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Stumbling on Happiness.

STUMBLING ON HAPPINESS by Daniel Gilbert. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006. 280 pages. Hardcover; $24.95. ISBN: 1400042666.

This book deals with affective forecasting, which is predicting how you will feel--happy or sad--in the future. The author claims that people often make false predictions on how they will feel. When asked how a person finds happiness, he responds: "People have been writing books that promise to answer that question for roughly two thousand years, and the result has been a lot of unhappy people and a lot of dead trees." So this book is not a self-help book on achieving happiness. It is about how well people can imagine and predict which future they will most enjoy. And Gilbert does not take a high view of happiness, anyway: "If someone could offer you a pill that would make you permanently happy, you would be well advised to run fast and run far."

Gilbert gilds his research with humor. On the finding that on successive occasions of an experience, people find it less pleasurable, Gilbert comments: "Psychologists call this habituation, economists call it declining marginal utility, and the rest of us call it marriage."

Gilbert writes that some past psychologists have been proved wrong by their contentions that human beings are unique from (other) animals in using language or tools. However, Gilbert has his own suggestion about humankind's uniqueness: "The human being is the only animal that thinks about the future." And Gilbert will defend this sentence: "Until a chimp weeps at the thought of growing old alone ." (p. 5). And, "There are many good things about getting older, but no one knows what they are" (p. 196).

The author presents many amusing and some surprising tidbits. For example, most people are unrealistically optimistic about their futures (p. 18); cancer patients are more realistic about their futures than are healthy folk (p. 18); conjoined twins almost always desire to remain together (p. 30); over half of Americans, during their lifetimes, will suffer a rape, physical assault, or natural disaster (p. 152); and the City Council of Monza, Italy, because they thought goldfish in bowls suffered, banned them . the bowls, not the goldfish (p. 171).

Gilbert, a Harvard College professor of psychology, short-story writer, and frequently published writer, walks to work in Cambridge, MA. David G. Myers, ASA member, author of The Pursuit of Happiness, and an outstanding social psychologist himself, labels Gilbert one of the most talented contemporary social psychologists. This talent shines through in this very insightful, interesting, and empirically researched book. It does not touch on the role religion or Christianity plays in happiness.

This book has received high praise from a Nobel Prize winner, the author of Freakonomics, and the author of All Marketers Are Liars. An interesting topic, presented from a scientific viewpoint, authored by a skillful writer, this book will prove a worthwhile purchase. Readers will be informed, entertained, and perhaps stimulated to action, or inaction. Whatever their reactions, they will have better insight. If happiness is not coming down the pike, perhaps there is some consolation in knowing why.

Reviewed by Richard Ruble, John Brown University, Siloam Springs, AR 72761.
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Author:Ruble, Richard
Publication:Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 1, 2007
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