• Lars Christensen

Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert - 3 minute read


Finished November 2020. How strongly I recommend this book 9/10


If you are looking for insight into how the human brain works concerning how bad our imagination can predict the future or why we are so bad at taking others good advice—this book is for you.


Link to the book on Amazon here.

My notes and thoughts:

  • When people find it easy to imagine an event, they overestimate the likelihood that it will occur. Because we get more practice imagining good events than bad circumstances, we overestimate the likelihood that good events will happen to us, leading us to be unrealistically optimistic about our futures.

  • Fear, worry, and anxiety have useful roles to play in our lives. We motivate by dramatizing the unpleasant consequences of misbehaviors by imagining the unpleasant tomorrows.

  • People often act as though they can control the uncontrollable. People bet more money on games of chance when their opponents seem incompetent than competent - as though they believed they could control the random drawing of cards from a deck and thus take advantage of a weak opponent. People feel more certain that they will win a lottery if they can control the number on their ticket, and they feel more confident that they will win a dice toss if they can throw the dice themselves. People will wager more money on dice that have not yet been tossed than on dice that have already been tossed but whose outcome is not yet known, and they will bet more if they, rather than someone else, are allowed to decide which number will count as a win. All of these are absolutely absurd if they believed they had no control over an uncontrollable event.

  • No one knows what happiness really is. Therefore we should never say we are happy until we are dead because otherwise if the real thing ever does come along, we will have used up the word and won't have any way to tell the newspapers about it.

  • Volunteers showed quiz-show questions and asked to estimate the likelihood that they could answer them correctly. Volunteers who saw only the questions thought they were difficult. Volunteers who saw both the question and the answer believed they could have answered the questions easily had they never seen the answers at all.

  • ^Once we have an experience; we cannot simply set it aside and see the world as we would have seen it had the experience never happened. The jury cannot disregard the prosecutor's snide remarks.

  • The moment we encounter an object, our brains instantly analyze just a few of its key features and then use the presence or absence of these features to make one very fast, simple decision: "Is this object an important thing to which I ought to respond right now?"

  • Seeing in time is like seeing in space. When things are far away (in space), they are vague and lacking in detail. We do not mistakenly conclude that the far-away thing is vague and lacking in detail. But when we remember or imagine a distant (in time) event, our brains seem to overlook the fact that details vanish, and we conclude that the distant events are as vague as we are imagining and remembering them. For example, have you ever wondered why you often make commitments that you deeply regret when the moment to fulfill them arrives? When we said yes, we were thinking about why instead of how, in terms of causes of consequences instead of execution, and we failed to consider that the detail-free event we were imagining would not be the detail-laden event we would actually experience. Doing something next month is "an act of love," whereas doing it right now is "an act of lunch."

  • Wonderful things are especially wonderful the first time they happen, but their wonderfulness wanes with repetition. (Think about the first time your love said "I love you," versus the 100th time.)

  • People prefer to have a job that pays $30k, then $40k, then $50k - rather than a job that earns $60k, then $50k, then $40k, even though the latter would earn more money.

  • We don't think in absolute dollars. We think of relative dollars. (We would drive across town to save $50 on a $100 radio, but not to save $50 on a $100,000 car.)

  • People are more likely to purchase a vacation package that has been marked down from $600 to $500 than an identical package that costs $400 that was on sale the previous day for $300. We end up preferring bad deals that have become decent deals to great deals that were once amazing deals.

  • When we start shopping for a new pair of sunglasses, we compare the cool new ones in the store with the old, outdated ones on our nose. But a few days after buying the new ones, we stop comparing them with the old pair, and the delight that the comparison produced is gone.

  • When people are asked to predict how they'll feel if a bad event occurs, they consistently overestimate how awful they'll feel and how long they'll feel awful.

  • Because experiences are inherently ambiguous, finding a positive view of an experience is done well and often. Racetrack gamblers evaluate their horses more positively when they are leaving the betting window than when they are approaching it. Same with voters. Objects are fine on their own, but they are instantly finer when they become *our* objects. People are adept at finding a positive way to view things once those things become their own.

  • Wealth increases happiness when it lifts people out of poverty into middle class, but it does little to increase happiness thereafter.

  • We don't always see ourselves as superior, but we almost always see ourselves as unique.

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