Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Stumbling On Happiness - Book Review

We think we know what will make us happy, and yet sometimes the things we work so hard for bring only brief contentment, if not disappointment or outright misery, if we finally manage to get them. Events that we anticipate will give us joy make us less happy than we think; things that fill us with dread will make us less unhappy, for less long, than we anticipate.

Dan Gilbert’s book Stumbling on Happiness is not about happiness so much as it is about why our pursuit of happiness so often has disappointing results. Dan Gilbert is a Harvard University profesor and an influential researcher in happiness studies and in this book he discuses the biases why we so often misjudge what our future selves will find satisfying.

As evidence, Gilbert cites studies showing that a large majority of people who endure major trauma (wars, car accidents, rapes) in their lives will return successfully to their pre-trauma emotional state as though we're equipped with a hedonic thermostat that is constantly resetting us back to our emotional baseline.

Stumbling on Happiness is a fun and happy read. Stumbling on Happiness is not a self-help book and doesn't give any happiness recipes, but instead is mounting a scientific explanation of the limitations of the human imagination and how it steers us wrong in our search for happiness.  

"A healthy psychological immune system strikes a balance that allows us to feel good enough to cope with our situation but bad enough to do something about it. We need to be defended­ -- not defenseless or defensive­ -- and thus our minds naturally look for the best view of things while simultaneously insisting that those views stick reasonably closely to the facts" (Dan Gilbert, "Stumbling on Happiness" quotes)

"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" (Dan Gilbert, "Stumbling on Happiness" quotes)

This video is a short presentation of the book Stumbling on Happiness and is a good start to change the way you think about things.

Stumbling on Happiness book review from Amazon:

Here are some of the most important points of this book:

1) We often exaggerate in imagining the long- term emotional effects certain events will have on us.
2) Most of us tend to have a basic level of happiness which we revert to eventually.
3) People generally err in imagining what will make them happy.
4) People tend to find ways of rationalizing unhappy outcomes so as to make them more acceptable to themselves.
5) People tend to repeat the same errors in imagining what will make them happy.
6) Events and outcomes which we dread may when they come about turn into new opportunities for happiness.
7) Many of the most productive and creative people are those who are continually unhappy with the world- and thus strive to change it.
8) Happiness is rarely as good as we imagine it to be, and rarely lasts as long as we think it will. The same mistaken expectations apply to unhappiness.

Gilbert makes these points and others with much anecdotal evidence and humor.

A pretty happy read, but not as happy as you think it is going to be.


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