Kenn's Reviews > Stumbling on Happiness

Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Todd Gilbert
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M 50x66
's review
Jun 15, 2011

liked it
Read in May, 2011

As a book, I didn't expect this to have cutting-edge research. As a popular book, I didn't expect it to be dry and technical.

It met both of these criteria, and I can't honestly say that I was disappointed with it. It's written in an entertaining if slightly condescending style. Most of the material was not new to me—I'd done a lot of reading online about these topics already.

It did stimulate a lot of interesting thoughts during a week when I felt more like reading books than blog posts, although I'm not sure if any of them stuck. However, I can't help but feel that it should be possible to give more information about the actual studies and let the reader make up their own mind about what conclusions are warranted, even in a popular science book. There is little mention of how strong an effect is or whether there are other possible explanations.

The big secret advice at the end is to take an outside view—that is, assume you aren't special and are in fact equal to the statistical average of other people. (The author describes this as advice almost no one will take, even though it would make them more accurate.) Fair enough; many people probably haven't really considered the outside view. But the lack of accommodation for actual knowledge of one's own differences from the statistical average make the advice seem extreme, and I fear will lead readers to reject it wholesale.

I don't know of a better book, so I can't say reading this is a bad idea for someone who's not familiar with the research suggesting we make systematic errors in forecasting what will make us happy. Just be aware of some of the pitfalls.

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