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TOP 500 REVIEWERon November 28, 2008
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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on 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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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. Part of the reason for this comes from what studies have shown the brain to be doing "behind our backs". Because the multitude of sensory inputs and body function regulation roles keep the brain so busy, it often has to make judgements based on incomplete information. Among the choices it faces, the mind may settle on something positive whether or not factual or complete supportive information is available. That is what our "consciousness" perceives and considers valid. Even new information may not dislodge this choice from our consideration. How "individual" this selection process is has been borne out by studies of twins - even conjoined twins, who certainly ought to reflect common thoughts for what gives pleasure. It is clear, therefore, that judging our own happiness or that of others is fraught with the likelihood of error. Delusion about what brings happiness isn't merely a possibility. It's fundamental to how we handle values.

The other side of this coin is why our approach to happiness appears to be a human universal. The mechanisms that lead us to consider happiness arose with the enlargement of our frontal cortex beginning some two million years ago. Although that sounds like a long time, it's an "eyeblink in the evolutionary time scale". The brain's new capacities gave us the power to imagine. "Imagination", Gilbert argues, is the ability to fabricate a mental image of the future. We have an ability no other creature possesses. We can ponder options, imagine scenarios, consider various paths to follow. We can thus consider what will make us happy. Regrettably, we are unable to choose accurately, because that same cognitive power grants the brain the means to select ways and means with no real capacity for choosing reliably.

Gilbert's conclusion to all the research he's summarised is necessarily vague. After all, we aren't dealing with physical trauma or human values in this survey. The topic is how we view our wishes and desires. It's not the sort of thing we feel is normally amenable to analysis or correction. It's a very individual view. Or is it? Gilbert finds that the multitude of "self-help" books might have something to say to us after all. They reflect, he says, a set of things we all hold dear and wish to achieve. While we all treasure our uniqueness, it turns out that people in similar circumstances pretty much strive for similar aims. There are no formulas to follow to achieve happiness. We can only imagine what we would like to have or be, and can only reflect on past endeavours and rewards gained. Our big brains, he concludes, with all its powers, can best be used to allow us to understand what makes us stumble into happiness. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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on July 10, 2012
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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on April 1, 2014
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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on August 5, 2010
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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on February 17, 2015
This was one of the best books I've ever read, and I don't say that often. It was exceptionally well-written, full of humor, but most importantly, the ideas discussed were truly brilliant. This book offered insight into why our memories of the past are flawed, how our present state affects both our view of the past and predictions about the future, and how our predictions about what will make us happy are prone to error. Most importantly, he not only raises questions, but also offers some answers and suggestions at the end of the book.

I read this book and have a better understanding of myself and about the world - and, again, I can only say that about a handful of books I've ever read. I congratulate the author, and hope for more books from him in the future.
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on July 8, 2013
Like learning things. There was a lot of enlightenment in this book.
Enjoyed the style of writing.
Information was presented very effectively.
Will re-read a few times... because I trust my memory less than before reading this one.
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on February 25, 2014
This book rattles around in my mind like so much trivia. There are so many things that will stick with me from this. I am grateful every day that I am reminded of the ways in which my expectations of happiness do not match my experience. And that is just one of the takeaways. I feel that it is important to understand the way that our mind works. It is not always intuitive, but with books like this, it becomes a little easier to navigate the complex systems from which the very mind we are using to understand it comes from. And if that sounds convoluted, don't listen to me, let GIlbert do the talking.
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on September 26, 2014
A good read, entertaining and informative. Daniel Gilbert is a very amusing writer and the topic is important for understand the human condition.
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