I don’t really know the answer to that question. But I do hope the industry is changing lives positively given that we are spending billions of dollars each year on the promise that our lives will improve – that we will be better if we will just implement this simple formula to change our habits, or that insightful advice to efficiently manage our time. I have invested in a number self-help books and courses, and some have definitely been beneficial.

Recently, my wife Hillory and I, celebrated her birthday with a beautiful hike in the mountains above Park City, to an amazing alpine lake (and serendipitously enough there were rocks to jump off and a rope swing into the water which happens to be one of Hill’s favorite things to do). As we walked I asked her what she was grateful for (besides me of course) as she had reached the milestone birthday of forty. She responded that she was grateful for the opportunities, experiences, and knowledge that have allowed her to change for the better. I loved that response because it’s something I think about often.

Last week I wrote about my experience with the book Solve for Happy by Mo Gawdat (if you haven’t read that click here). After finishing that book I felt like a new man. I specifically remember a co-worker who came up to me and said she noticed a genuine difference my life – that I seemed lighter and happier. She asked me what had happened to cause such a profound difference. The answer was clear! I had been preaching the gospel of happiness from the rooftops for all to hear, with a handful of converts to boot. 

I was able to maintain that level of happiness for about six months before I began to slip into my old ways of seeing the world. Problems at work seemed to build again. I started nit-picking at my kids. It became easier to let my thoughts run with negativity. It turned out the equation for happiness didn’t factor in all the variables that existed in my life…. At the time it felt exhausting to try to maintain a world view that was contrary to my nature. It was kind of depressing to tell you the truth.

I just finished the book The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt. It is a very scientific approach to the question of happiness and he calls into question many of the most popular approaches. Can we really detach ourselves from everything? Is true happiness found inside? Do events outside of our control truly have only the power over us that we allow? He states that these self-help approaches can change the conscious mind, but rarely have the power to change the subconscious (our natural view of how we see the world and how we have reacted our entire lives). According to Haidt, those with a naturally optimistic view of the world have won the “cortical lottery.” If that’s not your luck, then you have a lot more work to do to make meaningful change and you are likely to revert back to your former self. Haidt argues there are only three ways to change the subconscious – meditation, cognitive therapy, and Prozac (but that’s a different topic for another day…). Short of that it just takes time, hard work, and a ton of patience.

What??? Was I set up for failure? I did have the distinct thought at the time that maybe the effort to be happy was just too much work and I just didn’t have it in me. Luckily, for me, my wife is very patient. And understanding. And willing to challenge my view of the world.

I also had one thing to grasp hold of – I was still better off than when I had originally started. So I built on that and kept working. I was patient with my mistakes and accepted that I had forty years of habits to change. And that’s what I said to Hill on the hike when she asked me what I was grateful for. I’m grateful that I didn’t give up. I’m grateful I made real, meaningful change. Despite still having down days and tough times, the lows are not nearly as low. And I’m so much happier in life.

At the end of his book, Haidt summarizes three things that are necessary for people to find happiness in this life – love, purpose, and divinity. 

Love – The Harvard study which has tracked a group of men from the time of college through the end of their lives (and subsequently their children/grandchildren) found that meaningful relationships were the most important predictor of happiness. It is critical for us to commit to the most important people in our lives and cultivate those relationships with our time and sacrifice.

Purpose – We need something in life greater than ourselves. We must find a purpose that lifts us from the day to day grind, and inspires us to want to be better and contribute value to the world. While I’m not sure the universe will guide you to this, take the time to find something that gives your life meaning.

Divinity – I thought this one was interesting as Jonathan Haidt is an atheist. Despite that, he states that without something to bring us a sense of awe and wonder we are stuck in a two-dimensional world. Whether it is God, the universe, or some other higher power, we need to add a third dimension and make our lives more deep and meaningful. 

I thought that was such a fantastic insight into happiness that gives direction on where to focus your efforts. I’d love to hear what your favorite and most important self-help books are, and what meaningful change they have helped you to make. Please feel free to comment below.

And if you like what you have read the last couple weeks, please feel free to share my website and newsletter with others. Once we hit one hundred subscribers I’m going to give away one of my favorite books. 

  • Jennifer Bishop
    2 years ago
    Thank you for this! It’s all in our choice of attitude to see the world as well, people trying their best where they are at and to tune into the energy of Love, the highest vibration. Dr. Wayne Dyer, The Power of Intention.
    • Nate
      2 years ago
      Thanks Jennifer! I'll check out Dr Dyer for sure.
  • Angie
    2 years ago
    I love your insight and recap on these self help books. I am excited to read these. I haven’t read a whole lot of self help books. But I just finished a book called Better Than Happy by Jody Moore. She is a life coach and her whole book is bringing divinity to conscious thinking. Now my goal is to make a conscious effort to remember the teachings and incorporate them into daily life.
    • Nate
      2 years ago
      Thanks Angie! I'm grateful that you would take the time to share your thoughts 😊. My wife really admires Jody Moore and has listened to a lot of her coaching calls. But I do like that thought of divinity and I'll have to check out that book. For me Solve for Happy was 11/10. The Happiness Hypothesis was a tough slog, but there were some good gems throughout. Tough to know how I would rate that one.
  • Nic
    2 years ago
    Great post. I like the two other books by Haidt that I’ve read and I’ll have to check out the one you referenced. It seems different approaches seem to work for different people. I’m very rational so the approach in your post would likely be best for me. I love your insight. Thanks
    • Nate
      2 years ago
      Thanks Nic. I think you would like The Happiness Hypothesis knowing your analytical style. I will say that while there were some great insights throughout the book, it definitely got bogged down at times in the research and data. So, tough for me to decide on how much I loved it.