How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life: An Unexpected Guide to Human Nature and Happiness


What is the book “How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life” about?

Many thinkers of the past tried to find out what does “to live a good life” mean. They thought over questions how to become happy and make our world a better place to live. The popularity of books on self-improvement and psychology clearly proves the actuality of such questions in the modern world.

More than 250 years ago, Scottish economist and philosopher Adam Smith set these questions in his book “The Theory of Moral Sentiments”. It was an author’s attempt to describe the moral’s nature. Smith tried to explain why people sometimes demonstrate an altruistic behavior, even if it is against their own interests. The book was a mixture of ideas of psychology, philosophy and what we now call behavioral economics. It also contained Smith’s thoughts about friendship, the pursuit of wealth and aspiration to happiness and virtue. Besides, the author describes the term “good life“ and how to reach it.

Unlike another work of Smith, which is called “An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations”, “The Theory of Moral Sentiments” is almost unknown to readers, though both are based on many common ideas.

Russ Roberts discovered this book already being an acknowledged economist. It changed his view of other people and himself.

Roberts notes that Smith helped him understand why we love celebrities very much while so many famous, beautiful and rich people are very unhappy; why we are so prone to new and expensive things, which never make us really happy; why when we tell strangers about our problems, it becomes easier to us; why we refrain from doing bad things when we have all possibilities to do the opposite; and what is the pledge of the true happiness.

Summary and 10 Ideas of “How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life”

Idea №1. Love to ourselves lies on the basis of our actions. However, it doesn’t mean we always act according to only our own interests.

Idea №2. To feel oneself happy, one should not only be beloved and receive what he or she wants but also be confident that he or she deserves this.

Idea №3. Our desire to be loved by somebody is so strong that we deceive ourselves and do what brings us pleasure, but not things, which are considered right from the point of view of our inner observer.

Idea №4. The obsession to have more and more is the source of the permanent unhappiness.

Idea №5. Adam Smith had an answer to the question how to be a person who deserves to be loved.  

Idea №6. Valor has many manifestations. Anyway, its basis consists of prudence, justice, and good deeds.

Idea №7. Every day we can do things that make our world a better place to live.

Review “How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life”

The language of the book “The Theory of Moral Sentiments” may seem somewhat dry and old-fashioned, but thanks to the great work of Russ Roberts, today’s reader may again discover a wisdom of the Scottish economist, philosopher, and founder of economic theory. Adam Smith’s ideas remain as actual nowadays as they were 250 years ago. People are still concerned about wealth, envy the celebrities, go crazy because of new gadgets, pretend to be someone they are not, set ambition world-improving goals and hurt friends and relatives, feel unhappy once reaching desired aims and fall into depression.

Russ Roberts cites the words that he remembered about economics, which study things helping get the maximum of the life. Nevertheless, this thought concerns not only money and pleasures. To get the maximum, you need to make the right choice. Making the right choice, in its turn, means a good understanding of ourselves and people around us. This is what the Adam Smith’s book teaches its reader.

Pros and Cons:

  • Simple and logical presentation and deep ideas, which will help you better understand yourself and other people and revise many of your beliefs.
  • The relative drawback – the book is not easy to read, despite simple presentation.

About Author Russ Roberts

Author of the book How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life: An Unexpected Guide to Human Nature and HappinessRussell David “Russ” Roberts (born September 19, 1954) is a research fellow at the Stanford University Hoover Institution, known for reporting economics to non-economists as the host of the EconTalk podcast. Roberts was awarded B.A. in economics in 1975 from the University of North Carolina and a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Chicago in 1981 for a thesis on the design of government broadcast programs under the supervision of Gary Becker.

Roberts also writes in a blog at Hayek Cafe with Donald J. Boudreau at George Mason University in Fairfax County, Virginia. He published the novel The Invisible Heart, which conveys economic ideas in the context of the story. In 2008, Roberts published another novel, The Price of Everything, which refers to concepts such as direct ordering, price gouging and a market economy in crisis situations.

Watch and listen to his thoughts about the book “How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life”


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