Stumbling on Happiness
By Daniel Gilbert
Review by Rebecca Johnson
If you want to stumble on happiness start doing good deeds and random acts of kindness. Writing in a gratitude journal also seems to work as does changing your thoughts from negative to positive. While this book may teach you some important things (think about the positives and negatives of any future situation) it is more of an intellectual romp through psychology land.
Daniel Gilbert is the type of person you'd want to be friends with. He'd provide entertaining conversation, take you to gourmet restaurants and explain why your life is such a surprising journey. Along the way he'd make you laugh a lot. He sure did in this book. I lost track of how many times I laughed. Maybe I just got his humor and his writing had high creative appeal. I also learned a few new words like panglossian.
What did occur to me while reading was that I think I remember my past experiences far better than the people discussed in this book. I definitely know what would make me happy based on past experiences. I also know what won't make me happy in the future. This book did answer some of my questions however, like why I love to wait for packages from amazon. I will often choose the free shipping just so things get to me slower. This habit of forestalling pleasure brings me a lot of anticipatory joy.
One thing I didn't agree with was the comments about the movie Casablanca. A person usually doesn't regret doing the right thing. In fact doing the right thing can bring a wealth of happiness. I'm also not sure the author has ever experienced a form of spiritual enlightenment as it is like night and day and you know you've never been that happy before. Some of his comments indicated he may be more concerned with science than religion although religion brings a lot of happiness to people. God was not mentioned except in passing so there was no data on people who have fallen in love with God. I also am completely convinced that some people want to be miserable. They make a choice to continue in their negative ruminations.
Daniel Gilbert is however a keen observer of the world and he knows a lot about human nature. So from that angle this book is very intriguing. It is a joy to experience his deep thinking and conclusions. I also felt he was very logical and has a good handle on philosophy. He does however believe in evolution if that is of interest to you. Not a lot of time is spent on that subject besides describing aspects of the brain.
I do personally think it is fun to think positively about the future but I will now use more caution when my imagination runs wild. Will I ever have pool or travel to Paris again? These are things I hope for and it is fun to think about what I will do tomorrow and which book I will read. So hope is definitely a factor in predicting happiness.
So get ready to have an author uncover some dark secrets about society. Be prepared to laugh out loud. This is a very enjoyable reading experience that I can recommend to almost anyone. Just have some éclairs or chocolate cake handy. You will get hungry for foods he mentions. :)
Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Rebecca Johnson. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.