Monday, April 27, 2009

_Stumbling on Happiness_ by Daniel Gilbert

I was attending some lectures on happiness, a series for alumni and students at UT, and math professor Michael Starbird recommended this book, so I got a copy from the library.

The title of the book isn't very revealing. The book is much more about how our minds work than anything else. It's about cognitive illusions and fallacies and about how we construct the future in our minds.

It begins with a great little bit about how all psychologists have to write something, eventually, that starts with -- I'm quoting very loosely here -- 'the thing that makes human beings different is' and then answer that question. His answer is our ability to predict or imagine the future.

And then he goes on to explain all the ways we can get that wrong.

The book is a fun read, full of great ideas; here are just two that I noted down:

  • We think and judge things in relative terms. This is not always good. For example, we'll drive across town to save $50 on a $100 stereo, but not on a $100,000 car. But you can't spend relative dollars; you can only SPEND absolute dollars, so this is a rational choice. Offer almost anyone that choice, though, and you'll get the same answer. But you in both cases you save $50, that's $50 in your bank, that you can spend on anything, and the effort to save it is the SAME.
  • The best way to predict something, it turns out, is to find someone who is experiencing it right now, and ask them. We reject this because we feel we are unique, but we are nowhere near as unique as we think, and our ability to imagine the future is hampered by several fallacies...enough so that picking a random person who is having an experience, someone who is of course different from us in many ways ...their results are a better predictor than our imagination. This is counterintuitive but convincingly explained in the book.

No comments:

Post a Comment