Stumbling on Happiness


Although simple, sustaining happiness is often not always as easy as we think it should be when measured by our faulty definition. Because our attempts for happiness do not meet our misconception, we doubt sustainable happiness is possible and our ‘pursuit of happiness’ often leads to frustration rather than joy.

A growing number of ‘happiness experts’, including myself, now make every effort to shed new light on the true meaning of happiness. Today I want to highlight a colleague in the field of happiness who mixes psychobabble with meaning and humor.

If you are someone who most easily changes your mind by knowing the facts behind a concept, you need to know about Dan Gilbert. Dan Gilbert believes that, in our ardent, lifelong pursuit of happiness, most of us have the wrong map. In the same way that optical illusions fool our eyes — and fool everyone’s eyes in the same way — Gilbert argues that our brains systematically misjudge what will make us happy. And these quirks in our cognition make humans very poor predictors of our own bliss.

The premise of his current research — that our assumptions about what will make us happy are often wrong — is supported with clinical research drawn from psychology and neuroscience. But his delivery is what sets him apart. His engaging — and often hilarious — style pokes fun at typical human behavior and invokes pop-culture references everyone can relate to. This winning style translates also to Gilbert’s writing, which is lucid, approachable and laugh-out-loud funny. The immensely readable Stumbling on Happiness, published in 2006, became a New York Times bestseller and has been translated into 20 languages.

In fact, the title of his book, Stumbling on Happiness, could be drawn from his own life. At 19, he was a high school dropout with dreams of writing science fiction. When a creative writing class at his community college was full, he enrolled in the only available course: psychology. He found his passion there, earned a doctorate in social psychology in 1985 at Princeton, and has since won a Guggenheim Fellowship and the Phi Beta Kappa teaching prize for his work at Harvard. He has written essays and articles for The New York Times, Time and even Starbucks, while continuing his research into happiness at his Hedonic Psychology Laboratory.

In the following video-clip, Psychologist Dan Gilbert challenges the idea that we’ll be miserable if we don’t get what we want. Our “psychological immune system” lets us feel real, enduring happiness, he says, even when things don’t go as planned. He calls this kind of happiness “synthetic happiness,” and he says it’s “every bit as real and enduring as the kind of happiness you stumble upon when you get exactly what you were aiming for.”

Take a look…

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