We Are All Hypocrites: Changing Behaviours and Mindsets

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been hooked onto the book ‘The Happiness Hypothesis‘, whenever I can squeeze out some time for non-medical reading. It’s fascinating, and has given me more insights into human psychology

the happiness hypothesis

I first came across the book while I was studying up on Tony Hsieh and Zappos. Zappos is an online shoe retailer that is known for its legendary customer service, taking the words ‘the customer is king’ to the next level (they were acquired by Amazon for $1.2 billion in 2009). I was searching for concepts we could apply in our own company culture and product. Tony mentioned in an interview that ‘The Happiness Hypothesis’ was one key book that inspired him in this – so I had to get my hands on it.

I’m only about half-way through, but I’m already impressed with the perceptiveness of the author. He describes observations rather than preaches. No magic bullet here.

I’ve going to succinctly share some bite-sized wisdom on the human mind and behaviours, taking reference from the book.

Imagine that you’re an elephant rider.

The elephant is our subconscious, automatic mind that does most of our everyday work. The rider is our conscious thought.  We can try to guide the elephant towards where we want to go, but if the elephant decides to do something, it’s not going to listen to the rider.

This alludes to why it is so difficult to change behaviours. When you’re hungry, the smell or thought of fried chicken is irresistable, even though we know better.  We often give in.

Winning arguments

When we are involved in a tricky or moral argument, we the rider become more like a lawyer laying out the defense for the elephant.

On any particular topic (say, whether we should institute a minimum wage), we have an immediate sense of what our answer or feelings are – this is the elephant at work. And then our minds attempt to conjure up reasons to explain them.

Hence it is often difficult to win arguments – our expressed explanations may not be the true underlying reasons for our opinions. It could have been a past experience or memory we had, that we might not even active remember.

Which leads in the next point:

We are all hypocrites.

People are naturally hypocritical and biased towards themselves. We are convinced of our virtues and quick to see faults in others. This has been shown in several interesting psychological experiments.

It has also been shown in interviews that people who have committed bad deeds, such as murder, genocide, terrorism, often do not believe that they are doing anything wrong, and that their actions (at the time of misdeed) were justified.


Given such serious flaws, are we still able to achieve lasting peace and harmony within ourselves, and as a human race?

There are a few possible remedies


Pop psychology – an abundant amount of courses that teach you how to ‘win friends and influence people’ – focuses only on the rider. Which is know often isn’t the problem. Meditation, however, trains the elephant, though it can be extremely difficult at the start.

(Personally, I’ve been starting to get into meditation using Headspace, a mobile-app based tool. I do it in 15 minute sessions daily.)


2. Cognitive therapy.

Our automatic thoughts guide us in interpreting the world, but are also full of inherent biases.

When you’re feeling depressed or agitated, write down your thoughts, and identify the cognitive distortions that are present in them (thanks to the elephant). That will help you to reframe your thoughts better.

For example, a concerning thought could be: “He didn’t wave when he saw me this morning. I must be not important to him“. Instead, you could think: ‘He was concentrating on something else at that time and didn’t actually see me‘, which makes it far less personal and hurtful.

3. Prozac.

An anti-depressant.  Apparently it rewires our minds and helps us to see the world through rose-tinted glasses, although I can’t speak from personal experience.



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