STUMBLING ON HAPPINESS BY DANIEL GILBERT
What It’s About: Stumbling on Happiness is like the red-headed stepchild of happiness books. It doesn’t fit in with the rest because it basically tries to convince you that you don’t even know what the hell makes you happy in the first place, so why stress out about it?
Gilbert is a famous Harvard psychologist who has a knack for coming up with zany experiments that show just how flawed and biased the human mind is. In the book, he shows you time and again that as humans, we inaccurately judge, among other things, what made us happy in the past, what will make us happy in the future, and even what is making us happy right at this moment.
In fact, decades of Gilbert’s research on happiness all points to the same unsettling fact: happiness has little to do with what happens to us in our lives, and more to do with how we end up choosing to see things.
Gilbert’s theory is that we each have a “psychological immune system,” basically a bullshit generator where our minds explain away our past experiences, our future projections and our current situations in such a way that we always maintain a baseline level of mild happiness. And it’s when this “immune system” fails that we fall into prolonged depression and/or existential crises.
We treat our future selves as though they were our children, spending most of the hours of most of our days constructing tomorrows that we hope will make them happy… But our temporal progeny are often thankless. We toil and sweat to give them just what we think they will like, and they quit their jobs, grow their hair, move to or from San Francisco, and wonder how we could ever have been stupid enough to think they’d like that. We fail to achieve the accolades and rewards that we consider crucial to their well-being, and they end up thanking God that things didn’t work out according to our shortsighted, misguided plan.
Economies thrive when individuals strive, but because individuals will only strive for their own happiness, it is essential that they mistakenly believe that producing and consuming are routes to personal well-being.
Bonus Points For: Being perhaps the wittiest and best-written psychology book you’ll ever read.
If This Book Could Be Summarized in An Image, That Image Would Be: A dog named “Humanity” endlessly chasing its own tail with a big slobbery smile on its face.
Read This Book If:
- You enjoy Harvard professors who reference The Beatles in every chapter and make jokes about quadriplegics.
- You are interested in behavioral economics and irrational decision-making.
- You’ve always had a hunch that you are completely full of shit but would like 400 pages of psychological research to confirm it for you.
- You want to read a book that explains happiness without mythologizing it or worshipping it.