which intrigued me so much at Wharton that I scored the highest on the
pooled Management1 Final Exam, prompting Prof. Paul Schoemaker to award me an A+!
subtext: Christians aspire to get around this by imagining a "certain" and great "final outcome"! QED
Guest Reviewer: Malcolm Gladwell
Malcolm Gladwell is the author of bestselling books Blink and The Tipping Point, and is a staff writer for The New Yorker.
Several years ago, on a flight from New York to California, I had the good fortune to sit next to a psychologist named Dan Gilbert. He had a shiny bald head, an irrepressible good humor, and we talked (or, more accurately, he talked) from at least the Hudson to the Rockies--and I was completely charmed. He had the wonderful quality many academics have--which is that he was interested in the kinds of questions that all of us care about but never have the time or opportunity to explore. He had also had a quality that is rare among academics. He had the ability to translate his work for people who were outside his world.
Now Gilbert has written a book about his psychological research. It is called Stumbling on Happiness, and reading it reminded me of that plane ride long ago. It is a delight to read. Gilbert is charming and funny and has a rare gift for making very complicated ideas come alive.
Stumbling on Happiness is a book about a very simple but powerful idea. What distinguishes us as human beings from other animals is our ability to predict the future--or rather, our interest in predicting the future. We spend a great deal of our waking life imagining what it would be like to be this way or that way, or to do this or that, or taste or buy or experience some state or feeling or thing. We do that for good reasons: it is what allows us to shape our life. And it is by trying to exert some control over our futures that we attempt to be happy. But by any objective measure, we are really bad at that predictive function. We're terrible at knowing how we will feel a day or a month or year from now, and even worse at knowing what will and will not bring us that cherished happiness. Gilbert sets out to figure what that's so: why we are so terrible at something that would seem to be so extraordinarily important?
In making his case, Gilbert walks us through a series of fascinating--and in some ways troubling--facts about the way our minds work. In particular, Gilbert is interested in delineating the shortcomings of imagination. We're far too accepting of the conclusions of our imaginations. Our imaginations aren't particularly imaginative. Our imaginations are really bad at telling us how we will think when the future finally comes. And our personal experiences aren't nearly as good at correcting these errors as we might think.
I suppose that I really should go on at this point, and talk in more detail about what Gilbert means by that--and how his argument unfolds. But I feel like that might ruin the experience of reading Stumbling on Happiness. This is a psychological detective story about our [deFECTive psychology! /js] one of the great mysteries of our lives. If you have even the slightest curiosity about the human condition, you ought to read it. Trust me. --Malcolm Gladwell
246 of 269 people found the following review helpful:A pretty happy read- but not as happy as you think it is going to be, May 6, 2006
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.
90 of 104 people found the following review helpful:This Too Will Pass, May 6, 2006
0 of 3 people found the following review helpful:Practical, scholarly approach to finding happiness, August 2, 2006
If you're like me, there have been times in your life when you have wanted to just give up on happiness. But Gilbert shows that happiness is attainable in ways that we may not expect.
Gilbert shows why we seek happiness, and gives practical on how to "stumble" upon it. This book has given me insights that I never even imagined.
Another book on this topic I'd recommend is: "Christmas Gifts, Christmas Voices" by John Allen. It's more than just a Christmas story. It shows how kind acts and service to others are the real keys to lasting happiness.
Also: the classic "As A Man Thinketh" by James Allen. (Are James and John related?)
| Enjoyable read, a bit scant in application, July 28, 2006 |
The example he uses in order to show how people tend to dwell on the ending, rather than the overall experience is his enjoyment of the movie, "Schindler's List." He recalled that he hated the movie, while his wife recalled that he liked it. Of course he was offended that someone would tell him what he liked or disliked, which presumable only he would know best. So they watched the movie over again. The result? They were both right. Gilbert thoroughly enjoyed the movie, until the end. He found the way it ended distasteful, and that was what he remembered. His wife remembered that he enjoyed the majority of the movie.
The book is filled with examples from real life and from various research studies that show how people's perceptions can often be illogical. For example, people tended to prefer a longer immersion in unpleasantly cold water, that ends with a slightly less unpleasantly cold water, over a shorter immersion in the same unpleasantly cold water that does not include the slightly warmer finish. The preference for the prolonged suffering shows the human tendency to concentrate on the ending, rather than the overall experience.
He also goes on to show how human ability to perdict how they are going to feel about future events often are inaccurate. People make poor decision about their lives because their inability to imagine the future accurately. It was found that people were much more accurate in their predictions about how they would like or dislike future event when they interviewed people who were presently going through the event that they were contemplating for the future.
Just like Gilbert's conclusions about "Schindler's List," I felt where this book fell a bit short was in the ending, in telling the reader how to implement all these finding to make their lives happier and better. He seems to have only one take away in term of application of the principles: rather than imagining the future, ask someone who is experiencing the very thing you are thinking of doing. Thinking of a career change? Ask someone who is going through a career change. While this advice is helpful, I felt there could have been more in the way of "how to." The "how to" section was very short, and only mentioned this interview method. I would like to have seen more in terms of how you should alter your perception of things, so that it is more conducive to happiness.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful:Stumbling on Brilliance, July 26, 2006
Well, to be perfectly honest, the main reason I bought this book was this: Dan Gilbert is a fantastic writer. I knew this from having read many of his scholarly journal articles. In fact, I was so sure that this book would be brilliantly written that I preordered it. And, I was right, it is. However, predicting our likes and the things that will make us happy is not something we're always good at, and that's whole the point of this book.
Just to belabor the brilliance of Dan Gilbert's writing for a second, this quote comes from the Acknowledgements section: "This is the part of the book where the author claims that nobody writes a book by himself and then names all the people who presumably wrote the book for him...Alas, all the people who wrote this book are me, so let me thank those who by their gifts enable me to write the book without them.". That's the kind of witty wordsmithery that you'll find from cover to cover of Stumbling on Happiness.
Very little of the content of this book surprised me, but then again I've spent the best part of the last 13 years studying psychology. What I would expect is that this book will surprise most people, probably because most people make the same mistake economists do; they presume that they, and others, are rational. Stumbling on Happiness successfully highlights many of the limits of human rationality.
In reading this book you will gain a well synthesized and up-to-date look at some of the most interesting research happening in psychology today. And, although every reviewer is at pains to point out this that is not a self-help book, you may just gain some insight into yourself.
For people who enjoyed the insights this book provided about human behaviour, thinking, and emotions I'd recommend the following three books to compliment it: "Intuition" by David Myers, "Strangers to Ourselves" by Tim Wilson, and "The Illusion of Conscious Will" by Daniel Wegner. In addition, lots more examples of Dan Gilbert's fantastic writing (mostly journal articles and book chapters) can be downloaded from his website at Harvard.