One of my All Time Favourite Books on Happiness.


I’ve been pre-occupied lately, posting and tweeting about a recent book promo for Going Under, and the launch of the Jack Daniels & Associates Kindle World, which includes my second book White Lady. Launching two books in just over a month has been quite an experience…an overwhelmingly pleasant and enjoyable experience. I’m trying desperately to get my third out within three months of the first…if it wasn’t for the editing.

In returning to happiness posting, I wanted to share with you, one of my all time favourite books on the topic. It’s called Stumbling on Happiness, by prominent Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert.

It is a look at the research of what makes us happy as well as what doesn’t make us happy. It looks at the flaws of what makes us worry and puts in perspective that most of what we worry about is based on our ideas of what our future will be…which is in turn, based on our very flawed memory of the past. It is a funny read, highlighting the research in a way that you can play along and ask yourself what you would pick or do in the situation. The results are surprising.

Publishers Weekly says: Not offering a self-help book, but instead mounting a scientific explanation of the limitations of the human imagination and how it steers us wrong in our search for happiness, Gilbert, a professor of psychology at Harvard, draws on psychology, cognitive neuroscience, philosophy and behavioral economics to argue that, just as we err in remembering the past, so we err in imagining the future.

I’ve included an interview with Daniel Gilbert so you can get a feel for his humour and area of interest, but regardless of what you think of the interview, I encourage you to try the book. (With Amazon, you can return it if you don’t like it.) It will change the way you look at your worries and help put in perspective, what happiness is.

Let me know what you think in the comments.

Silas Payton

Please Note: I am an Amazon Affiliate which I set up to get an extra 10% when people purchase my books through linking on the right of the blog (which I encourage you to do if you like thrillers). Unfortunately, it also involves any books purchased via linking from my blog. I do not want to profit AT ALL from books I have enjoyed and hope will increase happiness for someone else, along the way. Please use my link above to read about it, but cut and paste the title into Google to bypass this. Just get the book!

Daniel Gilbert, Harvard professor of psychology and best-selling author of “Stumbling on Happiness,” on Wednesday presented an impressive array of scientific research from economics, psychology, and neuroscience to assess his mother’s recipe for happiness.

“If your mom was like my mom, she gave you more advice than you probably wanted on how to be happy,” Gilbert said, before telling the capacity audience at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology that “mom was partially right” in suggesting three keys for happiness: marriage, money, and children.

With a photograph of his late mother on the screen behind him, Gilbert asked the audience members how many believed getting married led to happiness. He laughed when a woman in the fourth row pushed up the left arm of the man next to her. Smiling at the man with the forcibly raised arm, Gilbert nodded, “You’re right!” And so was mom, he said.

“Married people are happier than unmarried people. They are healthier, live longer, have more sex,” and do better on nearly every indicator of happiness, Gilbert noted during his lecture titled “Happiness: What Your Mother Didn’t Tell You.”

Gilbert pointed out that the quality of a marriage is, unsurprisingly, closely connected to one’s level of happiness. On average, marriage “makes you happier for eight to 15 years,” making it a worthwhile “investment,” but happiness levels may diminish over time, Gilbert said. Of course, “staying in a bad marriage” makes people unhappy, he said, but people in bad marriages “get much happier after divorce.”

Gilbert then turned to money, describing how people typically deny a connection between money and happiness. Gilbert explained that he’d once conducted informal research at the Boston Common, asking people if money could buy happiness. Nearly all of them responded in “Hallmark card clichés” about how the important things in life are free. Gilbert offered the audience a Cheshire-cat smile before delivering his findings: “Of course money buys happiness,” he said. “A little money can buy you a lot of happiness, though a lot of money buys you only a little more happiness.”

The interplay of money and happiness is subject to diminishing marginal returns, noted Gilbert, who showed a graph revealing a correlation between the two increases at lower income levels and lower returns at higher levels. What’s the sweet spot where each dollar buys the most happiness? Gilbert cited a per capita income between $50,000 to $75,000.

He then suggested that people with higher incomes aren’t spending their money on the right things. Time spent resting, for example, the dream of so many working people, simply doesn’t deliver happiness. “People are happiest when the mind is engaged,” Gilbert said, whether talking, creating, or having sex (another point for marriage). “People are [also] happier when they give money away rather than spending it on themselves.”

Gilbert then discussed children, mom’s last ingredient for happiness. While people might refer to them as “bundles of joy,” said Gilbert (who has a son and grandchildren), “they’re not a source of happiness.” He displayed a bar graph showing that childless adults are much happier than parents. “Once people have kids, there’s a downturn in happiness,” he said, which isn’t reversed until the kids move out. “The only symptom of empty nest syndrome,” Gilbert said, chuckling, “is nonstop smiling.”

So why do people speak so joyously about their children? Gilbert likened having kids to watching a Red Sox-Yankees game where no run is scored until Sox slugger David Ortiz hits a game-winning homer in the ninth. “One will always remember that magical, momentary ending,” but forget the uneventful innings before. “That’s just like spending a day with a 5-year old,” he said, when an “I wub you” from the child may validate all the difficult hours.

“Of course we love our kids,” said Gilbert. “I never said don’t have kids,” but the scientific data is tough to refute. Mom’s advice on kids may thus leave something to be desired.

Gilbert concluded his good-natured deconstruction of mom’s happiness formula with a final word: “Maybe your mother doesn’t know everything about happiness, but call her anyway.” While our mothers never considered backing up their theories of happiness with scientific data, Gilbert put his mom’s recipe under a powerful microscope, offering insights, surprises, and plenty of thought-provoking science.

This interview with Daniel Gilbert was originally posted on The Harvard Gazette