“Stumbling on Happiness” By Dan Gilbert illuminates the fact that we don’t know what will make us happy. Our mind’s eye has a blind spot which makes us misimagine the future. We mispredict how certain events will make us feel and pursue paths that won’t necessarily bring the most happiness. If there is one thing you can learn from this book is that happiness isn’t in the future, it is here right now. If you can’t be happy now, you won’t be happy later. If we are always busy imagining what life could or should be like we miss out on the gift that is unfolding right before our eyes.
Chapter 1 – Journey to elsewhen
-Planning requires that we peer into our futures, and anxiety is one of the reactions we may have when we do.
-Some events are more pleasurable to imagine than experience
-when people find it easy to imagine an event, they overestimate the likelihood that it will actually occur
-Events that challenge our optimistic beliefs can sometimes make us more rather than less optimistic
-Anticipating unpleasant events can minimize their impact
-We motivate ourselves by imagining unpleasant tomorrows
-Our brains want to control the experiences we are about to have now
-Gaining control can have a positive impact on one’s health and well-being, but losing control can be worse than never having had any at all
Chapter 2 – The view from in here
-The word happiness is used to indicate at least three related things, which we might roughly call emotional happiness, moral happiness, and judgmental happiness.
-Because emotional happiness is an experience, it can only be approximately defined by its antecedents and by its relation to other experiences.
-When we say we are happy about or happy that, we are merely noting that something is a potential source or pleasurable feeling, or a past source of pleasurable feeling, or that we realize it ought to be a source of pleasurable feeling but that it sure doesn’t feel that way at the moment.
-Once we have an experience, we are thereafter unable to see the world as we did before
Chapter 3 – Outside Looking In
-The brain was designed to answer the “what should I do?” Before the “What is it?” Question
-Awareness can be thought of as an experience of our experience
-Alexithymia …. absence of words to describe emotional states
-If the language-squishing hypothesis or the experience-stretching hypothesis is correct then every one of us may have a different mapping of what we experience onto what we say
-The attentive person’s honest, real-time report is an imperfect approximation of her subjective experience, but it is the only game in town.
Chapter 4 – In the blind spot of the mind’s eye
-We make a systematic set of errors when we try to imagine “what it would feel like if”
-We are forced to consider the possibility that what clearly seems to be the better life may actually be the worse life and that when we look down the timeline at the different lives we might lead, we may not always know which is which.
-The act of remembering involves “filling in” details that were not actually stored And we usually cannot tell we are doing this because filling in happens quickly and unconsciously.
-We start out as realists become idealists but sometimes revert to realism
-When we imagine the future, we often do so in the blind spot of our mind’s eye, and this tendency can cause us to misimagine the future events whose emotional consequences we are attempting to weight
Chapter 5 – The Hound of silence
-We are wired to look for what is there not what is missing
-The misses are crucial to determining what kinds of inferences we can legitimately draw from the hits
-When we think of events in the distant past or distant future we tend to think abstractly about why they happened, but when we think of events in the near past or near future we tend to think concretely about how they happened or will happen.
-The futures we imagine contain some details our brains invented and lack some details that our brains ignored. Thus we tend to think that out future will only contain that which we imagined.
Chapter 6 – The Future is now
-“When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.”
-Future events may request access to the emotional areas of our brains, but current events almost always get the right of way.
-We cannot feel good about an imaginary future when we are busy feeling bad about an actual present.
Chapter 7 – Time Bombs
-Wonderful things are especially wonderful the first time they happen, but their wonderfulness wanes with repetition.
-Time and variety are two ways to avoid habituation, and if you have one then you don’t need the other.
-When episodes are sufficiently separated in time, variety is not only unnecessary it can actually be costly
-Variety increases pleasure when consumption is rapid
-Variety reduces pleasure when consumption is slow
-We can inspect a mental image and see who is doing what and where, but not when they are doing it.
-Value is determined by the comparison of one thing with another
-There is more than one kind of comparison we can make in any given instant
-We may value something more highly when we make one kind of comparison than when we make a different kind of comparison
-Presentism occurs because we fail to recognize that our future selves won’t see the world the way we see it now
Chapter 8 – Paradise Glossed
-Context, frequency and recency are three of the factors that determine which meaning we will infer when we encounter an ambiguous stimulus
-When your brain is at liberty to interpret a stimulus in more than one way, it tends to interpret it the way it wants to, which is to say your preferences influence your interpretations of stimuli in just the same way that context, frequency, and recency do.
-People are quite adept at finding a positive way to view things once those things become their own
-The brain and the eye may have a contractual relationship in which the brain has agreed to believe what the eye sees, but in return the eye has agreed to look for what the brain wants
-When we want to believe that someone is smart, then a single letter of recommendation may suffice; but when we don’t want to believe that person is smart, we may demand a thick manila folder full of transcripts, tests, and testimony. (Halo Effect)
Chapter 9 – Immune to Reality
-People regret inactions more than actions because the psychological immune system has a more difficult time manufacturing positive and credible views of inactions than actions
-We are more likely to look for and find a positive view of the things we’re stuck with than with things we’re not (cognitive dissonance)
-Inescapable circumstances trigger the psychological defenses that enable us to achieve positive views of those circumstances, but we do not anticipate that this will happen.
Chapter 10 – Once Bitten
-The fact that the least likely experience is often the most likely memory can wreak havoc with our ability to predict future experiences
-We tend to remember the worst of times and the best of times instead of the most likely of times
Chapter 11 – Reporting Live From Tomorrow
-Almost any time we tell anyone anything, we are attempting to change the way they see the world so that their view of it more closely resembles our own.
-When people are deprived of the information that imagination requires and are thus forced to use others as surrogates, they make remarkably accurate predictions about their future feelings
-We don’t always see ourselves as superior, but we almost always see ourselves as unique