Review Review Review Review Review

Author: Daniel Gilbert

Stumbling on Happiness

Daniel Gilbert makes a wonderful examination about the “only animal that thinks about the future” in his book “Stumbling on Happiness”.  I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  I generally look for specific actions and books that give a variety of guidance but I must say that this one offers none of that.  What it does do however, is examine what humans are capable of from the thinking perspective and he presents how that can be a huge benefit to our social and life decisions yet at the same time a limiting hindrance in our decisions and thoughts.

Gilbert makes reference to tens of studies and correlates them into a pretty common theme for the book.  Humans are pretty bad at predicting what will make them happy!

I absolutely love Gilbert’s style of writing as there is much subtle humor and jibes toward the general intelligence (or lack thereof) at people’s ability to gauge and plan their own happiness.  He has a very engaging style with this work and leads you around a variety of topics on happiness with scientific studies, personal observations and a lot of intriguing questions to ponder.  He demonstrates how our brains lead us more often than not to obscurity in the future when it comes to happiness and there is little we can do about it, no matter how hard we try.

Subjective Happiness

Another important premise of the book is that happiness is completely subjective.  One person’s idea of extreme happiness can be very different from anothers’.  Not only that but individuals are not even consistent with their own happiness as what may have led to us being extremely happy a year ago or even last week, could be completely different now.  It will also be completely different in the future.  All of our experiences are faded in our memories so what we think we were feeling in the past that made us happy shifts over time in our memories.  Similarly, our imaginations cannot be relied on for future prediction of happiness as it is altered by our memories and tinted by what we are experiencing at the time we imagine it.

Joy of Delusion

The examination that happiness really cannot be predicted, remembered or even repeated leaves us with one option, to enjoy the delusion and understand that happiness is what it is at that time only and will never again be the same so get what you can from it at the time.  We’re incapable of imagining accurately so I’m certainly not going to try to think of happiness in the future.  I’m instead going to enjoy what I can, when i can and know that my experiences are not something I can accurate predict in the future so its rather mute to try.

Some of the things presented in the book and how it affects happiness are:

  • Our minds often exaggerate or filter out content in our memories
  • Imaginations are never accurate predictions since our applied memories always shift
  • People naturally rationalize situations to conclude themselves into some kind of happy state
  • Happiness is rarely as good as we imagine it and it rarely lasts as long as we think it will
  • Things that prevent happiness are often repeated and ignored when searching for happiness

These (and more) are covered in 5 parts just to give you an idea of the various angles he approaches things with.

  1. Prospection
  2. Subjectivity
  3. Realism
  4. Presentism
  5. Rationalization

Anyway, I definitely recommend this book, not so you gain a better understanding of how to be happiness, but more to realize what happiness is not, and how that changes some of your beliefs around happiness that you use to steer your life.  The book is incredibly funny and quite similar to the books, Blink and Freakonomics in study and style.  I’d recommend the unabridged audio version as it’s great fun to hear the author himself putting the emphasis on his content with wit and humor.  I certainly was happy listening to it!

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