Stumbling on Happiness

By Daniel Gilbert

The goal of the book is to help the reader understand what happiness is and isn’t, why we have such a hard time finding it, and some possible solutions as to how we can get more of it.

Humans use memory to see the past, perception to see the present, and imagination to see the future, and each of these is much less reliable than we think they are. The higher evolved part of our brain, the neocortex, fills in what our memory, perception, and imagination leave out.

We are motivated to be happy, more than anything else in life, and we have been raised to believe that consuming things is what will bring us this happiness. The economy, the lynchpin of a stable society, depends on this to keep things running smoothly. But, we must understand that money and wealth cannot bring us happiness, it only sends us on wild goose chases leading to dead ends.

Most of us would opt for a short cut, a quick fix, to find happiness, but philosopher Robert Nozick’s theoretical happiness machine makes us realize that this is not the solution. Deep down we know that the pleasure we would get from a machine, or maybe drugs, etc. is not happiness at all. Gilbert proposes that happiness is a special feeling that we get from the process, not the outcome. That process is what is required in order to experience the feeling of happiness.

So what would make us happy?

Since we cannot fully trust the imagination of our present selves to plot a future that will satisfy our future selves’ needs, the best solution may be to find others that are living a life similar to what we desire and use them as examples or even mentors.

Deeper Dive