“Think you know what makes you happy? This absolutely fantastic book that will shatter your most deeply held convictions about how your own mind works.” —Steven D. Levitt, author of Freakonomics
“A psychological detective story about one of the great mysteries of our lives . . . You ought to read it. Trust me.” —Malcolm Gladwell, author of Blink
“A fascinating new book that explores our sometimes misguided attempts to find happiness.” —Time
“A witty, insightful and superbly entertaining trek through the foibles of human imagination.” —New Scientist
“Gilbert’s book has no subtitle, allowing you to invent your own. I’d call it ‘The Only Truly Useful Book on Psychology I’ve Ever Read.’” —James Pressley, Bloomberg News
Humans are good at planning, communicating, creating, and building; but we suck at previewing our futures, much less controlling them. Harvard psychology professor Daniel Gilbert has spent a lifetime investigating the powers and limits of foresight. In Stumbling on Happiness, he explains why the grass grows greener until you get there and tells us why unhappiness never lasts as long as we think it will. Brilliantly original, yet solidly grounded in science.
Not offering a self-help book, but instead mounting a scientific explanation of the limitations of the human imagination and how it steers us wrong in our search for happiness, Gilbert, a professor of psychology at Harvard, draws on psychology, cognitive neuroscience, philosophy and behavioral economics to argue that, just as we err in remembering the past, so we err in imagining the future. "Our desire to control is so powerful, and the feeling of being in control so rewarding, that people often act as though they can control the uncontrollable," Gilbert writes, as he reveals how ill-equipped we are to properly preview the future, let alone control it. Unfortunately, he claims, neither personal experience nor cultural wisdom compensates for imagination's shortcomings. In concluding chapters, he discusses the transmission of inaccurate beliefs from one person's mind to another, providing salient examples of universal assumptions about human happiness such as the joys of money and of having children. He concludes with the provocative recommendation that, rather than imagination, we should rely on others as surrogates for our future experience. Gilbert's playful tone and use of commonplace examples render a potentially academic topic accessible and educational, even if his approach is at times overly prescriptive. 150,000 announced first printing. (May) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Harvard psychologist Gilbert has won teaching awards and published sf stories as well as academic research articles. Here, he proposes that we are errant predictors of our future feelings: we fail to make ourselves as happy as we could be. Why? A distorted recall of past experience, a tendency to project present feeling into the future, and a reluctance to trust the experience of people who have lived through what is ahead of us. To back up his somewhat elusive thesis, Gilbert draws on a mixed bag of findings (some substantial, others akin to junk food) and conducts rather contrived experiments. Replete with jokes, but ultimately lacking in structure and focus, this book will intrigue psychology buffs only to leave them wondering what happened to the main course. Interest may be strong with a ten-city tour by this sage with tickler, but readers are better served by Gregory Berns's Satisfaction: The Science of Finding True Fulfillment and Jonathan Haidt's The Happiness Hypothesis. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 1/06.]-E. James Lieberman, George Washington Univ. Sch. of Medicine, Washington, DC Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Gilbert (Psychology/Harvard) examines what science has discovered about how well the human brain can predict future enjoyment. Happiness is a subjective experience for which there is no perfectly reliable measuring instrument, the author asserts. The least flawed instrument we have is "the honest, real-time report of the attentive individual," and to compensate for its flaws, scientists turn to the law of large numbers-i.e., measuring again and again to get lots of data. We use our imagination to look into the future, Gilbert states, but three principal shortcomings restrict its usefulness in the realm of foresight. He labels these shortcomings "realism," "presentism" and "rationalization," considering each in turn. Citing psychological experiments, some of which he conducted himself, the author deftly and humorously demonstrates that when we imagine future circumstances, we leave out some details that will occur and provide others that won't. Realism ignores these adjustments and assumes that our perceptions simply reflect objective reality. Further, when we imagine future feelings, we find it impossible both to ignore how we are feeling now and to recognize how we will regard what happens later, a difficulty that Gilbert cleverly likens to trying to imagine the taste of marshmallow while chewing liver. Presentism occurs when we project the present onto the future. Rationalization is the failure to recognize that things will look different once they happen, the bad not so terrible and the good less wonderful. How then can we predict how we will feel under future circumstances? Gilbert's answer is simple: Ask others who are in those circumstances today how they are feeling. To those whowould protest that they are unique and that others' experiences could not be relevant, he responds: No you're not; you just like to think you are. The ideas may be disconcerting, but they're backed by solid research and presented with persuasive charm and wit. First printing of 150,000