Stumbling on Happiness
by Daniel Gilbert and Daniel Gilbert

Overview - A smart and funny book by a prominent Harvard psychologist, which uses groundbreaking research and (often hilarious) anecdotes to show us why we're so lousy at predicting what will make us happy – and what we can do about it.
Most of us spend our lives steering ourselves toward the best of all possible futures, only to find that tomorrow rarely turns out as we had expected.


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More About Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert; Daniel Gilbert

A smart and funny book by a prominent Harvard psychologist, which uses groundbreaking research and (often hilarious) anecdotes to show us why we're so lousy at predicting what will make us happy – and what we can do about it.
Most of us spend our lives steering ourselves toward the best of all possible futures, only to find that tomorrow rarely turns out as we had expected. Why? As Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert explains, when people try to imagine what the future will hold, they make some basic and consistent mistakes. Just as memory plays tricks on us when we try to look backward in time, so does imagination play tricks when we try to look forward.
Using cutting-edge research, much of it original, Gilbert shakes, cajoles, persuades, tricks and jokes us into accepting the fact that happiness is not really what or where we thought it was. Among the unexpected questions he poses: Why are conjoined twins no less happy than the general population? When you go out to eat, is it better to order your favourite dish every time, or to try something new? If Ingrid Bergman hadn't gotten on the plane at the end of Casablanca, would she and Bogey have been better off?
Smart, witty, accessible and laugh-out-loud funny, Stumbling on Happiness brilliantly describes all that science has to tell us about the uniquely human ability to envision the future, and how likely we are to enjoy it when we get there.
From the Hardcover edition.

  • Publisher: Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Gr
  • Date: May 2006

From the book

Journey to Elsewhen

O, that a man might know The end of this day's business ere it come! Shakespeare, Julius Caesar Priests vow to remain celibate, physicians vow to do no harm, and letter carriers vow to swiftly complete their appointed rounds despite snow, sleet, and split infinitives. Few people realize that psychologists also take a vow, promising that at some point in their professional lives they will publish a book, a chapter, or at least an article that contains this sentence: "The human being is the only animal that . . ." We are allowed to finish the sentence any way we like, of course, but it has to start with those eight words. Most of us wait until relatively late in our careers to fulfill this solemn obligation because we know that successive generations of psychologists will ignore all the other words that we managed to pack into a lifetime of well-intentioned scholarship and remem- ber us mainly for how we finished The Sentence. We also know that the worse we do, the better we will be remembered. For instance, those psychologists who finished The Sentence with "can use language" were particularly well remembered when chimpanzees were taught to communicate with hand signs. And when researchers discovered that chimps in the wild use sticks to extract tasty ter- mites from their mounds (and to bash one another over the head now and then), the world suddenly remembered the full name and mailing address of every psychologist who had ever finished The Sentence with "uses tools." So it is for good reason that most psychologists put off completing The Sentence for as long as they can, hoping that if they wait long enough, they just might die in time to avoid being publicly humiliated by a monkey.

I have never before written The Sentence, but I'd like to do so now, with you as my witness. The human being is the only animal that thinks about the future. Now, let me say up front that I've had cats, I've had dogs, I've had gerbils, mice, goldfish, and crabs (no, not that kind), and I do recognize that nonhuman animals often act as though they have the capacity to think about the future. But as bald men with cheap hairpieces always seem to forget, act- ing as though you have something and actually having it are not the same thing, and anyone who looks closely can tell the difference. For example, I live in an urban neighborhood, and every autumn the squirrels in my yard (which is approximately the size of two squirrels) act as though they know that they will be unable to eat later unless they bury some food now. My city has a relatively well-educated citizenry, but as far as anyone can tell its squirrels are not particularly distinguished. Rather, they have regular squirrel brains that run food-burying programs when the amount of sun- light that enters their regular squirrel eyes decreases by a critical amount. Shortened days trigger burying behavior with no intervening contemplation of tomorrow, and the squirrel that stashes a nut in my yard "knows" about the future in approximately the same way that a falling rock "knows" about the law of gravity--which is to say, not really. Until a chimp weeps at the thought of growing old alone, or smiles as it contemplates its summer vacation, or turns down a taffy apple because it already looks too fat in shorts, I will stand by my version of The Sentence. We think about the future in a way that no other animal can, does, or ever has, and this simple, ubiquitous, ordinary act is a defining feature of our humanity.

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"Stumbling on Happiness is an absolutely fantastic book that will shatter your most deeply held convictions about how your own mind works. Ceaselessly entertaining, Gilbert is the perfect guide to some of the most interesting psychological research ever performed. Think you know what makes you happy? You won't know for sure until you have read this book." - Steven D. Levitt, author of Freakonomics

"Gilbert is a professor by trade, but he's every bit as funny as Larry David. Stumbling on Happiness may be one of the most delightfully written layman's books on an academic topic since Robert M. Sapolsky's Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers." - Washington Post Book World

"Extraordinarily readable." - Santa Cruz Sentinel

"A lucid, charmingly written argument for why our expectations don't pan out." - Psychology Today

"Insightful, inquisitive and, at times, hilarious. . . . Sensitively probes the realities we take for granted." - Miami Herald

"An engrossing and witty look at how the human brain is wired. . . . 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, The Seattle Times

"Gilbert's elbow-in-the-ribs social-science humor is actually funny . .. (but) underneath the goofball brilliance, Gilbert has a serious argument to make about why human beings are forever wrongly predicting what will make them happy." - The New York Times Book Review

"A fascinating new book that explores our sometimes misguided attempts to find happiness." - Time Magazine

"A leader in the burgeoning study of affective forecasting, Mr. Gilbert's new book . . . is already getting good reviews for its lucid explanations of the latest scientific research." - The Wall Street Journal

"Provocative and hilarious. . . . Gilbert's book is a brilliant expose of how we think and how we plan . . . with wry and telling humor on every page." - The State (South Carolina)

"Gilbert's playful tone and use of commonplace examples render a potentially academic topic accessible and educational." - Publishers Weekly

"Gilbert examines what sciences has discovered about how well the human brain can predict future enjoyment. . . . The ideas may be disconcerting, but they're backed by solid research and presented with persuasive charm and wit." - Kirkus Reviews

"With some loopy humor, lively wit and panache, Gilbert explores why the most important decisions of our lives are so often made so poorly." - Kirkus Reviews 2006 Health & Living

"Have you ever finished a book, then started right in reading it again from the start? Was it so satisfying you couldn't bear to let it end? Or so deep you couldn't understand parts until you read it over again? Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert has both those qualities. . . . I learned a great deal from this book. . . . I predict you will be happy you read it. And you may even want to read it from the start again. I did." - Words on Books

"This book is brilliant. . . . It's a book that will be talked about by people everywhere. Trust me on that." - 800CEORead

"In Stumbling on Happiness, Daniel Gilbert shares his brilliant insights into our quirks of mind, and steers us toward happiness in the most delightful, engaging ways. If you stumble on this book, you're guaranteed many doses of joy." - Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence

"In a book that is as deep as it is delightful, Daniel Gilbert reveals the powerful and often surprising connections between our experience of happiness and how we think about the future. Drawing on cutting edge psychological research and his own sharp insights into everyday events, Gilbert manages to have considerable fun while expertly illuminating some of the most profound mysteries of the human mind. I confidently predict that your future will be happier if you read this pathbreaking volume." - Daniel L. Schacter, Harvard University, author of Searching for Memory and The Seven Sins

"Everyone will enjoy reading this book, and some of us will wish we could have written it. You will rarely have a chance to learn so much about so important a topic while having so much fun." - Daniel Kahneman, Princeton University, Winner of the 2002 Nobel Prize in Economics

"This is a brilliant book, a useful book, and a book that could quite possibly change the way you look at just about everything. And as a bonus, Gilbert writes like a cross between Malcolm Gladwell and David Sedaris." - Seth Godin, author of All Marketers Are Liars

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