I’ve had my nose in this book quite extensively in the past week. Daniel Gilbert writes with such candor and humor that it’s hard to put the book down. At this point in the book he’s getting deep into the heart of the title of the book — that is why humans are so incredibly bad at gauging their own happiness for future events.

It turns out that our minds are rigged to remember and imagine events without much thought as to which kind of event specifically we should be remembering or imagining. This causes a big problem as it leads us to systematically over-estimate or under-estimate our decisions about the future.

Another excerpt from the highly entertaining and thoughtful book Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert (emphasis is my own).

Our spouse asks us to attend a party next Friday night, our brains instantly manufacture an image of a cocktail party in the penthouse of a downtown hotel with waiters in black tie carrying silver trays of hors d’oeuveres past a slightly bored harpist, and we predict our reaction to the imagined event with a yawn that sets new records for duration and jaw extension. What we generally fail to consider is how many different kinds of parties there are – birthday celebrations, gallery openings, cast parties, yacht parties, office parties, orgies, wakes – and how different our reactions would be to each. So we tell our spouse that we’d rather skip the party, our spouse naturally drags us along anyhow, and we have a truly marvelous time. Why? Because the party involved cheap beer and hula hoops rather than classical music and seaweed crackers. It was precisely our style, and we liked what we predicted we’d hate because our predictions was based on a detailed image that reflected our brain’s best guess, which was in this case dead wrong. The point here is that when we imagine the future, we often do so in the blind spot of our mind’s eye, and this tendency can cause us to misimagine the future events whose emotional consequences we are attempting to weight.

I’ve definitely experienced both sides of this phenomenon lately and continuing through this book will hopefully give me some greater knowledge on how to avoid making mistakes like that again.