Stumbling on Happiness

Aug 4, 2013

Stumbling on Happiness cover

Rating: 35

This book was an entertaining take on why we are bad at predicting our emotions in the future, specifically what will make us happy. Gilbert is funny throughout the book, which makes it an enjoyable read. My major complaint is that I was hoping for more ideas that I could apply after reading this. Instead, the book spends more time focusing on our shortcomings, which are interesting nonetheless.


  • Imagination has three shortcomings:

    • It fills in holes and leaves out details (often with us unaware of this).

    • It is heavily influenced by the present.

    • It has a hard time telling us what we will think about the future when we get there.

  • Memories are like paintings, not photographs.

  • Information acquired after events influences earlier memories.

  • We remember details or impressions/feelings about events, then reconstruct the memories from these.

  • Time and variety are the two ways to avoid habituation, that is diminished returns from repeated things. If you have one you don’t need, and often don’t want, the other.

  • We’re far more critical of facts that challenge foregone conclusions.

  • We have a psychological immune system, which looks hard for positives when a negative experience affects us beyond a certain threshold (e.g. painful vs. annoying).

  • We are far more accurate in predictions when asking a random person who is currently experiencing what we wish to predict how they currently feel, than when we try to imagine our future selves in the situation. This is called surrogation by Gilbert, and was one of the few actionable takeaways.

  • We underestimate the utility of surrogation because we overestimate the differences between ourselves and the surrogate.

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