Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Review: Stumbling on Happiness



I recently read a book call Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Todd Gilbert (click on image above for a link to the book) and it stimulated some thoughts on MS. This post is a quick summary of the book, and the next few posts will be a few ideas that I think are relevant to MS.

The basic premise of the book is that we often mis-remember important emotions and events, and so when we envision our future to make choices, we make those choices on faulty information. There are two main problems with memory. The first is that we remember only a small part of our actual experience, so when we project into the future, we have to fill in the gaps with our imagination. The second is that we tend to retell painful stories in ways that make them less painful, so we don't actually remember how we felt during traumatic events.

The problem with our imagination is that it bases our projected future upon our present state of being, or on our poor memories of the past, both of which end up being badly flawed guesses as to what life will be like in our futures. This leads to problems in making choices about our future, especially, he writes, when it comes to happiness. We get stuck repeating bad choices and failing to move forward with our lives.

His conclusion is that we should make our future choices based on what we hear from other people who are doing, right now, what we are thinking about doing in the future. For instance, if I am thinking about seeing a movie, I shouldn't ask someone who saw it last week, I should go to the theater and ask people immediately as they walk out of the movie I'm thinking of seeing. He recommends doing something like that for pretty much all of our important decisions.

I enjoyed the book, but I didn't much care for his sense of humor. I felt like I was trapped at dinner with a distant relative who made jokes every third sentence whether they were funny or not, but what he said was interesting enough to make me overlook it. I also disagree with his conclusion that though we all want to think of ourselves as unique, we are all very similar. As I've gotten older, I've realized more and more how different people are.

Overall, I think that there are a lot of good thoughts in the book, and he does a good job of presenting a wide range of psychological research in a very accessible form.

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