On Stumbling on Happiness

I recently finished reading Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert. As the author best words it: “Despite the third word in the title, this is not an instruction manual that will tell you anything useful about how to be happy…Instead, this is a book that describes what science has to tell us about how and how well the human brain can imagine its own future, and about how and how well it can predict which of those futures it will most enjoy…Weaving together facts and theories from psychology, cognitive neuroscience, philosophy, and behavioral economics, this book allows an account to emerge that I personally find convincing but whose merits you will have to judge for yourself.”

Daniel ends the book on the following note: “There is no simple formula for finding happiness. But if our great big brains do not allow us to go surefootedly into our futures, they at least allow us to understand what makes us stumble.”

A very highly recommended read for anyone trying to better understand how we remember our past, see our present and imagine our future. A truly creative masterpiece.

Below are excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:

1- “We insist on steering our boats because we think we have a pretty good idea of where we should go, but the truth is that much of our steering is in vain – not because the boat won’t respond, and not because we can’t find our destination, but because the future is fundamentally different than it appears through the prospectiscope.”

2- “Happiness refers to feelings, virtue refers to actions, and those actions can cause those feelings. But not necessarily and not exclusively.”

3- “Our experiences instantly become part, present, and future, and like any lens, they shape and distort what we see. This lens is not like 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.”

4- “…the act of remembering involves “filling in” details that were not actually stored; and second, we generally cannot tell when we are doing this because filling in happens quickly and unconsciously.”

5- “When they (people) are asked to judge the dissimilarities…they tend to look for the presence of dissimilarities and ignore the absence of dissimilarities.”

6- “The problem isn’t that our brains fill in and leave out…No, the problem is that they do this so well that we aren’t aware it is happening. As such, we tend to accept the brain’s products uncritically and expect the future to unfold with the details – and with only the details – that the brain has imagined.”

7- “…most of us have a tough time imagining a tomorrow that is terribly different from today, and we find it particularly difficult to imagine that we will ever think, want, or feel differently than we do now.”

8- “We cannot feel good about an imaginary future when we are busy feeling bad about an actual present. But rather than recognizing that this is the inevitable result of the Reality First policy, we mistakenly assume that the future event is the cause of the unhappiness we feel when we think about it.”

9- “…if we want to predict how something will make us feel in the future, we must consider the kind of comparison we happen to be making in the present.”

10- “A healthy psychological immune system strikes a balance that allows us to feel good enough to cope with our situation but bad enough to do something about it.”

11- “Because we tend to remember the best of times and the worst of times instead of the most likely times, the wealth of experience that yound people admire does not always pay clear dividends.”

12- “This tendency to think of ourselves as better than others is not necessarily a manifestation of our unfettered narcissism but may instead be an instance of a more general tendency to think of ourselves as different from others – often for better but sometimes for worse.”


Omar Halabieh

Stumbling on Happiness

Stumbling on Happiness


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