‘“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’
‘He does for psychology what Bill Bryson did for evolution.’ Scotsman
‘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’
‘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 ‘All Marketers Are Liars’
‘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.’ Professor Daniel Kahneman, Princeton University, Winner of the 2002 Nobel Prize in Economics
Q and A with Professor Gilbert
What makes you happy?
This is another question that people have trouble answering for themselves.
When you are truly happy you aren't noticing how happy you are, which makes
it difficult to recall later. With that said, I have the sense that I am
happiest when I am writing without interruption. I can wake up at 5 a.m.,
walk directly to my desk, and write for 10 hours without ever remembering
to eat or brush my teeth. My normal day is an endless series of
interruptions - email, telephone, family, students - so the occasional
uninterrupted day is (I think) my greatest pleasure.
What makes you unhappy?
I get snippy and sarcastic when people use language incorrectly. I
shouldn't, but I do. When a clerk at a store says, `That will be three
dollars', I say, `Really, when?' I know, I know. I should be shot.
You say that research shows that having children doesn't make us happier.
Do you think becoming a dad made you happier?
Intuitions and data often collide. The data say the earth is round, but it
looks flat to me. My intuition is that fatherhood increases my average
daily happiness, but the data say that unless I'm different from most
people, this probably isn't so. Of course, I'm not exactly like other
people inasmuch as I am 48 and my son is 30, so perhaps I'm free to believe
my intuitions - in which case, I believe that he makes me happy and that my
granddaughter makes me even happier.
Does what you know about the way the human brain works in any way help you
to be happy?
Knowing that people overestimate the impact of almost every life event
makes me a bit braver and a bit more relaxed because I know that whatever
I'm worrying about now probably won't matter as much as I think it will.
Do you intend for your book to help people to think differently?
My book isn't meant to make people happy. It is meant to make them smart
about happiness by telling them what science has discovered. I hope to give
people information that they can use (or not use) as they wish. I'm not in
the business of telling people what's right. I'm in the business of helping
them see what's true and then letting them decide for themselves what to do
What do you hope to accomplish with your research?
I'd like to say that I am trying to understand errors in affective
forecasting so that we can learn how best to overcome them. The trouble is
that forecasting errors are not clearly a `disease' that requires a `cure'.
Indeed, some people have suggested that inaccurate forecasts may play an
important role in our lives. Having said that, I'm willing to bet that on
balance we are best served by accurate estimates of the emotional
consequences of pains, tragedies and embarrassments. However, at heart I'm
just a guy who is curious about human nature, and what I really want from
my research is a deeper understanding of who we are and what we are doing
here. If my research has a practical benefit, I'm happy about that. If it
doesn't, I'm not even slightly worried. What is the practical benefit of
knowing how the universe began, or of understanding the evolution of the
You say that we regret not doing something more than something we did. What
do you regret not doing - and doing?
I regret not looking after my health a bit better back when it was easy to
do. The guy who had my body before me wasn't all that nice to it. I don't
have any Great Regrets of Action, though I suppose I would take back every
instance in which I made someone I love feel bad if that were possible.
You say it's the frequency not the intensity of positive events in your
life which makes you happy. What positive events reoccur in your life
regularly and therefore contribute to your happiness?
Three good things I do regularly: (1) drink freshly ground double-strength
coffee made in a French press every morning, (2) walk to and from my office
every day, and (3) listen to Miles or Jimi at least once a week (and if you
have to ask their last names then you are even less cool than I am).
Do you think that too much choice in modern life is making us miserable?
Well, we surely have too many stupid choices. A year or two ago I bought a
dozen pairs of identical cargo pants and identical black T-shirts and now
when I wake up in the morning I never think about what to wear. Why should
we waste our lives deciding whether to have Coke or Pepsi, with or without
caffeine, with or without sugar, with or without lemon, in a can or a
bottle or a litre or a cup, with or without ice, and a straw thank you?
Do you think we have lost some primal ignorance that would have kept up
No, no, no. Did I mention no? Every generation has the illusion that things
were easier and better in a simpler past. Dead wrong. Things are better
today than at any time in human history. Our primal ignorance is what keeps
us whacking each other over the head with sticks, and not what allows us to
paint a Mona Lisa or design a space shuttle. The `primal ignorance that
keeps us happy' gives rise to obesity and global warming, not antibiotics
or the Magna Carta. If human kind flourishes rather than flounders over the
next thousand years, it will be because we fully embraced learning and
reason, and not because we surrendered to some fantasy about returning to a
world that never really was.
--This text refers to the