Daniel Gilbert Professor of Psychology

Harvard University


Daniel Gilbert wants to know what makes us happy. He is known for his research into affective forecasting, our capacity to make predictions about how we are going to feel emotionally in the future. Gilbert’s studies have shown that human beings are surprisingly poor at predicting our future emotional condition; we systematically misjudge what will make us happy. People routinely overestimate how an extreme event, like winning the lottery, will affect them emotionally (predicting extreme happiness), without considering all the other factors that end up influencing how they will feel. Gilbert's work has also revealed several cognitive biases that warp our emotional forecasting, such as “focalism” (over-reliance on the first piece of information we receive when making decisions) and the “empathy gap” (underestimating the power of visceral drives). Taken as a whole, it’s no wonder that human beings have difficulty figuring out what will make us happy. As Gilbert says, “We all have direct experience with things that do or don't make us happy, we all have friends, therapists, cab drivers, and talk-show hosts who tell us about things that will or won't make us happy, and yet, despite all this practice and all this coaching, our search for happiness often culminates in a stinky mess. We expect the next car, the next house, or the next promotion to make us happy even though the last ones didn't and even though others keep telling us that the next ones won't.”


Stumbling on Happiness


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