Stumbling on Happiness

Daniel Gilbert's Stumbling on Happiness

No doubt I’m late to the party.

Nevertheless, I just finished “Stumbling on Happiness”: by Daniel Gilbert. I’d certainly recommend it to people, though, like Daniel Pound, my late, admired Professor of Political Science, I doubt it’ll really change your mind, but it’ll give you a better vocabulary with which to articulate your assumptions.

It has many compelling things to say about the wild divergence between reality and how we, as humans, deal with the prospect of the future, and how our focus on the future influences our ability to be happy in the present.

A lot of it comes down to the fact that we are poor judges of what will serve to make us happy or unhappy–our memories of things that have affected our happiness become too muted to quickly, and are colored too much by how we feel most recently, or sometimes _right now_, and besides, we’re just not too good at really assessing things in any relative fashion at all.

(In a way, it’s sort of an argument against Intelligent Design, too–if the designer was so damned intelligent, how, exactly, did he come up with _this_ mess?)

Now I will concede that I have fallen prey to exactly these issues at lunch today–I had a brownie at the end whose sugar content is currently playing hell with my metabolism and making me jittery and achy, as the same item at the same place has done many times in the past–but on the big things, not so much.

I don’t generally feel a lot of buyer’s remorse, for instance. Especially in the last several years, I tend to hold off buying something until I feel certain that it’s going to fulfill my needs, and I’m going to use it enough to warrant it. As a consequence, I am often inordinately pleased with whatever it is, because it does fill a gap.

Also, although I consider myself an optimist, I don’t generally anticipate or expect great things for the future. The future is, in my opinion, going to look a lot like the past–we’ll muddle through, somehow.

And I don’t tend to plan too far into the future–I mean, how can I really know what’s going to be gong on in five years? Funny enough, I can trace this habit directly to reading Tolstoy’s “What Men LIve By”: at some point in middle-school.

Mostly, I try to achieve happiness with whatever I have right now. For a long time, there was a part of me that rebelled against that idea–being OK with what you happen to have sounds an awful lot like just what the Oligarchy wants. But I have come to realize that there’s a difference between contentment and apathy. You can be engaged, but content, and that’s the place I want to be.

Published by

Michael Alan Dorman

Yogi, brigand, programmer, thief, musician, Republican, cook. I leave it to you figure out which ones are accurate.