Friday, May 4, 2012

Book Review: Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert

I don't know the last time I took so long to read a book, and I never gave up on it!  You might be expecting me to rate low a book I spent over 6 months reading, but I did enjoy it. An awful lot of information lies between these covers and so it's perfect for small snippets here and there as you can certainly use the time to digest what you've learned.

Basically the book is about how our imagination works (or doesn't) and how its flaws can lead us to erroneous assumptions, wrong decisions, and to think we're less happy than we are. For instance, we imagine that being fired will feel wretchedly horrible, but when it actually happens we don't report feeling that bad, because we rationalize what happened ("I didn't like working there anyway.") We make bad predictions about the future, we misremember the past, we don't take advice, all because of the way our imagination works. It might not be perfect, but it is one definite thing that sets us apart from other animals and does allow us to plan for events. 

While the book stuffs a heck of a lot of ideas into a small space, it's totally accessible, if a little dense for large doses. Mr. Gilbert's writing is straightforward and very funny. For example, "With the exception of Wilt Chamberlain, nobody picks friends and lovers by random sampling" (181) or "we could average those measurements and feel reasonably confident that a tyrannosaurus is indeed bigger than a root vegetable."  His examples are hilarious, and the book is peppered with optical illusions and other tricks. He quotes everyone from Freud to Frank Zappa to Plato and if you really wanted to, you could learn from this book how to make better decisions (or at least less skewed ones). I doubt I will be so proficient - I mostly just read it for amusing anecdotes and explanation of seemingly absurd behavior, but you could if you wanted.

I bought this book at a Borders GOOB sale.

1 comment:

Christy said...

I find myself making all sorts of weird mental leaps and assumptions, or realizing that I've just made a decision based on very little real facts, so this sounds like a good book.