The one sentence summary

Our maddening urge always to find happiness only serves to make us unhappier, and too much of a good thing (money, entertainment and the internet) can psychologically eat us alive.


  • We are a culture in need of hope. The author’s definition of hope is a motivation towards something perceived as valuable, sometimes described as purpose or meaning.
  • The opposite of happiness is not anger or sadness – it’s hopelessness, an endless grey horizon of resignation and indifference.
  • This is the Uncomfortable Truth of life: one day you and everyone you love will die, and beyond a small group of people for a brief period of time, little of what you say or do will ever matter.
  • Hope narratives give our lives a sense of purpose, implying that there is something better in the future. These are before/after stories.
  • The paradox of progress is that the better things get, the more anxious and desperate we seem to feel.
  • To build and maintain hope, we need a sense of control (the feeling that we can affect our fate), a belief in the value of something (worth striving for), and a community (being part of a group trying to achieve something).
  • Our Feeling Brain wins over our Thinking Brain every time. We are moved to action only by emotion. (This is effectively the same as Kahneman’s System 1 and 2 theory).
  • For every action there is an equal and opposite emotional reaction.  This is called equalization. Sadness is powerlessness to make up for a perceived loss. Anger is the desire to equalise through force and aggression. Happiness is liberation from pain. Guilt is feeling that you deserve some pain that never arrived. Our self-worth equals the sum of our emotions over time, and our identity will stay our identity until a new experience acts against it.


  • If you want to start your own religion: sell hope to the hopeless; choose your faith; pre-emptively invalidate all criticism or outside questioning; create ritual sacrifices; promise heaven, deliver hell; make a profit out of it.
  • Human pain is like a game of Whac-A-Mole: every time you knock down one kind of pain, another one pops up.
  • According to Kant, the supreme value in the universe is the thing that conceives of value itself. The only true meaning in existence is the ability to form meaning.
  • We have a modern maturity crisis. By definition, extremists are essentially childish. The maturity of our culture is deteriorating.
  • In the Blue Dot Effect, the more we look for threats, the more we find them. This is based on research where over time people eventually begin to see things that aren’t there.
  • There are two ways to create value in a marketplace:
  • Innovations: upgrade or replace pain with a more tolerable one.
  • Diversions: numb or avoid pain, usually through delay.
  • The internet doesn’t work because it was designed to spread information, but the world runs on feelings, not information.
  • Technology has liberated much of the planet from poverty and tyranny, but it has created a new type of tyranny: an empty meaningless variety, a never-ending stream of unnecessary options.


  • As you might guess from the title, a lot of the material is quite depressing, and the ending doesn’t really offer much by way of optimism.