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Stumbling on Happiness

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Stumbling on Happiness


15 min read
10 take-aways
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What's inside?

So often you are your own worst enemy when you plan for the future. You're not alone; it's the human condition.

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  • Innovative


You, like most people, have probably made poor decisions regarding the future. For proof of human folly, you have only to look at the large number of divorces, jobs walked away from, failed start-up businesses and attics filled with junk someone "had to buy." Families regret their goofy vacations – then take the same awful trips the following year. And the observers who ask, "What could they possibly have been thinking?" make the same sorts of mistakes in their own lives. As a Yiddish proverb says, "Mann tracht und Gott lacht" – "Man plans and God laughs." So what's going on? Why are people such poor prognosticators? Psychologist Daniel Gilbert explains, with great wit, that the human imagination, along with the other cognitive abilities people use to forecast happiness, are fatally flawed. Based on extensive psychological research, his book posits that, regarding life's future milestones, most people would do better asking someone else what to do rather than making their own decisions. getAbstract recommends this book to managers responsible for planning strategy and tactics, and to anyone else who wonders why he or she so often gets it totally wrong.


"Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow"

Human beings are the only creatures that truly plan for the future. The squirrel burying nuts in anticipation of winter is mindlessly following a survival script that is hard-wired into its brain. This is also the case for other animals whose actions suggest they are making plans. The ability to think about the future is central to the operation only of the human brain. Humans alone can imagine something that does not exist in the present. In fact, one philosopher called the human brain an "anticipation machine." Mature humans understand the concept of "later."

Studies show that people spend approximately 12% of their time thinking about the future. People devote a lot of time trying to imagine or anticipate what will happen – in particular, how happy (or unhappy) they will be with their choices. This is because to feel happy and mentally stable, people need to feel in control of their lives. The need to have an effect on the world is fundamental to humans – which is why babies enjoy knocking over piles of blocks, and why elderly people become depressed when they cannot care for themselves. People anticipate the future because they...

About the Author

Daniel Gilbert teaches psychology at Harvard. He is a pioneer in the research of "affective forecasting" – the forecasting of one's emotional state in the future.

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