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Stumbling on Happiness [Paperback]

Daniel Gilbert
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
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Book Description

March 20 2007
A smart and funny book by a prominent Harvard psychologist, which uses groundbreaking research and (often hilarious) anecdotes to show us why we’re so lousy at predicting what will make us happy – and what we can do about it.

Most of us spend our lives steering ourselves toward the best of all possible futures, only to find that tomorrow rarely turns out as we had expected. Why? As Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert explains, when people try to imagine what the future will hold, they make some basic and consistent mistakes. Just as memory plays tricks on us when we try to look backward in time, so does imagination play tricks when we try to look forward.

Using cutting-edge research, much of it original, Gilbert shakes, cajoles, persuades, tricks and jokes us into accepting the fact that happiness is not really what or where we thought it was. Among the unexpected questions he poses: Why are conjoined twins no less happy than the general population? When you go out to eat, is it better to order your favourite dish every time, or to try something new? If Ingrid Bergman hadn’t gotten on the plane at the end of Casablanca, would she and Bogey have been better off?

Smart, witty, accessible and laugh-out-loud funny, Stumbling on Happiness brilliantly describes all that science has to tell us about the uniquely human ability to envision the future, and how likely we are to enjoy it when we get there.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Not offering a self-help book, but instead mounting a scientific explanation of the limitations of the human imagination and how it steers us wrong in our search for happiness, Gilbert, a professor of psychology at Harvard, draws on psychology, cognitive neuroscience, philosophy and behavioral economics to argue that, just as we err in remembering the past, so we err in imagining the future. "Our desire to control is so powerful, and the feeling of being in control so rewarding, that people often act as though they can control the uncontrollable," Gilbert writes, as he reveals how ill-equipped we are to properly preview the future, let alone control it. Unfortunately, he claims, neither personal experience nor cultural wisdom compensates for imagination's shortcomings. In concluding chapters, he discusses the transmission of inaccurate beliefs from one person's mind to another, providing salient examples of universal assumptions about human happiness such as the joys of money and of having children. He concludes with the provocative recommendation that, rather than imagination, we should rely on others as surrogates for our future experience. Gilbert's playful tone and use of commonplace examples render a potentially academic topic accessible and educational, even if his approach is at times overly prescriptive. 150,000 announced first printing.(May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Anticipating the future, psychologist Gilbert suggests, is the brain's most important function, and the notion of later, a powerful idea. But why not live in the here and now, as many self-help gurus urge? Because, Gilbert says, thinking about the future can be pleasurable; for instance, daydreaming tends to be about success and achievement "rather than fumbling or failing." Citing the research of scientists and philosophers through the ages and incorporating facts and theories from psychology, cognitive neuroscience, philosophy, and behavioral economics, Gilbert discusses the science of happiness, the shortcomings of imagination as well as the illusions of foresight. And far from being a dry tome, the book is a sly, irresistible romp down, or through, memory lane--past, present, and future. It is not only wildly entertaining but also hilarious (if David Sedaris were a psychologist, he very well might write like this) and yet full of startling insight, imaginative conclusions, and even bits of wisdom. June Sawyers
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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Most helpful customer reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another Piece of the Puzzle Nov. 28 2008
By Oliver TOP 500 REVIEWER
Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert offers worthwhile and readable discussion of how our minds work -- and, more importantly, how they sometimes fail. This is not a self-help book, but reading it may well help you understand how your own mind works. It certainly helped me.

Everyone agrees that the human mind is an incredibly complex and powerful device. But it certainly is not perfect. When it does not have all the information -- which, by necessity, is almost always -- it fills in with estimates, guesses and predictions. Usually, the mind is so effective and efficient that we do not even notice. Other times, however, our minds end up fooling themselves, which is to say, us.

Gilbert offers a look behind the curtain of how our mind creates our understanding of the past, the present and the future. In each case, the mind employs different methods, and its vision is therefore subject to different kinds of errors. Our ability to remenber how we felt in the past is less than perfect, Gilbert points out. Our ability to predict how we will feel about an event in the future, however, can be even more misguided.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I Thought I Knew How To Be Happy April 1 2007
Gilbert's expose about how we just don't have a clear path to happiness makes sound sense. I found myself happily reading along, stumbling upon funny anecdote after intriguing illustration. He paints a clear picture, humorously approached, on how happiness happens to us rather than resulting from a planned experience. He's right of course: If we really knew what would make us happy, we'd all be much happier. Oddly enough, learning why and how we blindly search for happiness, often sabotaging our own efforts with ill-conceived plans and ideas, brings us closer to enjoying our lives. After reading his delightfully written and soundly researched gem, I now feel closer to making a path to my own happiness: let happiness erupt and enjoy its fleeting presence.
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38 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "How do you feel?" July 6 2006
By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME TOP 500 REVIEWER
Among the many snappy one-liners spicing the "Star Trek" films, this one, issued by a computer to the resurrected Mr Spock, stands out particularly. Then, it seemed a poor joke. Now, a computer posing such a question is no longer a speculative idea. With many studies of the brain's signal intensity of our outlook on various topics, the question, even if posed indirectly, is valid. The problem, as Gilbert explains, is that we really don't have a secure answer. "Happiness", he reminds us, is a complex emotion with countless factors weighing in on how we view it. In this intriguing study, the author brings a wealth of experience and the work of many researchers into this examination of our various ways of considering what makes us "happy".

While this book asks serious questions, recounting how cognitive sciences have revealed some of the answers, this is hardly a ponderous academic study. Gilbert's lively wit ameliorates some of the grim episodes he must use to impart how science has considered these issues. How can a man wrongfully imprisoned for thirty-seven years declare his incarceration "a glorious experience"? More significantly, who are we to judge his viewpoint as "impossible" or "misguided"? Gilbert acknowledges that most of us would view askance such a judgement of a legal mis-judgement. He also contends that both viewpoints are correct - if considered in their actual frame of reference. Our problem is that we have our own views of what comprises happiness, and projecting it on how others should feel is an error. Compounding that situation is that our own view of our own happiness is likely out of whack.

One of the major points this author proposes is that any attempt we make to forecast what will bring us happiness will almost surely prove false.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best Book Ive Ever Read July 10 2012
By scarlet
I loved every page of this book. I caught myself laughing out loud in almost every chapter. Ive spent hours trying to find other books that Daniel Gilbert has written since I enjoyed it so much.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read April 1 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I read this several years ago when it first came out and found it informative and an fun read.
I would also recommend "Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow"
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Stumbled on a good book Aug. 5 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A fascinating read.

Although I purchased this book a while ago, I keep re-reading this book every once in a while to glean new facts and ideas from the book. This book isn't a path to happiness, it's more like a way of identifying the situations that will make you happier. I was surprised (though maybe not so much now) about the number of studies done to figure out what makes people happy and what makes people unhappy.

Daniel Gilbert goes through several studies, not specifically focused on happiness, in order to reveal surprising truths about how we feel. One experiment was based on how you would feel if you got the same order at a restaurant every week or if you got something different. I vaguely remember that conventional wisdom would probably tell you that you would like it if you ordered something different, but the experiment showed that people felt differently about it. In any case, you'll have to read the book for the exact study ;P

Remember, this isn't a book on how to make you happier in life, it's a book that reveals surprising truths about what makes and what doesn't make us happy.
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