Browsing in a bookstore, I picked up Daniel Gilbert’s book, Stumbling on HappinessI thought the title was interesting. It implied that happiness is not a point we reach after careful calculation, but instead something that we happen upon by chance. Being someone who likes to believe I’m charting my future, I was interested to learn more about how we unwittingly arrive at happiness.
Gilbert writes that we “mispredict” what will and won’t make us happy – that we envision our future not taking into consideration that who we will be in the future is different from who we are today. Our dream job, equipped with more responsibility and, consequently, longer hours at work, might make us happy as a childless, single twenty-something. Living our twenty-something fantasy as a married thirty-something thinking about starting a family, however, is another matter entirely.
So are we stuck on a loop wanting things that won’t make us happy, only to reach our goals and realize we were wrong about what we wanted? It would be unwise to consider ourselves the exception to the rule, uniquely able to predict what will and won’t bring us happiness when research tells us that it’s not a personality trait but a human trait that drives our misprediction. Maybe it’s not our ability to predict happiness that’s important, but instead our willingness to try to find it. If we didn’t, what hopes would drive us towards our future achievements?