Book review: The happy mind

Before I read the book “The Happy Mind”, by Kevin Horsley and Louis Fourie, I already knew that happiness comes from the self and that the building blocks of happiness are things that have no physical form. Things like love, acceptance and beliefs are what give or take away happiness – ultimately. Subtitled “A simple guide to living a happier life starting today”, this book is not the type of book you would expect us to review. But, when trainers talk amongst each other at Target, about how the training went, we sometimes talk about the person(s) on the verge of a burnout – one of the clearest signs of unhappiness. The phrases “the doctor told me to take it easy” and “if only I could switch my head off on Friday” are often uttered during our stress- and self-management training sessions. A happy mind is a wonderful thing and we all deserve happiness. At home, at work and everywhere else. For that reason, this book is exactly the type of book that deserves our attention.

The first three chapters

With “The Happy Mind”, the authors want to “present you with valuable insights and create the private intellectual space for you to consider the subject of personal happiness, and of course to try and convince you that it is within your reach.” Throughout the book there are lots of questions for the reader to answer. Even if you read only half of it, you will have enough material to help you examine your personal happiness, to define what it looks / should look like and lots of things you can do to get your mind happy.

The search for happiness

The general perception is that most people view happiness as the result of something exceptional that should happen to them. They believe happiness is an external phenomenon that crosses your path and changes your life for the better, Kevin and Louis state in the first chapter. Some people rely on an if-then chain reaction (if this happens, I will be happy) to obtain happiness. This leaves them searching for secret doors to happiness, time travelling their way through the day to a happier time and place, and looking at others to give them the happiness they deserve.

Happiness is…

Genuine happiness is a ‘now and here’ skill, the authors write in chapter 2. Happiness exists in the present, not as an accumulation of highs, but as a by-product of how you live your life. According to the authors (they mention research several times in the book but leave it unsourced), happy people share nine common qualities:

  1. They think in a different way
  2. They assume full accountability for their circumstances
  3. They enjoy simple things more
  4. They own up to their future
  5. They are passionately engaged in what they do for a living
  6. They invest in their overall wellness
  7. They have constructive relationships
  8. They harness an optimistic world view
  9. They accept that happiness is a day-to-day effort

From asking “what can I do about this?”, instead of “why does this always happen to me?” to being constructive and decisive, to remaining positive, the chapter goes into more detail for each of the qualities.

The origin of unhappiness

On the other side of the scale, there are the unhappy people. Being unhappy is “not about having more downs than ups. It is about going through life forever desiring something else. It’s a state of lasting discontentment, for different reasons at different times.” Unhappy people have developed destructive thinking patterns, they place blame and are passive bystanders in their own lives. The list goes on – think the exact opposite of the above list to begin with.

‘Why are some of us unhappy?’ It’s our old brain, sociologists claim. We’re unable to control primitive instincts. When we are faced with rejection (not being enough) and scarcity (not having enough), we could be excluded – our old brain tells us. Our “present-day” brain is not in charge when we are faced with such fears. The primitive brain takes over, and it’s fight or flight.

Chapter 4

The next 60+ pages are “a bouquet of hints” for the reader. There are short, individual chapters with tips and advice and if you ask me, the old farmer (p.62) is a smart man. It’s thorough enough though sometimes repetitive. This part of the book is clearly intended for you to take what you want from it – whatever works for you. If you want to have a happy mind and you want to work on that, then here are some ingredients. It’s an important part of the book. However, I found that the pages are difficult to work with for a reader. Luckily, my mind is happy pretty much all the time.

In conclusion

As a passionate happiness practitioner, I was looking forward to reading this book. My ‘search’ for happiness took me along a completely different path, and I was interested to learn more about the thoughts and ideas of the authors. “This book was not meant to be a scientific masterpiece nor an empirical research document. It had a simple aim – to draw your attention to the dynamics of personal happiness”, are the opening words of the final chapter. Even so, for me, the book didn’t go deep enough into its own subject matter but I found there was interesting food for thought on a large number of pages. As I mentioned before, there is no list of sources to refer to when they mention research (pity).

Then again, I don’t really care about that when the book is clearly a very positive contribution to the creation of more happiness. We all deserve to have a happy mind. With a happy mind, we can achieve more. A happy mind is not stressed all the time. A happy mind is forgiving, a happy mind accepts. Sharing happiness creates happiness. Where there is happiness, there is love. Where there is love, there’s no hate. I like the sound of that. Don’t you?


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