Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Stumbling on Happiness

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Stumbling on Happiness

Article excerpt

STUMBLING ON HAPPINESS. Daniel Gilbert, 2007. NY: Vintage Books. Pp. 311. Reviewed by Geoffrey W. Sutton (Evangel University/Springfield, MO).

Harvard psychology professor, Daniel Gilbert, will make you laugh as he weaves witticisms and humorous anecdotes into a stimulating account of scientific research on happiness. Essentially, Gilbert argues in chapter one, that we spend much of our time planning and executing unsuccessful strategies to attain an elusive state of happiness. In sex sections, readers learn why such a quest often proves beyond our grasp.

In part one, Gilbert provides a brief overview of the philosophical foundations for the problem of subjective appraisals of happiness. Eventually, he leads the reader to an operational definition by illustrating how common human experiences can lead to shared feelings of happiness. However, he illustrates how the elusive and subjective aspect of happiness can lead to self-deception by demonstrating how the human brain misperceives visual phenomena and similarly misperceives the imagined happiness value of a future event.

Next (part two), Gilbert builds on the results of cognitive science to show how people mistakenly recall their previously recorded feelings and struggle to make affective comparisons between experiences. He concludes the section with an appropriately humble appreciation of the problems in measuring happiness. Nevertheless, he urges us to forge ahead with the indexes we have because of the dominant role feelings play in our lives. Caveats aside, Gilbert has set the foundation for the next three parts that address the attitudes of realism, presentism, and rationalization to an understanding of happiness.

Realism is the focus for part three. Gilbert argues from research data that imagination provides the illusion of foresight and a sense of realism that is in fact unreal because we routinely fail to realize how many event-related details are filled in by our brains. He summarizes memory research to demonstrate how the brain forms imprecise memories of past events in such a subtle manner that people do not realize the inaccuracies. Thus, he expertly explains how our perceptual processes not only miss important details but also fill in nonexistent information based on previous experience and environmental cues. He also reviews the important dynamics of memory reconstruction especially as related to the accuracy of memories. Although many of these studies will be familiar to undergraduate psychology students, Gilbert shows how these findings are relevant to an accurate appraisal of experiences that we may or may not construe as a basis for happy feelings.

In part four, readers learn about the problems people have in accurately predicting their future feelings, which are largely based on the present (hence the name Presentism for this section). Beginning with illustrations of failed predictions and humorous past images of what the future (now past) would be like, Gilbert guides readers into an appreciation for the problems of using present experience to extrapolate to the future. …

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