Customer Reviews


44 Reviews
5 star:
 (20)
4 star:
 (11)
3 star:
 (8)
2 star:
 (4)
1 star:
 (1)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 

The most helpful favourable review
The most helpful critical review


79 of 83 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's all in the imagination.
Did you ever wake up with a hangover on Sunday morning and say, "I'll never drink again," then go out and do it again the following weekend. Well, then Stumbling on Happiness can explain why that happens. I won't give away the plot though.

Happiness is hot, which is probably a good thing. Now that science can measure what really makes us happy, some excellent...
Published on 20 April 2007 by Mrs. R.

versus
83 of 87 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An interesting but flawed book
2007 Harper Perennial reissue of 1st edition (2006), 238 pages

My view of Stumbling on Happiness upon finishing it seems to be rather different to that I had whilst actually reading it. I read most of the book in a single day, zipping straight through it, very interested in what Gilbert had to say. However, I felt disappointed after I'd finished...
Published on 19 May 2007 by Andrew Barrett


‹ Previous | 1 25 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

83 of 87 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An interesting but flawed book, 19 May 2007
By 
Andrew Barrett (UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Stumbling on Happiness (P.S.) (Paperback)
2007 Harper Perennial reissue of 1st edition (2006), 238 pages

My view of Stumbling on Happiness upon finishing it seems to be rather different to that I had whilst actually reading it. I read most of the book in a single day, zipping straight through it, very interested in what Gilbert had to say. However, I felt disappointed after I'd finished.

That may well say more about my wish for Gilbert to distil the secrets of happiness into concentrated form for easy consumption - which, unsurprisingly, turns out to be rather unrealistic - than it does about his book.

Even so, I think he could have done a better job of the conclusion. For example, the best practical advice he gave for coping with the entire theme of his book (that humans are very poor at both predicting and remembering what makes us happy) didn't even make it into the book (except by inference). It is contained in the Q&A section at the back of the above edition:

"Q: Does what you know about how the human brain works in any way help you to be happy?
A: 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."

Gilbert is also clearly a man who finds himself pretty amusing. I did too - some of the time - but he often became irritating. Gilbert himself is well aware of this, as he says in the short autobiographical section at the back:
"Admirers of my book call it personal, warm and funny, and critics call it juvenile, self-indulgent and annoying. I suspect that all these adjectives describe me pretty well."

Overall, the book contains plenty of interesting material but the flaws I've described detract from it. However, I suspect that Gilbert's writing style will act as a polariser and some people will love it, whilst others will find him insufferably smug.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


79 of 83 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's all in the imagination., 20 April 2007
By 
Mrs. R. "Polymath" (London, England, UK.) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Stumbling on Happiness (P.S.) (Paperback)
Did you ever wake up with a hangover on Sunday morning and say, "I'll never drink again," then go out and do it again the following weekend. Well, then Stumbling on Happiness can explain why that happens. I won't give away the plot though.

Happiness is hot, which is probably a good thing. Now that science can measure what really makes us happy, some excellent books are coming out on the topic and with any luck they will help us to achieve it. Mind you, this involves dismantling a hundred years worth of western beliefs. Gilbert's take on it is that we think we know what's going to make us happy in future but we invariably get it wrong. Most of us can't predict what we're going to feel like in future; we can only imagine what life is like today, right now at the exact moment.

We can only feel pain when it's there; when it's not we don't plan for having it back again and vice versa. We plan for being in love while we're in love. We buy houses by the seaside when it's sunny. We order too much food when we're hungry and get stuck half way through. And we all think we're different from everyone else.

Except me, I know I am. But that's precisely his point.

This book is intelligent, fascinating, a little distressing - but only because it's full of observations which make you kick yourself for not noticing earlier. If you do manage to learn and internalise its message, then at the very least you won't over order next time you go for a Chinese meal and you may even avoid some terrible decisions about what you imagine will make you happy in future.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Greek review, 6 Mar 2010
This review is from: Stumbling on Happiness (P.S.) (Paperback)
Gilbert chooses to deal with happiness because it is a fundamental aim and indisputable right of human life, a fact which is sometimes stated in a clear, constitutional way (like in the Declaration of Independence) and sometimes inferred from our actions.

The title of the book derives from the author's central position: we usually find happiness not by conscious effort but by chance.

Gilbert's argument is straightforward: our imagination is flawed - and indeed it has flaws similar to those of other basic functions of our brain, such as memory, vision and perception. Therefore, our ability to predict what will make us happy or how happy we shall be in a future situation is limited.

Using the findings of a large number of empirical studies, the award-winning writer focuses on the shortcomings inherent in our imagination, on the inadequacies which cause our predictions to be wrong. "Realism" is the first of these shortcomings: according to Gilbert, our imagination works fast, quietly and effectively in order to convince us of the "reliability" of its products and to appease our skepticism. The process is reminiscent of optical illusions, as well as of the way memory fills-in the gaps with information it never received but which fits in with the rest of the puzzle.

"Presentism" is the second shortcoming of the imagination: the future we envisage is not very different from the present we live in, thus making the available choices seem fewer that the ones that actually exist.

And if it is hard to imagine future events, it is even harder to predict the thoughts and feelings that these events will cause. "Rationalization", our ability to cope without unpleasant experiences, is the third shortcoming which completes the game that our own brains play on us.

The errors of prediction are difficult to cure by means of our personal experience, which is limited in any case. It is even more difficult to overcome them using the "wisdom" of past generations. And this is because this "wisdom" consists of ideas that flourish when they sustain the social systems that enable them to be transmitted - something they achieve by disguising themselves as recipes for individual happiness.

Instead of these approaches to happiness, the author suggests something simple: do not try to imagine how happy or satisfied you will be in a future situation, but observe, ask, learn how happy the people are who have already achieved happiness. And yet, it is sobering to note that this simple solution fails due to two barriers: our conviction that we are unique and our desire for control. Hence Gilbert is himself pessimistic regarding the adoption of his proposal.

One of the most interesting moments of the book is the discussion about the distinction between emotional and moral happiness. The author understands why philosophers feel it their duty to identify happiness with virtue as the particular type of happiness that we should be aiming at. He stresses, however, that "if a virtuous life is a cause of happiness, it is not happiness itself" and that the identification of virtue and happiness is misleading, because it mistakes the reason for the outcome. He concludes: "Happiness refers to feelings, virtue refers to actions and actions may lead to these feelings. But not necessarily and not exclusively."

Also very interesting is the discussion about the methodology used to approach the subject. The will for a scientifically rigorous study creates the need for measurement - even for such a subjective experience as happiness. Measurement, in turn, demands appropriate tools, however imperfect these are. It also requires the right timing, the right (i.e. high) frequency of measurement and a validation method that will make inter-subjective comparison possible.

The language of the book shows the sharpness of its author, who handles scientific concepts in a way that attracts lay readers without compromising the seriousness of the material. The unpredictable and witty sense of humour contributes to the enhanced enjoyment of reading. The real surprise, however, is its unconventionality - something you would not expect from a professor of a leading university. Gilbert does not hesitate to question two of the most powerful institutions of western societies: family and money. Referring to the family, and more specifically to the common belief that children bring happiness, he presents four different studies which show that happiness decreases dramatically after the birth of the first child and increases again only when the last child leaves home.

As for economy, the professor's sharp eye gleans from the work of Adam Smith, father of modern Economics:

"In what constitutes the real happiness of humans, [the poor] are in no respect inferior to those who would seem to be much above them... The joys of wealth and greatness...strike the imagination as something grand and beautiful and noble, of which the attainment is well worth all the toil and anxiety which they are apt to bestow upon it...It is this deception which rouses and keeps in continual motion the industry of mankind."

As Daniel Gilbert is well aware, it is not certain that in finishing this book people will feel happier or more ready to find happiness. However, it is very likely that their attitude towards many things will change - and they will surely feel they have made a large step towards self-knowledge.

Panayiota Chatzipanteli
Athens, Greece
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


30 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Average in prospect, brilliant in retrospect, 8 Jun 2007
By 
Andrew M. Jones "andy-jones" (Bristol, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Stumbling on Happiness (P.S.) (Paperback)
Despite being a voracious reader I would not have expected to enjoy a book on psychology.I read this book solely because it recently won the Royal Society Prize for Science Books. I took as an indication of how much I might enjoy this book the opinion of the Royal society's judging panel.

If this sounds like an odd way to start a review that's because the book ends with a similarly odd conclusion. No Matter, the book is excellent. The two things that stand out from this book are firstly that Gilbert never allows the reader to build up too much scepticism about a line of argument before presenting some piece of research which causes you to accept the premise. And secondly, he punctuates the book with enough wit to keep it a lively read. In fact there is a third thing which is even more prominent. Gilbert's prose sparkles with the kind of clarity that

puts him in the first rank of science writers.

Thoroughly recommended.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Popular psychology, 26 Dec 2007
By 
Mikko Saari (Tampere, Finland) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Stumbling on Happiness (P.S.) (Paperback)
This book is about human imagination: according to the author, that is the one thing that separates humans from other animals. Our power to imagine makes it possible for us to come up with all these possibilities and futures. And perhaps some happiness, too? Yet so very often we make bad decisions, misestimate, choose the wrong option. Why?

It turns out our marvelous brains are a shoddy tool. According to research - and Gilbert quotes plenty of that - humans are really bad at knowing how we feel: we might know how we feel now, but both estimating how we will feel in the future and remembering how we felt about something in the past are surprisingly hard tasks. Our brains come up with all these details - all fake, because we can't remember everything. Yet our brains are so good at what they do that we don't even realize we're remembering stuff our brains just made up. No wonder we make bad decisions.

Stumbling upon happiness isn't as inspiring as the best popular science books are, but nevertheless, it's a fine look at what modern psychology has to offer. It gives some rather delicious anecdotes, has some rather good insight and is certainly entertaining enough. Stumbling on happiness is worth reading, if you're interested in figuring out how you think the way you do.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Poorly written, glib, far too long, 17 Aug 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Stumbling on Happiness (P.S.) (Paperback)
This is a poorly written book that tells us something about happiness. It's written in that awful style that is common among self-help books, where instead of the author simply stating something, perhaps with a reference, they instead tell an anecdote about some famous person or perhaps provide a quote from Shakespeare. It makes the book an incredibly hard slog, as the reader has to search for the facts among the anecdotes.

The book does however tell us something about happiness. It tells us that people are poor at predicting what things will make them happy. It then tells us this again, and again and again and again. It's only near the end of the book that we learn a second thing, which is that even when people know what makes others happy, they often make poor choices by assuming that their situation is unique, rather than picking the option that makes most people happy.

These two facts are really quite interesting. Armed with this information, we now know that we should buy one of the other, better books on this topic that tells us what sorts of things actually make most people happy. So we have learned something from the book. But was it really necessary for the reader to slog through 238 pages of poorly written text to learn them?
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars My real feelings about this book, 13 Aug 2008
This review is from: Stumbling on Happiness (P.S.) (Paperback)
This book is mainly about the mistakes we make in predicting how we will feel when we do something in the future and the mistakes we make when trying to remember how we felt in the past - we can only really trust how we feel now.

It is for this reason that my review on this book, which I have read cover-to-cover in two days (during my commute to and from work) and finished just a few minutes ago, might be the most accurate review you will ever find. And the reason you should listen to me is because this is precisely what the author recommends at the end of the book: you should base your predictions on how something will feel by asking someone else how something made them feel as soon as possible after they have felt it (or during).

Without further ado, here is how I really feel:

This book was enjoyable and interesting and the content is worthy of five stars. It made me think a lot, it helped me understand my own behaviour better, and it provided me with scientific research to back up my own theories. I'm not sure the 238 pages I read could have been any better. I feel very glad that I read this book and I recommend it to others.

"Well how come you only gave it three stars then?" I hear you ask. Well, it's because the strongest feeling I have after finishing this book is that it only feels like half a book. As Gilbert confesses in the P.S. section at the end, it focuses almost entirely on problems and presents no solutions apart from the one I have already mentioned (asking other people about how they felt). I also think the title is misleading, as it suggests someone trying out ideas and sometimes getting lucky and being happy, but it is more of an observational piece, aimed mostly at intellectual stimulation.

In light of the above, I highly recommend two other books instead of this one, both of which are also grounded in research and are written in a similar easy-to-read style, but they also provide more solutions and hope! These two books are Happiness by Richard Layard and The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz. If I had the time to write reviews of these, I would give them both five stars.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Pop Psychology, 2 Jan 2012
By 
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Stumbling on Happiness (P.S.) (Paperback)
I selected this book on the strength of it having won the Royal Society prize,but found that it lacked a certain academic rigor that I would expect from a piece of work with such a lofty accolade.
Although it contains many interesting facts gleaned from the results of recent psychological experiments, its style was too light and frivolous for my taste.I've never been a fan of attempts at humour in science books,as it seems to me to be a cheap marketing ploy and judging by the books success it seems to have worked.
To give it its due though,it does contain some enlightening information on the human thought process,that readers of pop pyschology will find interesting,and I feel that the outcomes of this type of research should be available to the general public,who after-all fund it in the first place.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Refreshingly honest!, 5 Oct 2007
This review is from: Stumbling on Happiness (P.S.) (Paperback)
What a relief to read a book that spares us the drivel and indulgent thinking that pervades most 'self-help' literature on the shelves.

For anyone prepared to take a direct look at themselves (which includes recognising that most of us are, by definition, fairly average - and that it's OK to be fairly average), this book is an accessible exploration of some important ideas about how we think about the past, present, and future. It demonstrates very neatly how prone we are to self-delusion, and how reluctant we are to learn from the experience of others.

Not all of the messages in this book are cosy, but equally it is refreshingly honest, and for those people prepared to consider the ideas it explores, there is plenty of scope to come away better equipped to tackle life in a constructive way.

If you want to be told that you are precious and unique, and that positive thinking will make all your dreams come true, then you might find this like a bucket of cold water. Yet if you pick this book up wanting to learn how to be happier, then you might have taken a genuine step towards doing so.

Oh - and the practical demonstration of our blind spot is great. Never fails to entertain...
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining but serious discussion of the science of happiness, 14 April 2014
By 
hfffoman (Kent) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Stumbling on Happiness (P.S.) (Paperback)
I have reviewed several books on this and related subjects. This one is unusual because it is written in an extremely chatty style but it is deceptively intelligent. Unlike some popular psychology books, this is based on the most respectable scientific research.
The author takes care to tell you at the beginning that there is no simple or clever way to increase your happiness. He warns you that he is going to delay the best advice to the end and that when it comes you won't like it. In the meantime he devotes much of the book to preparing you so that when it does come you realize that, frustrating as it is, his advice is exquisitely good.

{I never write spoilers in my reviews but if requested I will say more in a comment.)
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


‹ Previous | 1 25 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

This product

Stumbling on Happiness (P.S.)
Stumbling on Happiness (P.S.) by Daniel Gilbert (Paperback - 5 Feb 2007)
6.29
In stock
Add to basket Add to wishlist
Only search this product's reviews