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on December 13, 2016
This book was a worthwhile read as it presented original ideas I had not previously encountered on how to predict what may or may not make us happy in the future based on what makes us and others happy in the present. I was expecting self-help, pop-science and recycling of commonly talked about studies, so this new and refreshing take on the topic of happiness was a pleasant surprise. I think back to this book now when trying to factor future happiness into my decision making process and goals. One of my favorite reads of the year, and a simple one at that.
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on March 30, 2018
This book is yet another entry in the Gladwell-esque academic-discoveries-for-the-masses category and has the same issues: an exciting premise (why do we fail at forecasting happiness / our imagination has flaws), a casual and sometimes witty voice and most importantly, an excessive length relative to its subject matter. The whole “your brain has flaws” argument has much in common with better books such as Kahneman’s and this book suffers from a lack of narrative arc: it’s stuffed too full of experiments and observations and doesn’t actually drive towards its conclusion - which is something that can be accomplished much more quickly than 260 pages.
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on June 7, 2014
No one book will ever solve all your problems and show you The Way. As Seneca said, "As long as you live, keep learning to live." But even that learning bit is not easy with all the noise of experience. That's where Daniel Gilbert's little nugget helps. It helps you eliminate a lot of noise with some powerful insights drawn from psychological studies. The three most useful for me are these: (1) It's not the future as such, but it's the planning for the future that makes you anxious. (2) All your planning for, say, five years later is based on the implicit assumption that you will be the same as you are now and think the same as you do now, five years later. (3) Quite likely, your particular circumstances are not entirely new to humanity and someone has been on the path (or parts of the path) you will end up taking so you can learn from them. So be ready to stumble and you may stumble on happiness. (This review is for the print version of the book. I also ordered a Kindle version to keep on my smartphone but I haven't flicked through it yet, so I wouldn't know if there is anything not quite right about the Kindle presentation.)
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on June 28, 2009
The book starts out very strong and engaging but gets weaker through the middle and especially at the end.

The focus of this book is to assess our ability to predict the future, and specifically whether or not this will make a person happy.

One aspect of this book I enjoyed is that it thoroughly considered time in its consideration of happiness. For example, the book would consider a situation and show how a person expected to feel in the present, BEFORE undertaking a certain action (say eating an ice-cream cone). It would then ask a person how the felt DURING the undertaking of a certain action. Then several weeks later would ask how the person REMEMBERED that certain action. The book does a very good job showing inconsistencies between how we predict how we will feel, how we feel at the time of a stimulus, and how we remember feeling the stimulus.

In the beginning in particular, the studies are described very vividly and are differentiated well. The message of the book is clear.

By the middle of the book, the reader is somewhat inundated with studies. And many of these studies are slight variants on the same idea that don't really elucidate the problem of imagination, or predicting happiness any better.

By the middle and the end, one realizes that it focuses on things like ice-cream cones and potato chips as source of pleasure-able feelings and doesn't offer a comprehensive model on happiness.

This book is not really geared about happiness so much as it is about recognizing many of the inconsistencies in human choice (mostly on more mundane things).

In its final chapter, the author really has VERY little to say on how to solve our inability to predict how the future will make us feel. He spends about a few pages recommending that we ask others who are experiencing the things currently that we would like to undertake.

(i.e. ask a practicing lawyer how much happiness they feel practicing law...).

In all the book is worth reading, but is by no means spectacular. The value in the book is in some of the ways that the author contrasts the past, present, future, human imagination and memory, and ties it all together to show where our blindspots are.

In all I'd give it about 3.5 stars...
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on June 25, 2009
Based on this book's title and a cursory glance at some reviews, I figured that this is probably just another book on happiness, but I decided to read it anyway since the ratings are generally pretty good, credible people have endorsed it, and the topic is important. I'm pleased to report that the book far exceeded my expectations and represents an important and original contribution to this genre. Despite having read quite a few books over the years, including several good ones on happiness, I learned a lot of new and useful things from this book.

In fact, this book is so packed with insights that I'll need to carefully go through it again (which I look forward to). Some readers may feel that the book goes into too many topics which are tangential to the main argument, but I personally very much appreciated the way Gilbert builds his case systematically and thoroughly, providing us with a wide array of intellectual fringe benefits in the process. Indeed, while the focus of the book is on happiness, the scope of the book is actually much broader than just happiness.

The content of the book is mostly drawn from experimental psychology (the good kind), and Gilbert describes many experiments in just the right amount of detail. I sometimes felt that he neglected plausible alternative interpretations of the experimental results, but I see this as a relatively minor issue. The earlier parts of the book also mixed in some Western philosophy, which I thought was a nice touch. And the many quotes from Shakespeare were also apropo since, after all, Shakespeare just about single-handedly encapsulated the full spectrum of human experience and behavior into his body of work!

Given the book's rich content, it's hard to summarize this book, but I would say that the (greatly oversimplified) main idea is that both our memory and imagination are inherently faulty, which often causes us to choose suboptimally when it comes to decisions which affect our future happiness. We can partly get around that problem by querying people who are currently having the experience we're considering having, but that approach doesn't always work, plus we're inherently resistant to taking that approach anyway. However, again, this is just an oversimplification, and you really need to read this book in its entirety.

Regarding Gilbert's writing style, I think he's quite clear and easy to follow, and he also employs humor throughout the book. To be honest, I initially found his humor superfluous and a bit annoying, but I gradually came to appreciate it, since it lightens the book's atmosphere and thereby helps to sustain the reader's stamina.

Overall, this is a superb book and I highly recommend it if you want to be happier, or even if you're just interested in what makes people tick. Five stars don't even begin to do justice to this book.
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on September 5, 2007
This is indeed an academic review of the evidence that shows us how we can and cannot predict happiness. There are a lot of studies used as supporting evidence, but the writing is so fabulously witty that you don't get lost in the academia of it.

The book approaches underlying assumptions, but reveals new insights into how we humans operate. Like "Left Brain, Right Brain" it provides us understanding into how our minds work. It's not a let's-all-get-happy-and-here's-how manual. It's a look at how our minds trick us into believing things that may or may not lead us to happiness. The author does fairly show the most (statistically) accurate way to make such predictions - but nothing is 100 per cent.

I loved reading this book, even the subtle quips made the details enjoyable. I loved the insights provided and feel I won't rely so much on seeking absolute happiness, but rather relative happiness - because in the end that's all we can really know.

As the author states:

"As you will learn, the shortcoming that causes us to misremember the past and mispercieve the present is the very same shortcoming that causes us to mismanage the future."

Imagining future happiness is necessarily faulty, because imagination has three shortcomings:

1. Tendency to fill in and leave out without telling us.

2. Tendency to project the present onto the future.

3. Failure to recognize that things will look different once they happen - in particular, that bad things will look a whole lot better.

In a culture of overindulgence, Daniel Gilbert's message is much needed - happiness is about satiation, overindulgence is not at all about that.

"Wealth may be measured by counting dollars, but utility must be measured by counting how much goodness those dollars buy. Wealth doesn't matter, utility does. ...we care about the goodness or pleasure that these forms of weath may (or may not) induce. Wise choices are those that maximize our pleasure, not our dollars, and if we are to have any hope of choosing wisely, then we must correctly anticipate how much pleasure those dollars will buy us."

This is why we stumble. Mr. Gilbert helps us understand why we stumble. And in the process of writing about it, he distributes a fair share of happiness in turn through a very comforting writing style.
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VINE VOICEon August 30, 2006
This book provides the reader with insight into how the brain processes past experiences, interprets the present, and imagines the future.

The author argues that the human brain remembers key points of past experiences and fills in the rest, rendering our recollection of past events inaccurate sometimes.

I agreed with many of the author's assertions regarding how our throught process interferes with our perception of reality, and why and how this can hinder our judgment of how we will feel about the future. What you think will make you happy may not make you as happy as you think.

I disagreed with the extent to which these processes affect our views of the present and future. We learn from trial and error which reduces perception errors. Moreover, many of the false expectations of happiness we harbor for future events are the result of external influences such as commercials, movies, television, celebrities, our peers and internal factors such as self image and self confidence which the author completely ignores.

Nevertheless, this book has many novel ideas I was introduced to that are informative and will be of use to me no doubt.
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on January 2, 2016
I gave the book three stars because some parts of the book was very informative but other parts completely loss me....left me scratching my head. I am currently a psychology major therefore I got a lot of insight from the book. To me, the book did not express clearly enough how we stumble on happiness. All in all, it was a good book.....some of the chapters were great.
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on July 13, 2006
It might seem that a book that never reaches its premise would be fatally flawed, but "Stumbling on Happiness" disproves that notion. In fact, Gilbert has layed out a thorough and insightful analysis of the ways in which the human mind consistently miscalculates in its perception and interpretation of the past, present and future.

The idea behind the book is the errors that the human mind tends to make on a consistent basis leads us to make bad decisions about what will make us happy, but that connection is only loosely made and then only as an afterthought at the end of the book. Strangely, this doesn't really hurt "Stumbling." If you read it instead as a fascinating look at the ways the human mind can be deceived and often deceives itself - a truly interesting subject - you have a very solid book.

While it's surprising that Gilbert didn't realize his book wasn't turning out to be about his premise and alter his course a bit, he's still written a book well worth a read. Recommended.
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on July 14, 2016
Brilliant and Brilliant and amusing. The way our mind works, the lies that we tell ourselves without knowing, how we deceive ourselves trusting imagination and the power of our mind to make the correct choices.... I've learned so much!. The way our mind works, the lies that we tell ourselves without knowing, how we deceive ourselves trusting imagination and the power of our mind to make the correct choices.... I've learned so much!
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