Spinal Cord Injuries - Quadriplegic - Lottery winners - Happiness
Stumbling on Happiness
by Daniel Gibert

Happy with your life? If so, that’s as much a function of random chance as anything, according to Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness. Gilbert convincingly debunks the notion that our past emotional states, present experiences, and imagined futures can be accurate predictors of our actual future levels of happiness. As he describes it, most of us wrongly believe that how we felt when we experienced an event in the past can be a telling predictor of how we will feel about that same event in the future.

According to Gilbert, we also incorrectly imagine that how we feel about a situation we are experiencing right now is how we will feel about it in the future. We fail to recognize that things will look different once they actually happen. In specific, potential future events we regard with dread turn out to be not as abominable as previously imagined.

     

Spinal Cord Injuries - Quadriplegic - Lottery winners - Happiness

Quadriplegic or Lottery Winner - Who is Happier?

Is it really possible that Christopher Reeve believed himself in some ways better off after he became a quadriplegic, or that Lance Armstrong is glad to have had cancer, or that cancer patients in general tend to be more optimistic about the future than healthy people? (Answers: yes, yes and yes.)

Gilbert is an influential researcher in happiness studies, an interdisciplinary field that has attracted psychologists, economists and other empirically minded researchers, not to mention a lot of interested students. Gilbert has a serious argument to make about why human beings are forever wrongly predicting what will make them happy. Because of logic- processing errors our brains tend to make, we don't want the things that would make us happy — and the things that we want more money, say, or a bigger house or a fancier car, won't make us happy.

Happiness is a subjective emotional state, so when you and I say that we are "extremely happy" we may mean completely different things. Most people would find the idea of being a conjoined twin to be a horrible fate. You couldn't possibly be happy in that condition, right? Then how come conjoined twins rate themselves as happy as nonconjoined people, Gilbert asks. Is that because they don't know what "real" happiness is? Or are you wrong to think that you couldn't be happy as a conjoined twin?

Not knowing what makes other people happy is one thing. But shouldn't we be able to figure out what will make ourselves happy? No, Gilbert argues, for the same reasons we can't imagine accurately how happy we would be as a conjoined twin. For one thing, we change across time; the person you are when you are imagining what it would be like to have that fancy new car is not the person you will be when you actually have that fancy new car.

"Teenagers get tattoos because they are confident that DEATH ROCKS will always be an appealing motto," he writes. "Smokers who have just finished a cigarette are confident for at least five minutes that they can quit and that their resolve will not diminish with the nicotine in their bloodstreams." For another, as Gilbert shows through a series of logic games and diagrams meant to dupe the reader, we misperceive reality.

Events that we anticipate will give us joy make us less happy than we think; things that fill us with dread will make us less unhappy, for less long, than we anticipate. As evidence, Gilbert cites studies showing that a large majority of people who endure major trauma: wars, car accidents, and rapes in their lives will return successfully to their pre-trauma emotional state — and that many of them will report that they ended up happier than they were before the trauma. It's as though we're equipped with a thermostat that is constantly resetting us back to our emotional baseline.

The book is studded with research supporting this notion: Gore voters in the drawn-out 2000 election who wrongly predicted how unhappy they would be, and for how long, if Bush were declared the victor; college students who mistakenly predict how miserable they would feel if their football team lost; and people who overestimated how long they'd feel blue over a lost love or a lost job.

We even "mispredict" how things that we have already experienced will feel when they happen again. The classic example here is childbirth, which women seem to misremember as not being all that bad. We "expect the next car, the next house or the next promotion to make us happy even though the last ones didn't and even though others keep telling us that the next ones won't."

Gilbert argues that what he calls the "psychological immune system" kicks into gear in response to big negative events such as, the death of a spouse or the loss of a job. but not in response to small negative events. Which means that our day-to-day happiness may be predicated more strongly on little events than on big ones. On its face, this sounds preposterous, but Gilbert cites study after study suggesting that it's true.

In an important sense, "Stumbling on Happiness" is a paean to delusion. "How do we manage to think of ourselves as great drivers, talented lovers and brilliant chefs when the facts of our lives include a pathetic parade of dented cars, disappointed partners and deflated soufflés?" Gilbert asks. "The answer is simple: We cook the facts."

The Just Wait Teen Program

The Just Wait Teen™ program is life enhancing and is not a rehabilitation program, or is not a drug education program. Its objective is to encourge a teen to reach 21 years - substance free.

The Just Wait Foundation is a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit corporation to prevent drug, alcohol, and tobacco problems among teenagers. The Foundation provides one-year scholarships (two semesters) at a Community College or $1000 award to teens that completes the Just Wait Teen™ Positive Youth Development Program, obtains a GED, or graduates from high school - alcohol, tobacco, and drug free.

We offer free leadership training for any person or group that wants to start this program in their community. Visit this web site for upcoming dates. http://meaningfuljoy.info/workshop

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