Jonathan Haidt has had a profound effect on me. He was on the Bill Moyers show when first seen and he struck me as a man of deep understanding. He showed me I am still a prejudiced man and need to understand other people better. http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2013/02/the-righteous-mind.html
Happiness is for most people the main goal of life. "The Happiness Hypothesis" is not a typical self improvement book, but rather a history of different thoughts regarding happiness with much philosophy and more psychology. Jonathan, himself had first studied philosophy and then moved on to psychology. Along the way and towards the end there is useful advice if you are ready for it.
He believes humans understand new things through metaphors. His favorite is that of a rider on an elephant. The rider represents conscious behavior and the elephant represents unconscious behavior (that has accumulated through thousands of thousands of years of evolution). The rider has evolved to serve the elephant, to give it some direction. In another section "with wrong metaphor we are deluded; with no metaphor we are blind."
To survive humans are selfish, but we have had to learn to get along with others. At one time it was thought survival of the fittest involved physical and mental factors at an individual level. However more recently we realize that individuals are part of groups and that our membership is also a factor in our survival.
One early effective social inter action skill learned was the principle of reciprocity. He gives an example from the opening of "The Godfather" where a distraught father asks Marlon Brando to deal with a man who dishonored his daughter. He thinks he will have to give money for it, but Don Corleone has something else in mind. He sees this as an opportunity to expand his network of "friends" who do each other favors. Movie goers were preparing for a violent movie, but instead it started off with how the Godfather actually got things done. Then of course it gets to the violence.
There is a relationship between culture and religion. We develop trust and co-operation which in turn can effect genetic selection and direct to the benefit of the community.
Happiness is effected by your external circumstances, but another key is internal. Jonathan feels that the truth is in between where you find true happiness.
Humans have or try to have goals, but in fact it is the effort as much as the achievement that brings happiness. Once a goal is achieved it is in the past and we look forward to something else to do. Internally you make lots of choices and of course react to thousands of circumstances.
Harry Harlow had limited resources and found himself working with rhesus monkeys. His experiments are considered unethical today with isolation and substituting inanimate objects for motherly attention. What he did prove was that all infants need touching and parental caring to develop normally. In other words love makes a difference.
Abraham Maslow, a student of Harry Harlow is famous for Maslow's hierarchy of needs. At the top is self-actualization which could be interpreted as satisfaction or happiness.
Mihaly Csiksentmihalyi is known for the concept of flow. One is happiest when one is engaged in an activity where they are so engaged they lose concept of time. An example from the author was riding horses where some are so engaged that is what they think of most of the time.
The author contends that two areas that are vital for happiness are work and love. Love seems obvious, but work takes up a lot of time and is where many find meaning. From Marcus Aurelius--"work itself is but what you deem it." Many jobs are treated as drudgery, but the author suggests if you apply your strengths any job can become more meaningful.
Happy people are kinder and more helpful. Voluntary work by elders results in improved health and longer life
Jonathan states that meditation, cognitive therapy and Prozac all have the ability to make for positive changes.
You can read more at http://www.happinesshypothesis.com