Book: “Stumbling on Happiness” by Daniel Gilbert

This book is not only insightful, but very amusing. At times, the author Daniel Gilbert who is an psychology professor at Harvard University, writes as if a comedian. I normally do not read the acknowledgements of a book. But it starts out so funny that I had to read the rest of it as well as the forward.

This book gives lot of concrete examples and results of studies that shows that people often do not know in advanced what will make them happy. Just like the eyes can be fooled by opticial illusions, the minds imagination of the future can be fooled. Just like we can not accurately remember the past, we can not accurately fortell the future or how we would feel if this or that event were to happen.

Our imagination has three shortcomings that we are often not aware of:

a) Realism — The mind fills in a lot of gaps and makes a lot of things up. We tend to forget this and hence our imagination seem more real to us than should give it credit for.

b) Presentism — Our imagination of the future is affected by our current state.

c) Rationalization — We tend to look for things that confirms our belief or than enhances our attitude towards our current state.

We are also often fooled by how and what we look for things. This is summarized on page 183 that says “The brain and the ey may have a contractual relationship in which the brain has agreed to believe what the eye see, but in return the ey has agreed to look for what the brain wants.”

The relationship between wealth and happiness is also very interesting. On page 239, it says “Economists and psychologists have spent decades studying the relation between wealth and happiness, and they have generally concluded that wealth increases human happiness when it lifts people out of abject poverty and into the middle class but that it does little to increase happiness thereafter. Americans who earn $50,000 per year are much happier than those who earn $10,000 per year, but Americans who earn $5 million per year are not much happier than those who earn $100,000 per year.” This is the concept of declining marginal utility of money. When you have none, it makes you happy to have some. But once you have enough, any additional amounts will give you a less and less return on happiness.

To hear more from Daniel Gilbert, watch this video.