Notes: If you are so smart, why aren't you happy?


I just downloaded Raj Raghunathan's book "If you are so smart, why aren't you happy?" on Audible.

Positive thinking is like taking a mint for your bad breath; it treats the symptom, not the cause.

-Paraphrased from Raj Raghunathan on positivity bias

I thought this would be that kind of book where you can passively listen. It is not. I just finished the introduction, and one of the main points Raj makes is that a deliberate effort to practice the concepts in the book is required. Hence, me writing a blog post (to be extended over the course of the book). He also mentioned the importance of taking time for each of the seven chapters - to be able to practice and understand what has been said.

My plan went out the door, as I had hoped to almost binge-listen the entire book. But when it comes to happiness quality beats quantity (I guess).

During the book I will be surveyed three times, so I can recognize an eventual change in my hapiness.

Here we go!

Chapter 1

What do we really want? If a genie granted you three wishes, what would they be? Now make a concious effort to actually understand what this question means. Dicard all "smart" hacks, such as granting infinite wishes; that is not the point. In a lot of cases people tend to answer something like this:

  1. Money.
  2. Fullfilling relationships.
  3. ??? (Other)

It is kind of interesting because my answers were different;

  1. Happiness
  2. Integrity
  3. Serenity

A lot of people tend to fool themselves. It is very uncommon to write down happiness because of a few reasons;

  • It is not measurable
  • You do not know what it is

In most cases it is actually what you want. "I want infinite money, so I can retire early and go fishing in Mexico". Why not become a Fisher in Mexico right now and skip the money? (Reference to Wall Street Fisher)

The Fundamental Happiness Paradox

On the one hand people think happiness is very, very important to them, so therefore you would think that they ought to be making decisions are consistent with that, but when we observe their decisions, a good 50-60 percent of the time they are sacrificing happiness for the sake of other things as they go about their daily lives, in little small ways, and even in big ways.

This could be prioritizing a different pizza because it has more topping, hence getting more bang for the buck, instead of the pizza with the single topping, which you enjoy more. A single case of such a thing might not be a big deal; the problem is when you systematically compromise the small pieces of happiness. When you constantly value money efficiency over happiness.

The Fluency Effect

Happiness is a hard concept to grasp, which is the reason we tend to wish for money instead, as it is a concept which is easy to grasp.

The first exercise which Raj provides is to define what happinness is to you, as to avoid the fluncy effect. This exercise need many revisions, but after a while you will have a good sense of what actually makes you happy. Pro tip: sign up for the daily reminder email for this exercise.

Chapter 2 - Chasing superiority

Raj mentions a few ways which we can usually identify with happiness:

  • Love/connection
    • To feel loved and having mutual understanding
  • Joy
    • Yaaay, jumping around and feeling good.
  • Authentic pride
    • Accomplishment oriented, related to self-esteem. Pride in accomplishing something.
  • Hubristic pride
    • Arrogance, narcissism and superiority
  • Harmony
    • Think your average Buddhist monk
  • Abundance
    • To enjoy the things which you have. Not exclusively materialistic.
  • Serenity
    • Think "the calm before the storm"
  • Gratitude
    • Being thankful towards others
  • Interest
    • "Oh, this is so cool/interesting"
  • Awe
    • Amazed by the greatness of something. Admiration of something/someone's power.

Pride is not bad

Chasing superiority. This is something many of us do. It is nothing to be ashamed of. It is, however, counterintuitive. Superiority makes us happy, via hubristic pride. "I am above other people". To be above someone makes us happy. If we actively work for it, we do not feel happy.

  • We will never feel satisfied - There is always another level

3 rules of giving

  • Limit the cost of giving - don't exhaust yourself
  • See the resultat of giving
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