New review at New Scientist magazine!

Our deluded minds are just trying to make us happy

David Robson, feature editor

LET there be no mistake: nothing that you remember, think or feel is as it seems. Your memories are mere figments of your imagination and your decisions are swayed by irrational biases. Your emotions reflect the feelings of those around you as much as your own circumstances.

In What Makes Your Brain Happy, David DiSalvo takes us on a whistle-stop tour of our mind's delusions. No aspect of daily life is left untouched: whether he is exploring job interviews, first dates or the perils of eBay, DiSalvo will change the way you think about thinking.

DiSalvo's talk in his title of "happy brains" has little to do with joy and well-being, though. Instead, it is shorthand for our grey matter's tendency to choose the path of least resistance. When explaining confirmation bias, for instance, DiSalvo cites brain scans showing that we treat conflicting information as if it is a physical threat. As a result, we choose the "happier" option of ignoring details that don't fit our views.

DiSalvo admits in his introduction that the happy brain metaphor is "intentionally oversimplified". Indeed, by the end of the book it has been stretched dangerously thin. In a chapter on imitation, for example, he tells us that "a happy brain is happy to copy". But an "unhappy" brain is just as big a copycat - that is how our mirror neurons work, whatever our mood.

If you can ignore these glitches, What Makes Your Brain Happy is an enjoyable manual to your psyche that may change your life. As DiSalvo says: "The brain is a superb miracle of errors, and no one, except the brainless, is exempt."

Posted on November 19, 2011 .