Thursday, October 29, 2009

A happy book that doesn't cheer you up.


Dan Gilbert suggests that humans are unique because we have the ability to imagine, to predict and plan for the future thanks to our highly evolved brain. But the tool is flawed as the brain often jumps to conclusion and constructs unreliable memories by default. (Did I lock my car? I'm not sure. I think I did.)

By applying similar logic, Dan explains further how our perception of happiness is no different. We often don't want the things that make us happy - and the things that we want (more money, bigger house, fancier car, admiration from friends) never do make us happy.

We even "mispredict" how things that we have already experienced will feel when they happen again. The classic example here is childbirth, which women seem to misremember as not being all that bad. We "expect the next car, the next house or the next promotion to make us happy even though the last ones didn't and even though others keep telling us that the next ones won't."

In short, imagination (or projecting ourselves into the future) is the key to our happiness, yet the problem is that we are incapable to imagine correctly.

Despite being published two years ago, it was my best read of the year. If you enjoy the likes of freakonomics and Malcolm Gladwell, give this book a go.