Friday, May 18, 2007

If Happiness Bit You On the Nose ...

Do any of us actually know what happiness is? This is the fundamental question asked in Daniel Gilbert's book.

Stumbling on Happiness is not a self-help book, but a psychological study, ... and it's just won this year's Royal Society Prize for Science Books. I liked this review of it by Malcolm Gladwell (author of Blink and The Tipping Point) which I found on Amazon. It does rather sound like a must-read:

Stumbling on Happiness is a book about a very simple but powerful idea. What distinguishes us as human beings from other animals is our ability to predict the future--or rather, our interest in predicting the future. We spend a great deal of our waking life imagining what it would be like to be this way or that way, or to do this or that, or taste or buy or experience some state or feeling or thing. We do that for good reasons: it is what allows us to shape our life. And it is by trying to exert some control over our futures that we attempt to be happy. But by any objective measure, we are really bad at that predictive function. We're terrible at knowing how we will feel a day or a month or year from now, and even worse at knowing what will and will not bring us that cherished happiness. Gilbert sets out to figure what that's so: why we are so terrible at something that would seem to be so extraordinarily important?

In making his case, Gilbert walks us through a series of fascinating--and in some ways troubling--facts about the way our minds work. In particular, Gilbert is interested in delineating the shortcomings of imagination. We're far too accepting of the conclusions of our imaginations. Our imaginations aren't particularly imaginative. Our imaginations are really bad at telling us how we will think when the future finally comes. And our personal experiences aren't nearly as good at correcting these errors as we might think.

The other short-listed books were:

Homo Britannicus: The Incredible Story of Human Life in Britain by Chris Stringer
In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind by Eric R. Kandel
Lonesome George: The Life and Loves of a Conservation Icon by Henry Nicholls
One in Three: A Son's Journey Into the Science and History of Cancer by Adam Wishart
The Rough Guide to Climate Change by Robert Henson

Update:

Grateful I am indeed to Rol who sent me the link to a YouTube video of a talk by Daniel Gilbert. It is very well worth watching to learn the secret of true happiness ... which is not what you think it will be and not what Rhonda Byrne would like you to think it is. Unlike Byrne, Gilbert is actually able to provide you with some evidence beyond the mere anecdotal to support what he's saying.

13 comments:

SecretHistory said...

Oh dear, does that mean I should not imagine anymore? Last night I dreamt that I just won the first edition of "Time for a Tiger" on ebay at dirtcheap price and I was happy. Now I may not be happy if that happens? Will you be happy to have that pink book Sharon?

bibliobibuli said...

and you know, it's just the opposite of the message "the secret" is trying to impart to the mighty gullible. i'm actually inspired to grab a copy of this and review the two books together ... hmmm

i am even jealous of your dream!!!!!

lil ms d said...

i am a magnet.

Chet said...

dude magnet, ms d?

rol said...

Watch Dan talk about idea in his book at TED conference (22 minutes. This was how I learned about the book):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LTO_dZUvbJA

SecretHistory said...

After reading this blog for months, I just realized that I would not be able to enjoy all the beauty of the world. The Works of Men: books, art, buildings, idea. The Works of Nature: trees, scenery, sea, mountain. The Congregation of Human Beings: conferences, soirees, parties, dinners..... How I wish if I can be like Methuselah.....

bibliobibuli said...

rol - very many thanks. as you can see i posted it up top and thoroughly enjoyed it.

secrethistory - if you were that old you wouldn't enjoy yourself as much! watch the video and find out why.

msiagirl said...

What a fab speaker he is! I will look out for that book.

Anonymous said...

Youtube is broken again here :P

Anonymous said...

Nowadays even thought is sponsored. How about that.Can't have a thought without wanting to sell it.

bibliobibuli said...

i think the problem is not with my link but with youtube at the moment. try rol's link above and i will come back later and check what's happening again

Anonymous said...

Eep.. I meant "here" as in "where I am." :P

Anonymous said...

He reminds me a bit of Robert Kiyosaki.. all he's saying is, what is he saying exactly ? :D he's saying a lot without saying anything at all. It's just that people interpret him to be saying what they THINK he's saying, then they think "this man is good" but what they're really thinking is "this man is telling me what I want to hear".

I bet if you ask 10 different people, you'll have 10 different interpretations. That's his universal appeal. thjis is why everyone will say "he is good" and buy his books (which is the main point actually.) Same thing happens with Kiyosaki. The way to sell lots of books is to make people think you're telling them what they want to hear. The more ambiguous, amorphous and malleable your message is, the more people will interpret it to mean what they want.

Then they will buy the book because it's "interesting". The fact that he's not making any points AT ALL will be completely ignored because he sounds like he knows what he's talking about.