[By Nic Lindh on Saturday, 01 September 2007]
We all want to be happy. As the only species on the planet able to plan for the future, you’d think most of us would succeed in mapping out whatever path we each need to go down to bring us happiness.
Obviously, this is not so.
In Stumbling on Happiness, psychologist Daniel Gilbert explains the reasons happiness can be so elusive, and why we often don’t learn as well as we should from our experiences.
The book is a slim volume, written in a very approachable and easy-to-read way without sacrificing academic rigor. It highlights some very illuminating studies that have been performed about how people evaluate happiness and how we approach different situations in ways that one would hope would lead to the greatest amount of happiness. The vast majority of these studies are very clever and showcase the ways our brains are wired.
Stumbling on Happiness is adamantly not the book to read if you want a recipe for happiness; it is essentially a compilation of studies of how our minds work and how we evaluate happiness, but does not—and certainly never claims to—provide a 1-2-3 system for getting there.
It wouldn’t be fair to create a Cliff’s notes version of the book in this review, so the one thing I will include, the thing that really struck me, is this: If you want to know how happy you will be doing something, ask somebody who’s doing it. Not somebody who has done it, not somebody who’s thinking about doing it, but somebody who’s doing it right now. It turns out that us humans aren’t as singular as we’d like to think we are—we all share the same wiring.
Which, depending on how you look at it, is either a happy or depressing thought.