Book review: Happier by Tal Ben-Shawar

I randomly borrowed a book called Happiness when staying at Magnus’ sisters house this summer. It turned out to be the best “self-help” book I have ever read. Most of us are too busy to read it so I wanted to share some on this blog.

The Hamburger Model

If we categorize life into 4 groups, we can compare these types to hamburgers.

  • Regular Burger #1 – tastes good but unhealthy (Hedonistic lifestyle wants to enjoy present without considering future consequences)
  • Vegetarian Burger #2 – tasteless but healthy (typical hamster wheel society that sacrifices present happiness to gain future successes)
  • Bad Burger #3 – tasteless and unhealthy (Nihilistic lifestyle describes someone whom has lost meaning in both the present and future)
  • Special Burger #4 – tastes good AND is healthy (Happiness lifestyle choice finds a way to enjoy the present and find meaning in the future)

We have all found ourselves experiencing most of these lifestyle types at various times throughout our life. We might have played around with Hedonism during college or Nihilism after a specific downturn… but in general, our society normally guides us to achieve material success which is promoted through the Hamster wheel lifestyle. If we work hard in school, we will get into a good college; if we work hard in college, we will get a good job; if we work hard for a promotion, then we will get more money. However, the motivation for money normally is derived from external factors. Tal Ben-Shahar instead lists key steps to help identify internal motivations for “success” that actually provide a much more fulfilling factor than money — happiness.

Everyone needs meaning with their life but we also need enjoyment in the present. This seems pretty obvious but more difficult to achieve. Tal Ben-Shahar asks readers to use the following process, listing up personal traits and characteristics, activities and interests that fit into 3 different categories:

What gives someone?.. 1) Meaning, 2) Enjoyment and –What are your? 3) Strengths. If the person lists the same or similar trait / interest under #1, 2 and 3 category, this is a key happiness aspect which could provide great enjoyment in the present and meaning in the future.

Another way of thinking about these interests are to consider what activities give “flow”. Is there any activity where outside noises seem to fade and time passes quickly? This is achieved when the difficulty of the task and the skillfulness of the task are at an equilibrium. A task should not be too hard nor too easy. Many people find “flow” when doing sports and also — surprisingly –when at the workplace while conducting certain tasks. However, we are trained at an early age that work should not be fun… that it is almost a punishment (possibly stemming from Adam and Eve mentality that after eating the apple, we were condemned to a life of work and sweat). This gives great possibility to find happiness since most of us believe we are unhappy because of work.

“People in the hamster wheel learn that emotional reward is less important than performance that can be measured, seen and confirmed. Thus emotions are a hinder for success and should be covered over and suppressed.” This mentality is the direct opposite approach to reaching happiness since our emotional drivers determine what will bring us enjoyment and meaning.

I experienced this emotional suppression directly in the corporate world where orders from above were taught to be obeyed, regardless of any “gut feelings” based on the expertise of staff. Another corporate trend is that no task should be undertaken if it can’t be measured. Thus, a task’s success on an emotional level is completely disregarded.

But… if individuals, then workplaces and even societies begin to appreciate happiness as the most valuable reward, we might be able to focus on and achieve happiness!

Psychologist Richard Hackman’s research shows some conditions necessary to achieve more happiness at work:

  • The work tasks should be varying and stimulating, (and not too difficult nor too easy).
  • It is best for the worker to conduct the entire task from beginning to end instead of just part of a process.
  • The task has significance for others.

Tal Ben-Shahar’s book also touches on areas necessary for happiness such as meaningful relationships, “happiness kicks” to test out areas that can bring happiness, and ways to give back which provide meaning and in turn, provides more “happiness”. One aspect he doesn’t mention is our physical health which I believe plays a huge factor in our mental health.

If one starts making small changes, and tells others about his or her ideas of change… the person will experience doors of opportunity. Somehow saying it, makes it more likely to happen.

I have not even come close to giving this book justice so please go to your local library/bookstore and read it!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: