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Stumbling on Happinessby Daniel Gilbert
Synopses & Reviews
Why are lovers quicker to forgive their partners for infidelity than for leaving dirty dishes in the sink? Why will sighted people pay more to avoid going blind than blind people will pay to regain their sight? Why do dining companions insist on ordering different meals instead of getting what they really want? Why do patients remember long medical procedures as being less painful than short ones? Why do home sellers demand prices they wouldn't dream of paying if they were home buyers? Why are shoppers happier when they can't get refunds? Why do pigeons seem to have such excellent aim; why can't we remember one song while listening to another; and why does the line at the grocery store always slow down the moment we join it?
In this brilliant, witty, and accessible book, renowned Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert describes the foibles of imagination and illusions of foresight that cause each of us to misconceive our tomorrows and misestimate our satisfactions. Vividly bringing to life the latest scientific research in psychology, cognitive neuroscience, philosophy, and behavioral economics, Gilbert reveals what scientists have discovered about the uniquely human ability to imagine the future, and about our capacity to predict how much we will like it when we get there. With penetrating insight and sparkling prose, Gilbert explains why we seem to know so little about the hearts and minds of the people we are about to become.
"Not offering a self-help book, but instead mounting a scientific explanation of the limitations of the human imagination and how it steers us wrong in our search for happiness, Gilbert, a professor of psychology at Harvard, draws on psychology, cognitive neuroscience, philosophy and behavioral economics to argue that, just as we err in remembering the past, so we err in imagining the future. 'Our desire to control is so powerful, and the feeling of being in control so rewarding, that people often act as though they can control the uncontrollable,' Gilbert writes, as he reveals how ill-equipped we are to properly preview the future, let alone control it. Unfortunately, he claims, neither personal experience nor cultural wisdom compensates for imagination's shortcomings. In concluding chapters, he discusses the transmission of inaccurate beliefs from one person's mind to another, providing salient examples of universal assumptions about human happiness such as the joys of money and of having children. He concludes with the provocative recommendation that, rather than imagination, we should rely on others as surrogates for our future experience. Gilbert's playful tone and use of commonplace examples render a potentially academic topic accessible and educational, even if his approach is at times overly prescriptive. 150,000 announced first printing." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Winning the lottery or a Pulitzer would definitely improve my mood. Losing a leg or a child would leave me devastated for life. But on all these predictions, both Daniel Gilbert and Matthieu Ricard contend, I'd be wrong. The good fortune would not cheer me up for very long, while even after the most tragic events, I'd be back, shockingly soon, to daydreaming happily about dinner menus or sex in exotic... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) climes. These two books set out to explain why most of us are so dead wrong, so often, about what will give us happiness. Gilbert is a Harvard University psychologist who specializes in 'prospection,' the study of how we think about our futures. Ricard is a Buddhist monk whose research focuses on how meditation affects brain chemistry. Needless to say, they have different takes on the science of satisfaction, although they agree about some principles — that love is good for you, for instance, and that money can't buy you love. Since Ricard left Paris and a promising scientific career to 'achieve genuine inner freedom' and has lived in the Himalayas for the past 35 years, his rejection of the trappings of consumer culture is to be expected. 'Happiness' outlines a crash course on Buddhist meditation, which allows us to enjoy 'experiences in the context of a vast and profound serenity.' Modest and earnest, Ricard does not claim to provide new information but rather summarizes the body of thought that already exists. The book's freshest terrain is the intersection of Buddhism and the field of positive psychology, pioneered by Martin Seligman, who studies the roles of optimistic and pessimistic outlooks in personality. Ricard quotes Seligman so often that readers may be tempted to go straight to Seligman's classic, 'Learned Optimism,' which covers much of the same ground. Obviously, Ricard believes that the ability to transcend adversity is critical to personal happiness, and he explains why some Tibetan victims of torture have rosier outlooks than the average middle-class American. Whether 'Happiness' would help most of us take even baby steps up the long road to enlightenment I'm not so sure. It's hard for a diehard ironist to imagine, say, Larry David of 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' fame trying Ricard's exercise for letting 'any inner tension dissolve': 'Savor the warmth and joy that result from a calmer mind. After a while your thoughts will become like a peaceful river. If you practice regularly, eventually your mind will easily become serene, like a calm ocean. Whenever new thoughts arise, like waves raised by the winds, do not be bothered by them. They will soon dissolve back into the ocean.' Gilbert is a professor by trade, but he's every bit as funny as Larry David. Stumbling on 'Happiness' may be one of the most delightfully written layman's books on an academic topic since Robert M. Sapolsky's 'Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers.' Gilbert translates and makes sense of a vast array of scientific literature on perception, memory and imagination. Among other things, Gilbert explains why we learn so little from our mistakes — why so many divorced people wake up realizing that their second spouses are exactly like the ones they left. He reviews some common tricks of memory, such as our tendency to 'remember the best of times and the worst of times instead of the most likely of times,' and some kinks in our decision-making processes, like our tendency to rationalize. Almost every page of 'Stumbling on Happiness' delivers enjoyable riffs such as this one, in which Gilbert discusses the distinctly human delight of imagining we can control our futures: 'The act of steering one's boat down the river of time is a source of pleasure, regardless of one's port of call. Now, at this point you probably believe two things. First, you probably believe that if you never heard the phrase "the river of time" again, it would be too soon. Amen. Second, you probably believe that even if the act of steering a metaphorical boat down a cliched river is a source of pleasure and well-being, where the boat goes matters much, much more. Playing captain is a joy all its own, but the real reason why we want to steer our ships is so we can get them to Hanalei instead of Jersey City.' Much of the giddy fun of 'Stumbling on Happiness' comes from the sheer nuttiness of some of the reported experiments. Real researchers — at Gilbert's own Hedonic Psychology Laboratory at Harvard, among other places — are running carefully calibrated studies on questions like whether people respond differently to the prospect of spaghetti and meatballs for breakfast or dinner when they are hungry or when they are full. They are showing pictures of amputations and car wrecks to normal people and to people suffering from alexithymia (the 'absence of words to describe emotional states'). But Gilbert convincingly shows how such studies manage to derive useful scientific data on our very subjective perceptions. He also proves how deeply we cling to the cherished notion of how 'special' we are — which is exactly why we are so loath to take advice from all of those other souls we dismiss as average. Lisa Zeidner's most recent novel is 'Layover.' She is a professor of English at Rutgers University." Reviewed by Lisa Zeidner, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"[S]ly, irresistible....It is not only wildly entertaining but also hilarious (if David Sedaris were a psychologist, he very well might write like this) and yet full of startling insight, imaginative conclusions, and even bits of wisdom." Booklist
"The ideas may be disconcerting, but they're backed by solid research and presented with persuasive charm and wit." Kirkus Reviews
"Gilbert has a serious argument to make about why human beings are forever wrongly predicting what will make them happy....In an important sense, Stumbling on Happiness is a paean to delusion." Scott Stossel, The New York Times Book Review
"Gilbert draws on a mixed bag of findings...and conducts rather contrived experiments. Replete with jokes, but ultimately lacking in structure and focus, this book will intrigue psychology buffs only to leave them wondering what happened to the main course." Library Journal
"Stumbling on Happiness is an absolutely fantastic book that will shatter your most deeply held convictions about how your own mind works. Ceaselessly entertaining, Gilbert is the perfect guide to some of the most interesting psychological research ever performed. Think you know what makes you happy? You won't know for sure until you have read this book." Steven D. Levitt, author of Freakonomics
"Everyone will enjoy reading this book, and some of us will wish we could have written it. You will rarely have a chance to learn so much about so important a topic while having so much fun." Daniel Kahneman, Princeton University, Winner of the 2002 Nobel Prize in Economics
"In a book that is as deep as it is delightful, Daniel Gilbert reveals the powerful and often surprising connections between our experience of happiness and how we think about the future. Drawing on cutting edge psychological research and his own sharp insights into everyday events, Gilbert manages to have considerable fun while expertly illuminating some of the most profound mysteries of the human mind. I confidently predict that your future will be happier if you read this pathbreaking volume." Daniel L. Schacter, Harvard University, author of Searching for Memory and The Seven Sins of Memory
"In Stumbling on Happiness, Daniel Gilbert shares his brilliant insights into our quirks of mind, and steers us toward happiness in the most delightful, engaging ways. If you stumble on this book, you're guaranteed many doses of joy." Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence
"This is a brilliant book, a useful book, and a book that could quite possibly change the way you look at just about everything. And as a bonus, Gilbert writes like a cross between Malcolm Gladwell and David Sedaris." Seth Godin, author of All Marketers Are Liars
A lively, thought-provoking memoir about how one woman cracked the "code" of online dating sites like JDate, OKCupid and eHarmony and met her eventual husband.
After yet another online dating disaster, Amy Webb was about to cancel her JDate membership when an epiphany struck: It wasnt that her standards were too high, as women are often told, but that she wasnt evaluating the right data in suitors profiles. That night Webb, an award-winning journalist and digital-strategy expert, made a detailed, exhaustive list of what she did and didnt want in a mate. The result: seventy-two requirements ranging from the expected (smart, funny) to the super-specific (likes selected musicals: Chess, Les Misérables. Not Cats. Must not like Cats!).
Next she turned to her own profile. In order to craft the most compelling online presentation, she needed to assess the competition—so she signed on to JDate again, this time as a man. Using the same gift for data strategy that made her company the top in its field, she found the key words that were digital man magnets, analyzed photos, and studied the timing of womens messages, then adjusted her (female) profile to make the most of that intel.
Then began the deluge—dozens of men wanted to meet her, men who actually met her requirements. Among them: her future husband, now the father of her child.
Forty million people date online each year. Most dont find true love. Thanks to Data, a Love Story, their odds just got a whole lot better.
About the Author
Daniel Gilbert is Harvard College Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. He has won numerous awards for his teaching and research, including the American Psychological Association's Distinguished Scientific Award for an Early Career Contribution to Psychology. His research has been covered by the New York Times Magazine, Forbes, Money, CNN, U.S. News & World Report, The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, Scientific American, Self, Men's Health, Redbook, Glamour, Psychology Today, and many others. His short stories have appeared in Amazing Stories and Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, as well as other magazines and anthologies. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
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