by choosing the goals that we set for ourselves. The best kind of goals are "intrinsic" (activities are rewarding in and of themselves) rather than "extrinsic" (where the reward is dependent on outcomes which may be difficult to guarantee - for example, being more popular), and "self-concordant" - that is, consistent with our interests and values.
It's certainly an easy read (the book is short and is written in a very straightforward style, which Johnson explains early on is to make the material as accessible as possible) and ends with a step-by-step method to help with selecting activities that are intrinsic and self-concordant. Although I didn't do this final exercise, I still enjoyed it and found it extremely interesting and thought-provoking. Essentially the secret is that there is really no great secret - except maybe that if you want to be happier, then try to do those things that will make you happy.