Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Todd Gilbert

The author Dan Gilbert, is a gifted teacher and professor of social psychology at Harvard. This book is an overview of his research on affective forecasting, which examines what and how people think about their own emotions.

This line of research began with the question of how accurate are people at predicting how they will respond emotionally to a variety of experiences. Not very well, it turns out. This led to an examination of the factors that lead to these fascinating mistakes that we all make in knowing our future selves. This is not a self-help book (as Dan explains early on), but rather explains what has been learned from the scientific study of our own beliefs about happiness and other emotions.

This book does not pretend to explain how to become happy. It also should not be confused with the recent “positive psychology” movement. Rather, this book explains the process by which you arrive at the conclusion that you’re happy or unhappy, and the factors that influence this conclusion. This book will help you understand, whether you’re generally happy or not, why this is the case. To the extent that this book may be useful in terms of the pursuit of happiness, it may help you examine how you tend to evaluate your own emotional state, and the biases and errors we all make in drawing conclusions about our happiness.

I enjoyed the beautifully written introductory chapter, as well as the quotes from Shakespeare and other classic literature at the outset of each chapter, which demonstrates that attempts to understand happiness are as old as the written word. This device was nicely juxtaposed with the discussion of contemporary cognitive and affective science, all attempting to gain traction on the fundamental human question of happiness.

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