Daniel Gilbert’s book that I have just finished reading for the second time in 2 years is not a self help book. Anyone that takes psychological advice from someone who is not licensed or trained to give it should have their head examined, he says. Now when you find out that Daniel Gilbert is a Psychology PhD from Princeton and Professor at Harvard, you probably would want to listen on what he has to say. And what he has to say, simplistically, could be summarized in one sentence: your brain is not a good tool to forecast what is going to make you happy.
I personally do not take any of the below views for granted, but would like to share them to take feedback and explore other view points. Also, writing a book review is a great way to remember the book, and exposing it to the scrutiny of the readers by publishing it is a good exercise to force me to check the validity of what I am writing.
Anything in italics in this note is a verbatim extract from the book, anything else is either a paraphrase or my own interpretation.
The Human Being is the Only Animal that Thinks about the Future
And it makes many mistakes while doing so. In the late 1960’s, a Harvard Psychology Professor took LSD, resigned his appointment, went to India, met a Guru and went back to write a book called Be Here Now of which the key message is that the key to happiness was to stop thinking so much about the future.
Now anyone who has a sane frontal lobe knows that not thinking about the future is close to mission impossible. We think about the future mostly because we want to have control over it. Research shows that being effective, changing things, influencing things is a fundamental need for our brain, and that losing control is a major source of depression.
We insist on having all this control, but the truth is that all these efforts for control are in vain, not because don’t know where we are going, but because the destination looks different than it appears through the prospectiscope. Why?
Lori and Reba Schappel have a few unusual things in common, namely a portion of their brain. They are craniopagus conjoined twins. Yet they claim to be happy, something almost inconceivable in our singleton’s mind.
‘They may think they’re happy, but that’s only because they don’t know what happiness really is’, we could say. In other words, we may think that it is because Lori and Rebba have never had many of the experiences we Singleton had that they talk about their experiences differently. Imagine we gave a birthday cake to L & R and asked them to rate their experience on a scale of 1 to 8. The following picture illustrates the experiment.
If we believed the results of the above experiment, then we better be worried. If L&R have not experienced some of our experiences, we haven’t experienced some of theirs either. For instance, we have never experienced the sense of comfort from knowing that our lifetime partner, sister and best friend will never leave us no matter what we do.
The second hypothesis says that instead of expressing their feelings differently, L&R actually feel different when doing exactly the same thing than us. The below picture summarizes hypothesis 2.
Not knowing what we are missing could allow us to be truly happy under circumstances that would not allow us to be truly happy once we have experienced the missing thing.
So which hypothesis is correct? We can’t say. It’s all subjective.
To be continued…