Stumbling on Happiness
I’ve stumbled on a delightful book by a Harvard psychologist called Daniel Gilbert. The book, Stumbling on Happiness (2006), is a combination of psychology and philosophy and is remarkably entertaining.
Gilbert says that we think we know what we want, but we’re often mistaken. We predict how we will feel when things go wrong based on a combination of obvious common sense and carefully thought out assumptions. And we are usually wrong.
Research has shown that our satisfaction with our decisions is greater when we make an unbreakable commitment than when we have a chance to opt out. We are better able to cope when things go seriously wrong than when we face less disastrous problems. We remain happy about something longer when we can’t explain it than when we know how and why it happened.
Complicating the situation is the fact that we decide what to do next based on our past and what we remember, alas, isn’t always what actually happened, as numerous psychological experiments have shown.
So what are we to do? How can we make the best decisions? Unfortunately, I haven’t read the last two chapters and so I can’t tell you what the author recommends. But it may not really matter, for in the introduction he has warned us that in these last chapters, “I will tell you why illusions of foresight are not easily remedied by personal experience or by the wisdom we inherit from our grandmothers. I will conclude by telling you about a simple remedy for these illusions that you will almost certainly not accept.”