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Stumbling on Happiness

Page history last edited by PBworks 14 years, 11 months ago

Stumbling on Happiness

by Daniel Gilbert

 

This summary covers the final pages of the book, starting with "Finding the Solution" on page 224 of the hardbound edition.

 

The Three Shortcomings of Imagination

1) It tends to fill in and leave out without telling us, and the features and consequences that we fail to consider are often quite important.

  • For example, college students overestimate the emotional impact of the big game because they fail to imagine what happens afterwards ("And then I'll go home and study for my exams.")
  • Unexplained events have a disproportionate impact because they strike us as unusual and we're likely to keep thinking about them. Explanations let us tuck away the event in our files...uncertainty can actually preserve and prolong our happiness.

2) It tends to project the present onto the future. This can be seen when you shop on an empty stomach or propose marriage while on shore leave.

  • For example, vounteers ate lots of snack foods, then were asked to predict how much the'd enjoy eating potato chips the next day. They dramatically underestimated their pleasure.
  • Ironically, prospective and retrospective are often quite consistent, even if they don't match the actual feelings during the moment the event took place!

3) It fails to recognize that things will look different once they happen, in particular, that bad things will look a whole lot better (what we call rationalization).

  • We have a psychological immune system which protects us by using rationalization to interpret reality. Large threats (e.g. becoming paralyzed) draw a strong response. On the other hand, small threats (e.g. breaking a pencil) draw little response.
  • "Intense suffering triggers the very processes that eradicate it, while mild suffering does not."
  • When we cannot change the experience, we look for ways to change our view of the experience ("inescapability."

 

The Solution: Surrogation

  • The best way to predict how we'll feel about something is to see how others feel about it. Research shows that when asked to predict our level of happiness at receiving a prize, we are much more accurate when basing our prediction on a surrogate's report (without knowing the nature of the prize!), than if we're told exactly what will happen.
  • On the other hand, people are reluctant to take this approach because they don't see themselves as average.
    • 90% of motorists consider themselves safer than average
    • 94% of college professors consider themselves above-average teachers.
    • If asked about whether they are more generous than average, people generally agree. But they also agree when asked if they are more selfish than average.
    • "We don't always see ourselves as superior, but we almost always see ourselves as unique."
  • In fact, we tend to overestimate everyone's uniqueness--we're more similar than we tend to believe.

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