In The Happiness Advantage, author Shawn Achor makes numerous references to the work of his mentor Tal Ben-Shahar, who he studied under at Harvard. Given how much I liked Achor’s book, I figured it would behoove me to read some of Shahar’s work. I decided to start with Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment. It seemed like it would be a good follow-up that would reinforce what I had read in The Happiness Advantage. It also fit in very nicely with the goals and theme of my morning reading activity.
As I suspected, Happier has a lot in common with The Happiness Advantage, although I would say it builds on the concepts rather than repackages them. In other words, there’s a lot that you can gain by reading both books.
One of the key concepts that Shahar covers at the beginning of Happier is the four archetypes that drive our behavior. There’s the hedonist who focuses on enjoying the present while ignoring the negative consequences of his actions. Second is the rat racer who suffers now for the purpose of some anticipated gain in the future. Third is the nihilist who neither enjoys the present nor has a sense of future purpose. Finally is the happy person who lives secure in the knowledge that what they enjoy doing now will lead to a fulfilling future. In Shahar’s words:
The rat race becomes a slave to the future; the hedonist a slave to the moment; the nihilist a slave to the past.
Shahar’s point is that we are not one of four types, but that we embody the characteristics of each type and move between them depending on our mood, attitudes, and environment. The obvious goal is to spend as much time as possible in the happiness archetype. Shahar nicely sums up what it takes to get there:
Attaining lasting happiness requires that we enjoy the journey on our way toward a destination we deem valuable. Happiness is not about making it to the peak of the mountain nor is it about climbing aimlessly around the mountain; happiness is the experience of climbing toward the peak.
Throughout the rest of the book, Shahar outlines practical suggestions, techniques, and exercises to help one spend more time in the “happy” quadrant of life. The activities cover things such as setting goals, visualization exercises, and meditation themes. I liked that Shahar not only introduces the activities but also details how to properly go about doing them, to the point of making them habits or daily rituals. It what I liked best about the book and felt set it apart from many others I’ve read in this particular genre.
One of the other things that I especially liked was the quote by Ghandi that Shahar used to conclude the book:
Be the change you want to see in the world
In my opinion, the entire book can be summarized by that quote and Shahar’s point that happiness is the ultimate currency that we should all be striving for, not monetary wealth and material goods. When life is looked at in that way, it can have a profound impact in what one does daily as well as throughout their life.
Happier is a great companion to The Happiness Advantage. I consider them both Must Reads. It doesn’t matter whether you read one before the other. The point is that you need to read both.