Heart-to-heart talk: how to be happy – scientific and religious point of view

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to always tell the difference”
Reinhold Niebuhr, Kurt Vonnegut

Cyprus, 2008.

I’ve been thinking about covering this topic in my blog for a long time and eventually decided to do it. Firstly to structure it all for myself and secondly to share some thoughts and interesting articles & videos which I collected for last couple of years. As a result, this post is quite long and wordy, so don’t open up the full article if you’re not really interested in such kind of philosophical issues and get bored easily by them. In this case you might think that this is just an unpractical gobbledegook.

I actually find the combination of how important and how ambiguous this issue is quite puzzling. Very high percentage of people respond to the question about meaning of their lives with “to be happy” answer. And very few of them actually have any particular idea what this happiness is, how to achieve & feel it. Even in their individual case, not universally.

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Superfreakonomics review

Book with a stupid name Superfreakonomics by Steven Levitt & Stephen Dubner appeared to be quite surprisingly interesting and was listened on my way to work and back home in a week or so. I would probably even say that the sequel is better than the first book – Freakonomics.

Authors position themselves as economists doing research into non-conventional topics. However, I feel that it would be more appropriate to say that book is in the sociology field. Yes, individual & group level economics is often discussed, usually through the prism of decision-making. But in overall it’s more about psychology.

Topics covered are global warming (or cooling?) & ecology, technological & scientific breakthroughs, economics of prostitution, algorithmic search for potential terrorists based on banking activity and human altruism which is covered in more details in video below. In other words, as authors confess themselves, there is no uniting topic.


Superfreakonomics is full of curious facts. For instance, you have statistically higher chances to get into trouble if you walk home drunk then if you drive home drunk.

All topics are presented as stories revolving around particular characters and therefore easily digested. One of the main lessons sounds quite banal and generic: “people respond to incentives, sometimes unpredictably”. However, we forget about it more often than we’d like to think.

You might use this RSA video made from co-author’s speech as a trailer of some sort:

Update 2010.09.22: It turns out they make a movie based on the first book! Trailer is below: