Book Review: Stumbling on Happiness, by Daniel Gilbert

As anyone who has studied any psychology knows, humans have one of the most advanced brains out of all the animals on this planet, but they’re far from perfect. There are a lot of situations in which our brains make minor mistakes, and some situations in which they outright betray us. Stumbling on Happiness is an overview of many of these mistakes, with a special focus on mistakes we make when we remember how we felt in our past, or try to predict how we’ll feel in the future.

The book is extremely easy to read. It’s often hilarious, and not just in a “I’m a clever scientist so I’ll throw in a reference to some obscure work of literature and everyone will laugh” sort of funny, but actually hilarious. It also stays clear of any psychology jargon or statistics. As someone studying psychology, I could complain that he oversimplifies things sometimes (for example, discussing the theory of cognitive dissonance without ever calling it by name), but really, the book isn’t meant for psychologists. Anyone could read this and learn a lot about how the mind works, then go read the original research for the details. And even though I don’t fully agree with every conclusion he reaches, I’m glad he never simplifies to the point of being dishonest (like some popular psychology books are prone to doing), such as offering an easy answer to eternal happiness. In science, and especially in psychology, there are no easy answers.

A caution though: the book is more about stumbling, less about happiness. As Gilbert clearly states at the beginning, this isn’t a book about how to make you happy. It’s about how you often suck at predicting what your future will be like, and that happens to include how happy you’ll be. This book can teach you a bit about human psychology, but it cannot teach you how to be happy. He does give one scientifically verified suggestion for how to predict your own happiness, but you won’t like it.

I really enjoyed reading Stumbling on Happiness. Or at least, I currently think I enjoyed it. My brain may not be entirely accurate when retrieving my past happiness while I read it. But I’m pretty sure that anyone interested in psychology could amplify their own future happiness by picking up this book.