Wednesday, May 24, 2006

'Stumbling on Happiness' ...

... is the title of a recent book by Daniel Gilbert, a professor of 'hedonistic psychology' at Harvard. From the reviews (NYTimes, Washington Post), it seems like a great book, so I am on the look out for it. In the meantime, here is the link to the first chapter. Just a quick quote from the NYTimes review:

Gilbert is an influential researcher in happiness studies, an interdisciplinary field that has attracted psychologists, economists and other empirically minded researchers, not to mention a lot of interested students. (As The Boston Globe recently reported, a course on "positive psychology" taught by one of Gilbert's colleagues is the most popular course at Harvard.) But from the acknowledgments page forward, it's clear Gilbert also fancies himself a comedian. Uh-oh, cringe alert: an academic who cracks wise. But Gilbert's elbow-in-the-ribs social-science humor is actually funny, at least some of the time. "When we have an experience . . . on successive occasions, we quickly begin to adapt to it, and the experience yields less pleasure each time," he writes. "Psychologists calls this habituation, economists call it declining marginal utility, and the rest of us call it marriage."

Here's another quote, this time from this profile of Gilbert in the Toronto Star:

Although we humans have the capacity to imagine what will make us happy lodged in our well-developed frontal lobes, we are not good at it. It's the way we consistently err that fascinates the professor.

His researchers at Harvard interviewed voters before and after recent U.S. elections who said they would be extremely unhappy if George W. Bush won and would likely move to Canada — but who reported after the vote that they feel just fine.

"In prospect it always seems so dire," he says.

* * *

Previous posts that featured Daniel Gilbert: here and here.


  1. Anonymous said...

    gilbert is one of the few academics who can write very well. the only time i cracked up laughing while reading an academic paper, the paper was by him. i'd recommend his review chapters to anyone with a passing interest in social science.