Why should we want to control our futures?It feels good to do so—Period.Impact is rewarding. Mattering makes us happy.
Stumbling on Happiness is not a useful book on how to be happy but one that describes what science has to tell us about how and how well it can predict which of the futures it will most enjoy.
This book is divided into six parts: Prospection, Subjectivity, Realism, Presentism, Rationalization, and Corrigibility.
The human being is the only animal that thinks about the future
Daniel Gilbert tells that if you were asked to name the human brain’s greatest achievement, you might think first of the impressive artifacts it has produced. But he thinks differently.
In fact, there’s really only one achievement so remarkable that even the most sophisticated machine cannot pretend to have accomplished it, and that achievement is conscious experience.
The greatest achievement of the human brain is its ability to imagine objects and episodes that do not exist in the realm of the real, and it is this ability that allows us to think about the future.
What is the conceptual tie that binds anxiety and planning?
Both, of course, are intimately connected to thinking about the future. We feel anxiety when we anticipate that something bad will happen, and we plan by imagining how our actions will unfold over time.
Planning requires that we peer into our futures, and anxiety is one of the reactions we may have when we do.
People can be wrong in the present when they say they were wrong in the past
The author of Stumbling on Happiness shows research that demonstrate that once we have an experience, we cannot simply set it aside and see the world as we would have seen it had the experience never happened. He puts an example of Lora and Reba, that, having been joined at the forehead since birth, claim to be happy. And why don’t we believe them?
Our experiences instantly become part of the lens through which we view our entire past, present and future, and like any lens, they shape and distort what we see.
This lens is not a pair of spectacles that we can set on the nightstand when we find it convenient to do so but like a pair of contacts that are forever affixed to our eyeballs with superglue. Once we learn to read, we can never again see letters as mere inky squiggles.
If Lora and Reba were separated for a few weeks, and if they told us that they were happier now than they used to be, they might be right. But they might not.
Can we believe we are feeling something we aren’t?
Our brains are designed to decide first whether objects count and to decide later what those objects are. This means that when you turn your head to the left, there is a fraction of a second during which your brain does not know that it is seeing a wolverine but does know that it is seeing something scary.
Daniel Gilbert explains how that can be.
Research demonstrates that there is enough information in the very early, very early stages of this identification process to decide whether an object is scary, but not enough information to know what the object is.
Why do we so often fail to know what will make us happy in the future?
Stumbling on Happiness says that imagination is a powerful tool that allows us to conjure images from ‘airy nothing.’
The best way to understand this particular shortcoming of imagination (the faculty that allows us to see the future) is to understand the shortcomings of memory (the faculty that allows us to see the past) and perception (the faculty that allows us to see the present).
The shortcoming that causes us to misremember the past and misperceive the present is the very same shortcoming that causes us to misimagine the future. That shortcoming is caused by a trick that your brain plays on you every minute of every hour of every day—a trick that your brain is playing on you right now.
Daniel Gilbert tells us the brain’s dirty little secret.
Our brains take millions of snapshots, records millions of sounds, add smells, tastes, textures, a third spatial dimension, a temporal sequence, a continuous running commentary—and they do this all day, every day, year after year, storing these representations of the world in a memory bank that seems never to overflow.
How do we cram the vast universe of our experience into the relatively small storage compartment between our ears?
The elaborate tapestry of our experience is not stored in memory—at least not in its entirety. Rather, it is compressed for storage by first being reduced to a few critical threads, such as a summary phrase (‘Dinner was disappointing) or a small set of key features (tough steak, corked wine, snotty waiter). Later, when we want to remember our experience, our brains quickly reweave the tapestry by fabricating—not by actually retrieving—the bulk of the information that we experience as memory. This fabrication happens so quickly and effortlessly that we have the illusion (as a good magician’s audience always does) that the entire thing was in our heads the entire time.
Harvard professor Gilbert reveals his take on how our minds work, and how the limitations of our imaginations may be getting in the way of our ability to know what happiness is. Complement it with Flow, the secret to happiness, and How many people you know within a fifteen-minute walk of your house?