Science Book a Day Interviews Daniel Gilbert

daniel-gilbertSpecial thanks to Daniel Gilbert for answering 4 questions about his recently featured book – Stumbling On Happiness

Daniel Gilbert is Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. His research focuses on how and how well people predict their hedonic reactions to future events. – From Social Psychology Network

Daniel’s Homepage: http://www.danielgilbert.com
Daniel’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/DanTGilbert

#1 – What was the impetus for writing this book?

Ten or fifteen years ago I was getting divorced, my teenage son was in deep trouble, my mentor died unexpectedly, my best friend and I had a serious falling out, and I was…well, not too bad thank you. Now, if you’d asked me a year earlier how I would feel if any one of these events (much less all four) were to happen, I would have told you that I’d be devastated for a long, long time. But I wasn’t. I wasn’t euphoric, of course, but I wasn’t nearly as distraught as I would have imagined. And that made me wonder whether my mistaken predictions about the emotional consequences of events like these were unique to me or shared by others. So I teamed up with the psychologist Tim Wilson, and together we began to do surveys and experiments to find out. And what we found out amazed us: People dramatically and regularly mispredict the emotional consequences of future events, both large and small. This finding set me on a research trajectory that has not yet ended, and STUMBLING ON HAPPINESS is a report on what I’ve learned so far. It took me 15 years to answer the question I had asked myself, and I wrote this book so that the next person who asks that question can get a somewhat quicker reply.

#2 – Your book suggests we have the wrong ideas about what happiness is. How did we get to these misguided ideas?

People make mistakes when they try to predict what will make them happy in the future—a decision process that scientists refer to as “affective forecasting.” STUMBLING ON HAPPINESS is an attempt to explain how and why our brains are structured to make these mistakes. Modern people take the ability to imagine the future for granted, but it turns out that this is one of our species’ most recently acquired abilities—no more than three million years old. The part of our brain that enables us to think about the future is one of nature’s newest inventions, so it isn’t surprising that when we try to use this new ability to imagine our futures, we make some rookie errors. These errors come in three basic flavors, and that’s what the book is about.

#3 You effectively use humour throughout the book. Is this important in communicating science to you? How have people responded to your humour? #4 -What was it like to win the Royal Society Book Prize in 2007?

[Answered together – Ed]

I was absolutely delighted to receive this tremendous honor from the world’s oldest learned society. There are very few countries (including my own) where a somewhat cheeky book about happiness could win a science prize — but the British invented intellectual humor and have always understood that enlightenment and entertainment are natural friends. So God bless the empire!

[Image Credit: http://www.wjh.harvard.edu/~dtg/dtg.jpg ]

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