Stumbling on Happiness

by Daniel Gilbert

Number of pages: 336

Publisher: AMACOM

BBB Library: Psychology and Strengths

ISBN: 9781400077427

About the Author

Daniel Todd Gilbert is an American social psychologist and writer. He is the Edgar Pierce Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, and is known for his research on affective forecasting.


Editorial Review

We treat our future selves as though they were our children, spending most of the hours of most of our days constructing tomorrows that we hope will make them happy. Rather than indulging in whatever strikes our momentary fancy, we take responsibility for the welfare of our future selves. In fact, just about any time we want something—a promotion, a marriage, an automobile, a cheeseburger—we are expecting that if we get it, then the person who has our fingerprints a second, minute, day, or decade from now will enjoy the world they inherit from us, honoring our sacrifices as they reap the harvest of our shrewd investment decisions and dietary forbearance. Like our own offspring, our temporal progeny are often thankless. They may recognize our good intentions and begrudgingly acknowledge that we did the best we could, but they will inevitably whine about how our best just wasn't good enough for them.

Book Reviews

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.” The New York Times

“Gilbert's book is a witty, racy and readable study of expectation, anticipation, memory and perception: all bits of scaffolding within the structure of happiness. He deals with universal human oddities, such as the blind spot: that patch of the retina where the optic nerve leaves the eye and which therefore cannot register reflected light. The blind spot is no metaphor. It exists. Yet there is no black hole, he reports, "in your otherwise smooth picture of your brother-in-law sitting on the sofa, devouring cheese dip". The brain makes a reasonable guess about the missing bits of the image, and fills in the appropriate detail. So the brain makes stuff up without consulting you.” The Guardian

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Wisdom to Share

When we imagine future circumstances, we fill in details that won’t really come to pass and leave out details that will.

Perhaps we should give up on remembering and imagining entirely and use other people as surrogates for our future selves.

It is only when we cannot change the experience that we look for ways to change our view of the experience.

We are more likely to look for and find a positive view of the things we are stuck with than of the things we are not.

Most of us have ways of making other people confirm our favored conclusions without ever engaging them in conversation.

Our tendency to expose ourselves to information that supports our favored conclusions is especially powerful when it comes to choosing the company we keep.

We cannot do without reality and we cannot do without illusion.

If we were to experience the world exactly as it is, we’d be too depressed to get out of bed in the morning.

Imagination has a hard time telling us how we will think about the future when we get there.

Future events may request access to the emotional areas of your brains, but current events almost always get the right of way.

Pre-feeling often allows us to predict our emotions better than logical thinking does; yet it has limits.

Just as imagination previews objects, so does it pre-feel events.

When the brain imagines, it enlists the aid of its sensory areas when it wants to imagine the sensible features of the world.

If the past is a wall with some holes, the future is a hole with no walls.

Imagination’s products are, well, which is why the imagined future often looks so much like the actual present.

The tendency for current experience to influence one’s views of the past and the future.

When people being asked to imagine the future, there is a whole lot missing, and the things that are missing matter.

Our inattention to absences influences the way that we think about the future.

Things will look different once they happened.

Imagination’s second shortcoming is its tendency to project the present onto the future.

Emotional happiness is the feeling common to the feelings we have when we see our new granddaughter smile for the first time.

We all steer ourselves toward the futures that we think will make us happy.

Unlike the child who can only think about how things are, the adult is able to think about how things will be.

Adults love to ask children idiotic questions so that we can chuckle when they give us idiotic answers.

The human being is the only animal that thinks about the future.

The mistakes we make when we try to imagine our personal futures are like the errors optical illusions induce in our perceptions.

We treat our future selves as though they were our children.

Rather than indulging in whatever strikes our momentary fancy, we take responsibility for the welfare of our future selves.