Stumbling on Happiness
Every now and then you stumble on a book most randomly that overturns the way you think about something in life. In this brilliant explanation of why people are poor at predicting what makes them happy, the psychology professor Daniel Gilbert brings tons of evidence and research that will blow you away. I urge you to get that book and read it no matter what you do in life. Here’s a few reasons why:
- What is interesting about optical illusions is not that we all make mistakes but that we all make the SAME mistakes. Trying to predict how you will feel about something in future happens to abide the same “lawful, regular, and systematic” mistakes. In other words, there are reasons why we are bad at knowing what makes us happy.
- Phineas Gage is a guy whose head got pierced with a metal bar. He survived but had partly damaged frontal lobe but functioned normally. Subsequent studies led to the understanding that removing this part of brain could calm people down. 1930’s this became a practice for angry bipolar patients. And it worked until someone discovered that those patients had no concept of future. They blank out when they have to plan ahead and think of future. The connection here, “The key to happiness, fulfillment, and enlightenment, the ex-professor argued, was to stop thinking so much about the future.” Makes sense doesn’t it? Why think about crashing plane if it won’t crash? Why think of being victim of terrorist attack if you won’t? Most of our lives we deal with useless worrying about stuff that never happens.
- He explains that our ability to imagine future and remember past are quite flawed and super-influenced by our present moment. You overeat and you tell yourself, “I will never eat so much again, my stomach hurts” and your future of not eating so much is influenced by the current pain in the stretching stomach. But wait till tomorrow only and you are ready do devour the new meal with no traces left of your previous vows. He explains it really well.
- I already wrote a post the amazing observation that we are horribly bad at dealing with ‘negative’ information. Information that is not in front of us and is not easy to see.
- “Because those interpretations [of the world by our brain] are usually so good, because they usually bear such a striking resemblance to the world as it is actually constituted, we do not realize that we are seeing an interpretation” and “…because we do not consciously supervise the construction of these mental images, we tend to treat them as we treat memories and perceptions – initially assuming that they are accurate representations of the objects we are imagining.”
The book is filled with fantastic observations about our miserable wretched prediction of what makes us happy. Buy it here. Oh, and btw, he also says that it turns out people feel much worse about not trying something than trying and getting it wrong.