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37 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "How do you feel?"
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...
Published on July 6 2006 by Stephen A. Haines

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27 of 53 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Social Pseudosciences don't make me happy.
I have read and listened to Mr. Gilbert several times in the past few years and I find that just as behavioral sciences tend to stumble through and oversimplify the complexity of the human psyche and human biology, so Mr. Gilbert tends does the same on the subject of happiness.

According to Mr. Gilbert, the research on happiness from cognitive studies,...
Published on Oct. 1 2006 by Michael Flynn


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37 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "How do you feel?", July 6 2006
By 
Stephen A. Haines (Ottawa, Ontario Canada) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Stumbling on Happiness (Hardcover)
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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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 (Los Angeles) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Stumbling on Happiness (Paperback)
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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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I Thought I Knew How To Be Happy, April 1 2007
By 
Michael A. Rousell "Sudden Influence: How Spo... (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Stumbling on Happiness (Paperback)
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best Book Ive Ever Read, July 10 2012
This review is from: Stumbling on Happiness (Paperback)
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
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This review is from: Stumbling on Happiness (Hardcover)
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
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This review is from: Stumbling on Happiness (Paperback)
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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4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, Feb. 25 2014
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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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5.0 out of 5 stars Well written. Brings a better understanding of what we are., July 8 2013
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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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5.0 out of 5 stars Changes your perspective on life, Nov. 20 2010
By 
Stephane Gervais (Quebec, Quebec Canada) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Stumbling on Happiness (Paperback)
This book helped me a lot in grounding myself in the present by showing us how bad we are at predicting the future.
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27 of 53 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Social Pseudosciences don't make me happy., Oct. 1 2006
By 
Michael Flynn (Ottawa) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Stumbling on Happiness (Hardcover)
I have read and listened to Mr. Gilbert several times in the past few years and I find that just as behavioral sciences tend to stumble through and oversimplify the complexity of the human psyche and human biology, so Mr. Gilbert tends does the same on the subject of happiness.

According to Mr. Gilbert, the research on happiness from cognitive studies, psychology, and economists tells us that wee are poor predictors of our future mental states. Sheesh! All of this data and research to remind us of the thing that many have already known for thousands of years: that what we imagine to be a tragedy is seldom as tragic as our imaginings just as what we imagine to be a gloriously happy experience is seldom as glorious as our imaginings...a state of mind most apparent for anyone who has ever spent a couple of hours among children at Christmas and Birthdays.

Among the questionable assertions from Mr. Gilbert is the claim that having children doesn't make parents more `happy'. When asked during a radio interview to explain why so many parents claim that they are much happier because of their children he claims that if we measure the amount of time parents are happy compared to when they are not, then we can claim that on the balance, children don't make parents happier. Of course, I don't believe any parent wouldn't agree that parenting is hard work... and parenting involves more moments of hard work than moments of fun and frolic with the kids. However, contrary to the old adage that hard work yields greater reward, Mr. Gilbert would have us believe that if we are finding the work hard, it must follow that we are not particularly happy with the work. In the end, one is left wondering just what Mr. Gilbert means by the word `Happiness' in the first place.

As a physicist and science educator, I don't place much scientific stock in the rather over-inflated claims of the `behavioral sciences'. More often than not the mental states that are being studied are subjective, ill-defined, and the variables are incalculably complex and difficult to control. To make matters worse, the scientists often simultaneously rely on human experience to collect data only to conclude that human experience is an unreliable apparatus for data collection. Not that you'd ever hear that from the behaviorists. I think Mr. Gilbert himself summed up the problems with this area of research himself when he was discussing the matter with the Dali Lama in response to the claim that Buddhism seeks to eliminate negative emotional states through meditation. `You know what we call a species with no negative emotions (fear, etc)?' asks Mr. Gilbert rhetorically... `Extinct'. `We have emotions for good reason', claims Mr. Gilbert, `you shouldn't be happy when you step in front of a [moving] bus.' One wonders how much more successful the amoeba, cockroach, and dandelion might have been today had they been blessed with the benefit of (what Mr. Gilbert also calls unreliable) human emotions? Such is the regular and usually circular rambling of the Church of Social Darwinism. I just hope no one mistakes it for science.

Mike Flynn - Ottawa
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Stumbling on Happiness
Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert (Hardcover - 2006)
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