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I'm wondering how sentences are typically made for the pattern "(some non human thing) makes me/you/etc (reaction)." For example, "reading this book makes me think." Or "going to school makes me happy." I suppose if you directly translated these it would be something using ~させる, like この本読むと考えさせる but I feel like that is usually unnatural in this case. It seems using words like ~たくなる and such are more common. What is the extent of ~させるs usefulness in this case and what is the most natural option?

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You have partly answered your own question. Historically, Japanese has tended not to use an inanimate thing as a subject as if it had its own will. It's usually preferred to rephrase the sentence using a human as the subject. In your examples, you can say:

  • この本を読むと考えさせられる。
    (Literally, "When I read this book, I am made to think." Notice the causative-passive form. この本を読むと考えたくなる means "This books make me feel like thinking deeply", and this may be fine if the book is a certain type of self-help book.)
  • 学校に行くと楽しくなる。
    (Lit. "When I go to school, I become happy.")

The following sentences are not wrong but tend to sound less natural in Japanese:

  • この本は私に考えさせる。
    (Lit. "This book makes me think.")
  • 学校に行くことは私を楽しくさせる。
    (Lit. "Going to school makes me happy.")

See this question for similar examples: In Japanese, can we say an object asks a question?

This is also related: Does 考えさせられる小説 make sense?

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