Book Review: “If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy?”

Amazon Link Here.

While a little academic, I really enjoyed this book! It identifies “7 sins” of unhappy behavior and drills into why each and every behavior makes us unhappy. It then identifies 7 “counter-behaviors” that the very happy consistently exhibit. It also contains many worksheet exercises and score scales, as well as an online course via Coursera.

If you aren’t feeling sufficiently happy (like I am!), this is a great book to read. Even if you are a generally happy person, it remains a good book to read to find out what behaviors to avoid and what behaviors to maintain. Leveraging strengths is very underrated!

Without further ado, the seven sins are (in order presented by the book):

  1. Devaluing Happiness. Chasing extrinsic motivators (money, prestige) over intrinsic motivators such as liking the work you do, liking the people you are working with, company culture, etc., factors that would make you happy.
  2. Chasing Superiority. Constantly comparing yourselves to others. There’s always another ceiling to break, and it drives insecurity and expectations gaps!
  3. Needy/Distant Behavior. A tendency to be either clingy towards people or distant towards people who are interested in increasing intimacy. Probably stems from loneliness; decreases likelihood of close relationships.
  4. Need for external control. A need for control for external factors in life that one has limited or no control over, leading to frustration. Stems from a lack of internal control over your thoughts and mindsets.
  5. Distrusting others. Having a cynical view of society as overwhelmingly a zero-sum, and treating interactions with others as zero-sum. In practice, people are generally more trustworthy than they are given credit for.
  6. Excessive emphasis on outcomes, rather than the journey that takes us there. This emphasis is especially notable when outcomes do not go your way.
  7. Mind Addiction.” Placing too much emphasis on “thoughtful deliberation” and undervaluing the ability of gut feelings and initial intuition to provide the correct path forward.

I will frankly admit that I have exhibited all of these behaviors a little too often!

And, for the seven counter-sins, behaviors from the very happy:

  1. Prioritizing but not pursuing happiness. Happiness is something that should always come first (beyond basic necessities). Steps should be taken that increase happiness, but it should not be pursued and constantly monitored: becoming self conscious about it gets in the way by inviting comparisons to an idealized level of happiness.
  2. Pursuing flow. From Dan Pink’s book, Drive: autonomy, mastery, and purpose! Eventually, that intrinsic motivation leads us to a blissful feeling called flow. We should always strive to chase that feeling: the journey to flow makes us happy too!
  3. Being generous (within bounds). Part of the abundance mindset: being philanthropic makes us genuinely happier, and judging from massive crowd-sourced projects such as Wikipedia and Linux, there are plenty of people who exhibit generous behavior! Of course, it needs to be within bounds: it mustn’t interrupt having basic life necessities like food, shelter, and intimacy.
  4. Have internal control. Not letting external stressors get to you. Finding ways to spin negative outcomes into positive silver linings.
  5. Smart Trust. Consists of four parts:
    • Accept that people are more trustworthy than we give them credit for
    • Leverage the benefits of proactive trust (entrusting someone with something first).
    • Minimize the pain of being cheated and maximize positivity from having trust validated
    • Elicit more trustworthy behavior from others.
  1. Dispassionate Pursuit of Passion. As it turns out, we become less negative to “negative outcomes” over time. These failures are also key inflection points where we learn lessons and pave our way to success. Thus, we should try to feel neutral towards negative outcomes.
  2. Mindfulness. Observing internal thoughts and personal circumstances from a perspective of neutrality and curiosity, and becoming self-aware of thoughts and feelings in the moment. Becoming open and accepting to whatever happens without reserving judgment; increases range of responses to external stimuli.
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