Stumbling on Happiness

“Stumbling on Happiness” is a book by Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert. The book questions happiness.
  
He starts with the problems of perception, because any attempt to be happy includes the perception of happiness. He explains numerous psychological illusions to prove that our perception process has serious troubles.
Dr. Gilbert refers to various studies and experiments and leads us to three conclusions. First, our imagination tends to add and remove details, but people do not realize that key details may be fabricated or missing from the imagined scenario. Second, imagined futures (and pasts) are more like the present than they actually will be (or were). Third, our imagination fails to realize that things will feel differently once they actually happen — most notably, the psychological immune system will make bad things feel not so bad as they are imagined to feel.
According to Gilbert, happiness is somewhere in the future and we are trying to create that future. This thinking about the future is one of the distinctive features of human beings. People try to predict the future. The problem, however, is that most of the time the future is very different from the prediction. Some people try to refrain from unsuccessful estimations and focus on the present, and to benefit from it. However, the conditions of “now” do not prevail so we have to prepare ourselves for the future.
The definition of happiness differs from person to person; it is a subjective feeling. It is impossible to compare two different persons’ level of happiness. Apart from comparing two different persons’ happiness, it is very difficult to make a comparison of the present happiness to his past happiness. Happiness is not quantifiable. Even if it is not quantifiable, we may try to measure it by accepting one premise: Measurement will not be accurate.
One of the problems of imagination is its speed. It works so quickly, quietly and effectively that we are insufficiently skeptical of its products. We assume that what we perceive is the truth. We fill in the missing bits of our perceptions with what we think should be there. We only store important pieces of data, and structure the other bits through our imagination. By the way, imagination and reality mix in our mind, but we consider that it is 100 percent truth.
Another problem of perception is giving too much importance to existing data. The data which is not available for the future might be more important than the available data. However, people tend to pay more attention to available data. This approach leads to disappointment for many people.
One of Gilbert’s important points is about how we see the past and the future. How we experience the present directly affects how we remember the past and how we imagine the future. The imagination of the past and the future differs when you are hungry from when you are full. In order to focus on a possible future it is best to block our relationship with the present because the experience of the present filters the clear imagination of the future. It is difficult to remember a particular melody while listening to another.
One remarkable point from Dr. Gilbert is about how we perceive the future present. If it is likely to be bad, we have a tendency to see it from an optimistic point of view. This can be considered our psychological immune system. We try to support our rationalization with facts. The sampling we use might contradict reality, but it gives us hope.
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