Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Happiness Book that influenced me the most

This is a long overdue post. While commenting on one of my posts on happiness, Chris P. asked me two questions: 1.What's the best happiness book you have read; and 2. Are you happier now?

The first question is easier to answer. Without a doubt it is Stumbling on Happiness by Harvard's professor Daniel Gilbert. This is not a self-help book, at least not in the shallow sense of the phrase. This is a very accessible book covering the latest research on our very human failure to predict what makes us happy. (It is full of cleverly constructed experiments that expose how our cognitive biases conspire to make us imagine the future poorly.) Prof. Gilbert is smart and articulate in the way we wish all our teachers were.

Before I read this book, a lot of my ideas about happiness were naïve. I first encountered a lot of new (to me) concepts in this book. Concepts like having a happiness "set point", the differences with which we rate our current experiences versus our memory of past happiness; and our skewed loss versus gain assessments. Perhaps the most important concept I picked up was that of Hedonic Adaptation.

Many of these concepts had a deep impact on me. I learned not to put too much weight in statements like "Once I get [ABC], I will …" or "As soon as [xyz] happens, my life will be wonderful again." This is the book that taught me to distrust many of my emotion-based expectations and anticipations.

I must add that Stumbling on Happiness was the first book of this genre that I read, which is one reason why it had a big impact on me. When I later read Sonja Lyubomirsky's How of Happiness, a lot of the material was already familiar to me, and thus that book didn’t have quite the same impact that Stumbling on Happiness did.

If you haven't read any of the books in the "Happiness Lit" genre I strongly recommend Stumbling on Happiness. It might change your life, just a little.

Chris's second question is: Am I happier now? This one is more difficult to answer. The short answer is yes, I am. Yes, because I am a little more aware of the underlying mechanisms at work. Perhaps an analogy would make my point better. Reading this book is like attending a movie appreciation class. The movies you view may not change, but you are able to see deeper into the ones that you do watch.

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

Ram,

Thanks for answering my question. I intend the check out the book you recommend. Hope you are well!

Chris

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