Pre-thinking:

Are you the same person you were ten years ago? Probably not! What about the future – in ten years will you have the same friends, interests and commitments that you have today? While most people would answer YES to this question, Dan Gilbert says the reality is something different.

Why you should listen:

Dan Gilbert believes that, in our ardent, lifelong pursuit of happiness, most of us have the wrong map. In the same way that optical illusions fool our eyes — and fool everyone’s eyes in the same way — Gilbert argues that our brains systematically misjudge what will make us happy. And these quirks in our cognition make humans very poor predictors of our own bliss.

The premise of his current research — that our assumptions about what will make us happy are often wrong — is supported with clinical research drawn from psychology and neuroscience. But his delivery is what sets him apart. His engaging — and often hilarious — style pokes fun at typical human behavior and invokes pop-culture references everyone can relate to. This winning style translates also to Gilbert’s writing, which is lucid, approachable and laugh-out-loud funny. The immensely readable Stumbling on Happiness, published in 2006, became a New York Times bestseller and has been translated into 20 languages.

In fact, the title of his book could be drawn from his own life. At 19, he was a high school dropout with dreams of writing science fiction. When a creative writing class at his community college was full, he enrolled in the only available course: psychology. He found his passion there, earned a doctorate in social psychology in 1985 at Princeton, and has since won a Guggenheim Fellowship and the Phi Beta Kappa teaching prize for his work at Harvard. He has written essays and articles for The New York Times, Time and even Starbucks, while continuing his research into happiness at his Hedonic Psychology Laboratory.

Who is he:

Dan Gilbert is a psychologist who is interested in why people make seemingly bad decisions or choices. As he talks, relate what he says to decisions that you or your friends or relatives have made. Decisions that seemed good at the time, but turned out not to be so.

Questions:

  1. What is the illusion of personal history that he thinks affects the way we perceive the world and subsequently act upon it?
  1. Gilbert says that our behavior is impacted by the ease with which we remember things as well as the difficulty imagining future scenarios. Which is easier for you – remembering the past or visualizing the future?
  1. What does he mean when he says that “time is a powerful force”?
  1. If you were a psychologist, how would you counsel a person so as to help he or she make good, not bad choices or decisions? How successful do you think you might be?

The psychology of your future self with Dan Gilbert

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1 Comment

  • sbk

    Typical example of great psychological insight — presenting as a startling dilemma a topic that has been central to human thought for millennia. Oh the humanity!

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