Stumbling on Happiness


The most fun I ever had interviewing someone was when I talked to Daniel Gilbert, a psychology professor at Harvard University. It was about a year ago, and I thought I would just ask him a fast question about how much money someone needs to be happy. (Answer, about $40,000 a year. That’s enough to be happy. Money you get after that doesn’t affect your happiness.)

But Gilbert went on and on about how we have no idea what is going to make us happy so we should stop trying so hard to figure it out. His book just came out. It’s called Stumbling on Happiness, and I recommend it. Gilbert has a lot to say about the flawed ways we look for happiness.

Here are things he told me:

1. You can’t predict what will make you happy. People are, in fact, hard-wired to do a poor job of imagining what will make them happy. (This is why we think more money will help, for example.)

2. The best way to figure out happiness is to look at other people. Find people who look happy to you and do what they are doing.

3. You are not special. We are all basically the same. So you don’t need to look for any special code for happiness. Just find people who look happy to you.

To get a sense of Gilbert’s research, here’s an excerpt from his recent op-ed in the New York Times that describes why we are biased when we examine the evidence:

“When our bathroom scale delivers bad news, we hop off and then on again, just to make sure we didn’t misread the display or put too much pressure on one foot. When our scale delivers good news, we smile and head for the shower. By uncritically accepting evidence when it pleases us, and insisting on more when it doesn’t, we subtly tip the scales in our favor. Research suggests that the way we weigh ourselves in the bathroom is the way we weigh evidence outside of it.”

When it comes to picking a career, Gilbert says you should personally try out a lot of different jobs. This is great news for young people today who generally have nine jobs before the age of thirty-two.

4 replies
  1. Brad
    Brad says:

    Feeling and being happy I think is something that has to come from within. It all depends on the person but for me what makes me happy is achieving goals getting things done even if they are small things.

  2. Jody Urquhart
    Jody Urquhart says:

    It’s true studies on happiness show most people look in the wrong place for happiness. We are hardwired to think happiness comes from power or money but its not. I like the word content because that is how i feel when i am happy.

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