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Surprising Science

The Key to Happiness: Our Subconscious

The real reason why we succeed in our relationships and careers is the strength of our unconscious, according to David Brooks, who wants to unravel the power of our inner voice. 

What’s the Latest Development?

In his new book, The Social Animal: A Story of How Success Happens, David Brooks takes to redefining the subconscious away Freud and Jung, who took the view that bubbling beneath the surface was a mad collage of sexual urges. For Brooks, the subconscious is a subtle and perceptive faculty: a composite of our inner emotions, intuitions, character traits and biases. And thanks to recent research, only now are we beginning to appreciate the depth of this difficult-to-detect influence. “It’s like we are living in a house and we always knew there was a basement level,” Brooks explains, “but now we are discovering that there are 8,000 storeys of basement down there.”

What’s the Big Idea?

According to Brooks, everything we know about happiness is wrong. We think bliss will follow from a big income even though research clearly shows there is a point of diminishing returns. We think freedom and individuality, certainly considered values of our day, will confer happiness on us, but research shows marriage is a far more important determiner of how happy we will be. The most important factor in being happy, it turns out, is having personal connections with a wider community of people. “Joining a club that meets once a month produces the same happiness gain as doubling your income,” says Brooks. “It’s all about the number of people you associate with and how intimately you associate with them.”


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