Book Review-Stumbling on Happiness

What makes you happy?  Are you happy?  I’ve personally spent my life time trying to find “happy” much to my dismay it’s illusive like a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.  (Hint: The rainbow moves.)  I certainly have a lot to be happy about – and I am generally speaking happy.

I have few regrets; I enjoy what I do for a living, and so on.  But to be honest, I don’t know why I’m happy.  Why do I care why I’m happy?  Well how do I remain happy?  How do I become happier?  How do I help my wife or my son become happier?  They are hard questions to answer if you can’t describe what makes you happy in the first place.

While I won’t say that Daniel Gilbert’s book Stumbling on Happiness has all the answers.  Clearly it doesn’t or everyone would have read it by now – while sitting next to their money tree and sipping their favorite beverage.  However, even without all of the answers there are more than a handful of salient points.

I knew my ability to estimate how happy I will be from something is bad but I didn’t know how bad – or why.  I have enough gadgets that I realize that gadgets don’t make you happy.  (I’m still going to get more.)  However, I didn’t realize that everyone else was equally bad at it.  (OK, most people are equally bad at it.)  Gilbert helps to enumerate some of the reasons why the estimating is so bad and offers a hint or two about what to do about it.  (It’s one hint and you likely won’t take his advice, but it’s there.)

It also crystallized for me the idea of a psychological immune system.  That is, succinctly, a psychological system that keeps us “ok.”  Perhaps better said in the context of the book, enables us to be more happy than not.  This is important in part because I picked up the book as my flight was cancelled in New York’s LaGuardia airport.  My rerouting will take more than 24 hours, involves me not getting enough sleep, and sitting in Regan National Airport in Washington, DC for more than 9 hours.

Yet, honestly, I’m not that miffed at the whole deal.  I suppose I should be but I’m not.  What I would call coping skills kicked in and coerced me into making the best of it.  It gave me time to read the book – which I wouldn’t have been able to do without the delay.  It also gave me time to work on some projects that were late (or almost late).   To be frank, I wouldn’t have traded the time with my family for these things – but all in all it wasn’t a total loss.

This is even more striking because I witnessed another passenger nearly “loose it” when her flight was cancelled.  I’m sorry that her psychological immune system was not stronger.  Whether I call it coping skills, adaptability (as I’m sometimes apt to do), or a psychological immune system – it’s interesting to better understand how to cope with disappointment.

I won’t say that Stumbling on Happiness will help you find happiness – however, it might make it a little easier to understand it when you do.  It’s more than worth a read.

 Oh and “You’re fine, how am I?”