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Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert

Stumbling on Happiness (2006)

by Daniel Gilbert

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As a book, I didn't expect this to have cutting-edge research. As a popular book, I didn't expect it to be dry and technical.

It met both of these criteria, and I can't honestly say that I was disappointed with it. It's written in an entertaining if slightly condescending style. Most of the material was not new to me—I'd done a lot of reading online about these topics already.

It did stimulate a lot of interesting thoughts during a week when I felt more like reading books than blog posts, although I'm not sure if any of them stuck. However, I can't help but feel that it should be possible to give more information about the actual studies and let the reader make up their own mind about what conclusions are warranted, even in a popular science book. There is little mention of how strong an effect is or whether there are other possible explanations.

The big secret advice at the end is to take an outside view—that is, assume you aren't special and are in fact equal to the statistical average of other people. (The author describes this as advice almost no one will take, even though it would make them more accurate.) Fair enough; many people probably haven't really considered the outside view. But the lack of accommodation for actual knowledge of one's own differences from the statistical average make the advice seem extreme, and I fear will lead readers to reject it wholesale.

I don't know of a better book, so I can't say reading this is a bad idea for someone who's not familiar with the research suggesting we make systematic errors in forecasting what will make us happy. Just be aware of some of the pitfalls. ( )
  Kenoubi | Sep 6, 2014 |
This is an enjoyable book, at times laugh-aloud funny, but always serious. The topics he covers have been covered before, but I can't remember the last time I enjoyed reading about them so much.

Gilbert states that we often don't really know what makes us happy; that we often do things believing they will make us happy, but we misjudge because we base our future on the memories of our past. Often, those memories are unreliable. These thoughts aren't new, but the way Gilbert presents them is and it is worth the laughs you'll get to read them.

It did slow down a little toward the end, the density of the information building, but Gilbert does a good job of keeping it accessible and fun. ( )
  homericgeek | Jul 26, 2014 |
We are not good at estimating how happy we will be in the future, and our mind also distorts our memories from the past. Fascinating subject, but I found the book boring, maybe because much of the stuff has become well known. Not finished. ( )
  ohernaes | Apr 24, 2014 |
An interesting look at what makes us happy by an author who concludes that the reason happiness is so difficult to attain is that it's practically impossible to define. When you don't know what you are looking for, how do you know when you've found it? ( )
  alexann | Mar 10, 2014 |
About a third of the way in I realized I had read this before, but I liked it enough (again) to finish it (again)! What interested me this time is all the experiments, how each one is crafted and recrafted to try to isolate one aspect of how our brains work so that each new piece of information can be gathered together and give us a bigger picture. And when we see the bigger picture, it's frustrating to admit that we're not as smart as we'd like to think we are! ( )
  MelissaZD | Jan 1, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 74 (next | show all)
Gilbert has a serious argument to make about why human beings are forever wrongly predicting what will make them happy. Because of logic-processing errors our brains tend to make, we don't want the things that would make us happy — and the things that we want (more money, say, or a bigger house or a fancier car) won't make us happy.
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One cannot divine nor forecast the conditions that will make happiness; one only stumbles upon them by chance, in a lucky hour, at the world's end somewhere, and holds fast to the days, as to fortune and fame.

Will Cather, "Le Lavandou," 1902
For Oli, under the apple tree
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Priests vow to remain celibate, physicians vow to do no harm, and letter carriers vow to swiftly complete their appointed rounds despite snow, sleet, and split infinitives.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0007183135, Paperback)

Do you know what makes you happy? Daniel Gilbert would bet that you think you do, but you are most likely wrong. In his witty and engaging new book, Harvard professor Gilbert reveals his take on how our minds work, and how the limitations of our imaginations may be getting in the way of our ability to know what happiness is. Sound quirky and interesting? It is! But just to be sure, we asked bestselling author (and master of the quirky and interesting) Malcolm Gladwell to read Stumbling on Happiness, and give us his take. Check out his review below. --Daphne Durham

Guest Reviewer: Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell is the author of bestselling books Blink and The Tipping Point, and is a staff writer for The New Yorker.

Several years ago, on a flight from New York to California, I had the good fortune to sit next to a psychologist named Dan Gilbert. He had a shiny bald head, an irrepressible good humor, and we talked (or, more accurately, he talked) from at least the Hudson to the Rockies--and I was completely charmed. He had the wonderful quality many academics have--which is that he was interested in the kinds of questions that all of us care about but never have the time or opportunity to explore. He had also had a quality that is rare among academics. He had the ability to translate his work for people who were outside his world.

Now Gilbert has written a book about his psychological research. It is called Stumbling on Happiness, and reading it reminded me of that plane ride long ago. It is a delight to read. Gilbert is charming and funny and has a rare gift for making very complicated ideas come alive.

Stumbling on Happiness is a book about a very simple but powerful idea. What distinguishes us as human beings from other animals is our ability to predict the future--or rather, our interest in predicting the future. We spend a great deal of our waking life imagining what it would be like to be this way or that way, or to do this or that, or taste or buy or experience some state or feeling or thing. We do that for good reasons: it is what allows us to shape our life. And it is by trying to exert some control over our futures that we attempt to be happy. But by any objective measure, we are really bad at that predictive function. We're terrible at knowing how we will feel a day or a month or year from now, and even worse at knowing what will and will not bring us that cherished happiness. Gilbert sets out to figure what that's so: why we are so terrible at something that would seem to be so extraordinarily important?

In making his case, Gilbert walks us through a series of fascinating--and in some ways troubling--facts about the way our minds work. In particular, Gilbert is interested in delineating the shortcomings of imagination. We're far too accepting of the conclusions of our imaginations. Our imaginations aren't particularly imaginative. Our imaginations are really bad at telling us how we will think when the future finally comes. And our personal experiences aren't nearly as good at correcting these errors as we might think.

I suppose that I really should go on at this point, and talk in more detail about what Gilbert means by that--and how his argument unfolds. But I feel like that might ruin the experience of reading Stumbling on Happiness. This is a psychological detective story about one of the great mysteries of our lives. If you have even the slightest curiosity about the human condition, you ought to read it. Trust me. --Malcolm Gladwell

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:00:53 -0400)

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Why are lovers quicker to forgive their partners for infidelity than for leaving dirty dishes in the sink? Why do patients remember long medical procedures as less painful than short ones? Why do home sellers demand prices they wouldn't dream of paying if they were home buyers? Why does the line at the grocery store always slow down when we join it? In this book, Harvard psychologist Gilbert describes the foibles of imagination and illusions of foresight that cause each of us to misconceive our tomorrows and misestimate our satisfactions. Using the latest research in psychology, cognitive neuroscience, philosophy, and behavioral economics, Gilbert reveals what we have discovered about the uniquely human ability to imagine the future, our capacity to predict how much we will like it when we get there, and why we seem to know so little about the hearts and minds of the people we are about to become.--From publisher description.… (more)

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