Just finished reading it and I was so astounded by how rich of the knowledge this book has. It’s so well-written by Yuval Noah Harari, a professor/Israeli historian, he tells a lot not only about the history of homo sapiens in general, but also pretty much about everything related to human. Imagine in less than 500 pages, we could learn so much about the origin of homo sapiens, what makes us different, the revolutions we’ve been through, wars, politics, religions, economy, and prediction about the future. Well that quite sums everything doesn’t it? It’s the whole package of social science altogether that unfolds many layers about homo sapiens.
My favourites are the last three chapters of the book; A Permanent Revolution, And They Lived Happily Ever After, and The End of Homo Sapiens. I particularly like And They Lived Happily. Through all the revolutions at least for the past 500 years, it’s raising a question “Are we now happier?”
“Happiness” is such an enigmatic term. By coincidence, I’ve just read another two books from Jonathan Haidt, an NYU’s ethics professor that describes happiness. They are both compelling, the title of the books are The Righteous Mind and The Happiness Hypothesis. I found the explanations are rather akin.
Perhaps people nowadays posses more prosperity but suffer greatly from alienation and meaningless, this is may contrary to our ancestor’s circumstances who found much contentment in community, religion, and a bond with nature. People assume that wealth brings happiness. And they are right, but only up to a certain point, and beyond that point it has little significance. For people in terrible economic condition, of course more money means greater happiness. However after a certain point, it won’t make a big difference. Another interesting finding is that illness decreases happiness in the short term, it’s becoming a long-term distress only if a person’s condition is constantly deteriorating. Family and community seem to have more impact on happiness than money and health. People with strong family and community relation are significantly happier than people whose dysfunctional family and never be a part of community.
Yet the most important finding is that happiness doesn’t really depend on objective conditions of either wealth, health or even community. Rather it depend on correlation between objective conditions and subjective expectations — being satisfied with what we already have is far more important than getting more of what we desire. Then if happiness is equal to expectation, two pillars of our society — mass/social media and the advertising industry — may be the ultimate source of our depleting contentment.
We’ve talked happiness in social scientist point of view, in biological way happiness is determined by a complex system of nerves, neurons, synapses and various biochemical substances such as serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin. Our internal biochemical system are programmed to keep happiness levels relatively constant but vary between each person. So, to be happy, it can be as easy as taking prozac to change our biochemical.
Daniel Kahneman, winner of the Nobel prize in economics, found that happiness rather consists in seeing one’s life in its entirety as meaningful and worthwhile. A meaningful life can be extremely satisfying even in the midst of hardship whereas a meaningless life is a terrible ordeal no matter how comfortable it is.
The important key is to know ourselves. Most people wrongly identify themselves with their feelings. People are not their feelings. Maybe it is not so important whether people’s expectations are fulfilled and whether they enjoy pleasant feelings. The main question is whether people know the truth about themselves.