The New York Times has published an interview with psychologist Dan Gilbert of Harvard University, author of the best-selling “Stumbling on Happiness” which won the Royal Society science book prize last year.
Gilbert’s research focuses on our knack of failing to predict how future events or experiences will make us feel – what psychologists call “affective forecasting”.
We tend to think bad outcomes, such as illness or broken marriages, will be emotionally devastating, while believing that positive outcomes, such as a job promotion or winning the lottery, will leave us blissfully happy. The reality is that whatever happens in life, most of us tend to return fairly quickly to our emotional baseline. Also, according to Gilbert, so far as our happiness is open to positive influence, many of us fail to realise that it is relationships and experiences that are the most gratifying, not money or material stuff.
In the interview, Gilbert explains what led to him to pursue this line of research:
“Within a short period of time, my mentor passed away, my mother died, my marriage fell apart and my teenage son developed problems in school. What I soon found was that as bad as my situation was, it wasn’t devastating. I went on.”