Stop “Stumbling”, Read This Book: A (Short) Review

A Book Review

Gilbert Happiness Front

Stumbling on Happiness
Daniel Gilbert
New York, NY:  Vintage Books (2005)
Paperback, 310 pages
$14.95 (Buy)

I just finished reading Daniel Gilbert’s book, Stumbling on Happiness.  If you are trying to understand how to find happiness in your future (and let’s face it, who isn’t?), then this is the book for you.  While this is no self-help book*, the explanations that are provided of our cognitive functions are more than just helpful to understand, they are fascinating. 

Gilbert, a Harvard psychology professor**, explains how humans have the unique ability to imagine our future selves and yet, despite this great tool, we still make curious decisions.  That is, we miscalculate.  In sum, imagination has three shortcomings:  (1) we fill in and leave out, (2) we project the present onto the future, and (3) we fail to recognize that things will look different once they happen. (These shortcomings are thoroughly examined in sections III, IV, and V and then summarized in pages 247-251.)  With the shortcomings of imagination, what does Gilbert suggest we do to better help us seek future happiness?  Apply the experience of surrogates.  He writes, “when people are deprived of the information that imagination requires and are thus forced to use others as surrogates, they make remarkably accurate predictions about their future feelings, which suggests that the best way to predict our future feelings tomorrow is to see how others are feeling today” (page 251).  On that note, if you are looking for additional reading material, I’d like to suggest you add this book to your future reading list.

If you think the book sounds interesting, also watch Gilbert on TED video where he lectures on “Why are we happy?”

*For self-help, I recommend trying David Burns’ Feeling Good or Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way.
A very interesting aside:  Gilbert was a high school dropout (see also here).


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