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Customer Review

92 of 98 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An interesting but flawed book, 19 May 2007
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.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 6 Dec 2009 12:57:27 GMT
Kavyo says:
I think Mr. Barrett makes some good points but I still found this book hugely interesting and would even go so far as to say it should be required reading for any politician, salesperson or marketing executive. Why? Let me explain.

Here, as I have not seen elsewhere, you have a multitude of evidence, based on a review of psychological studies, that suggest numerous conclusions about how people think, feel, and act at the most elemental level. It is true that we are never presented with any controversial results (polemic about tests referred to, tests which would show contradictory results) so we act on a faith in this man's erudition, research, and knowledge that what we are being told is the conclusion of an exhaustive study by a top practitioner in the field. In my opinion, this is a hugely exaggerated assumption but, assuming it is correct, then the books quoted research studies and their conclusions are massively important and should be studied by the professions mentioned above and by intelligent people everywhere.

More well read readers might indicate that there are other sources of such information that are more convincing or better presented. I have no such reference, so I can only state as a second reason to read this book that the material for me was original: I had never seen reference to as many studies and the arguments are logical and convincing. Also the simple clarity presented by his research examples and conclusions leaves one with little doubt that he is an authority and therefore that this material is important.

I do not think drawing more conclusion or a world wide theory was the aim of the book. It is an assemblage of conclusions which show tendencies, if not very strong tendencies. Note that he always refers to examples where a majority of respondents choose a particular outcome or sentiment (it is never everyone that does so).

I have read this book as someone interested in Vipassana meditation and the lessons it teaches on approaching life equanimously: that is with calm and serenity, avoiding to judge, avoiding to generate negativity and focusing only on an observation of reality as it manifest itself. In this book, the author is questioning how we perceive reality, not so much in what we observe but in how we interpret it and therefore in how it manifests itself as perception. Vipassana does offer to those of who want a more holistic theory an answer that this author does not necessarily give: that is to avoid the distortions of the mind and the feelings one must observe without feeling and without value judgements.

I would heartily recommend this book which also reads well and is humorous to boot.
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