by Daniel Gilbert, Vintage, March 20, 2007, 978-1400077427
Daniel Gilbert is riotously funny, and incredibly smart. He's a
Harvard psychologist who challenges our beliefs about our emotions,
and backs it up with a gaggle of studies. If you see stray numbers
floating throughout the snippets below, it's due to an incredible
number of end notes.
I first learned of
Gilbert in this video
filmed at the TED conference in Feb 2004. It was so entertaining and
shocking, I had to read his book. The book is better than the talk,
because I like books better, and because it covers way more than his
short talk could ever cover.
[k146] PRIESTS VOW TO REMAIN CELIBATE, physicians vow to do no
harm, and letter carriers vow to swiftly complete their appointed
rounds despite snow, sleet, and split infinitives.
[k180] The greatest achievement of the human brain is its ability to
imagine objects and episodes that do not exist in the realm of the
real, and it is this ability that allows us to think about the
future. As one philosopher noted, the human brain is an "anticipation
machine," and "making future" is the most important thing it does.
[k190] Just as an abacus can put two and two together to produce four
without having thoughts about arithmetic, so brains can add past to
present to make future without ever thinking about any of them. In
fact, it doesn't even require a brain to make predictions such as
these. With just a little bit of training, the giant sea slug known as
Aplysia parvula can learn to predict and avoid an electric shock to
its gill, and as anyone with a scalpel can easily demonstrate, sea
slugs are inarguably brainless. Computers are also brainless, but they
use precisely the same trick the sea slug does when they turn down
your credit card because you were trying to buy dinner in Paris after
buying lunch in Hoboken.
[k253] Adults do much better, of course. When a thirtyish Manhattanite
is asked where she thinks she might retire, she mentions Miami,
Phoenix, or some other hotbed of social rest. She may love her gritty
urban existence right now, but she can imagine that in a few decades
she will value bingo and prompt medical attention more than art
museums and squeegee men.
[k304] Contrary to the conventional medical wisdom of the previous
century, the frontal lobe did make a difference. The difference was
that some folks seemed better off without it. But while some surgeons
were touting the benefits of frontal lobe damage, others were noticing
the costs. Although patients with frontal lobe damage often performed
well on standard intelligence tests, memory tests, and the like, they
showed severe impairments on any test--even the very simplest
test--that involved planning.
[k351] This frontal lobe--the last part of the human brain to evolve,
the slowest to mature, and the first to deteriorate in old age--is a
time machine that allows each of us to vacate the present and
experience the future before it happens. No other animal has a frontal
lobe quite like ours, which is why we are the only animal that thinks
about the future as we do.
[k358] Now, why would anyone go all the way to India and spend his
time, money, and brain cells just to learn how not to think about the
future? Because, as anyone who has ever tried to learn meditation
knows, not thinking about the future is much more challenging than
being a psychology professor.
[k381] Forestalling pleasure is an inventive technique for getting
double the juice from half the fruit. Indeed,
[k444] The fact is that human beings come into the world with a
passion for control, they go out of the world the same way, and
research suggests that if they lose their ability to control things at
any point between their entrance and their exit, they become unhappy,
helpless, hopeless, and depressed. And occasionally dead.
[k458] Apparently, gaining control can have a positive impact on one's
health and well-being, but losing control can be worse than never
having had any at all.
[k516] By the time you finish these chapters, I hope you will
understand why most of us spend so much of our lives turning rudders
and hoisting sails, only to find that Shangri-la isn't what and where
we thought it would be.
[k607] Everyone who has observed human behavior for more than thirty
continuous seconds seems to have noticed that people are strongly,
perhaps even primarily, perhaps even single-mindedly, motivated to
[k633] As the philosopher John Stuart Mill wrote, "It is better to be
a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates
dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, are a
different opinion, it is because they only know their own side of the
[k640] In short, emotional happiness is fine for pigs, but it is a
goal unworthy of creatures as sophisticated and capable as we. Now,
let's take a moment to think about the difficult position that someone
who holds this view is in, and let's guess how they might resolve
it. If you considered it perfectly tragic for life to be aimed at
nothing more substantive and significant than a feeling, and yet you
could not help but notice that people spend their days seeking
happiness, then what might you be tempted to conclude? Bingo!
[k653] A few centuries later, Christian theologians added a nifty
twist to this classical conception: Happiness was not merely the
product of a life of virtue but the reward for a life of virtue, and
that reward was not necessarily to be expected in this lifetime.
[k660] By muddling causes and consequences, philosophers have been
forced to construct tortured defenses of some truly astonishing
claims--for example, that a Nazi war criminal who is basking on an
Argentinean beach is not really happy, whereas the pious missionary
who is being eaten alive by cannibals is.
[k669] Or how about this one: "The computer obeyed all Ten
Commandments and was happy as a clam"? Again, sorry, but no. There is
some remote possibility that clams can be happy because there is some
remote possibility that clams have the capacity to feel. There may be
something it is like to be a clam, but we can be fairly certain that
there is nothing it is like to be a computer, and hence the computer
cannot be happy no matter how many of its neighbor's wives it failed
[k867] Studies such as these demonstrate that once we have an
experience, we cannot simply set it aside and see the world as we
would have seen it had the experience never happened.
[k894] Experience stretching is a bizarre phrase but not a bizarre
idea. We often say of others who claim to be happy despite
circumstances that we believe should preclude it that "they only think
they're happy because they don't know what they're missing." Okay,
sure, but that's the point. Not knowing what we're missing can mean
that we are truly happy under circumstances that would not allow us to
be happy once we have experienced the missing thing. It does not mean
that those who don't know what they're missing are less happy than
those who have it.
[k910] But we've talked enough about me and my vacation. Let's talk
about me and my guitar. I've played the guitar for years, and I get
very little pleasure from executing an endless repetition of
three-chord blues. But when I first learned to play as a teenager, I
would sit upstairs in my bedroom happily strumming those three chords
until my parents banged on the ceiling and invoked their rights under
the Geneva Convention.
[k1012] Indeed, research shows that physiological arousal can be
interpreted in a variety of ways, and our interpretation of our
arousal depends on what we believe caused it. It is possible to
mistake fear for lust, apprehension for guilt, shame for anxiety.
[k1078] This dissociation between awareness and experience can cause
the same sort of spookiness with regard to our emotions. Some people
seem to be keenly aware of their moods and feelings, and may even have
a novelist's gift for describing their every shade and flavor. Others
of us come equipped with a somewhat more basic emotional vocabulary
that, much to the chagrin of our romantic partners, consists primarily
of good, not so good, and I already told you.
[k1105] But like happiness, science is one of those words that means
too many things to too many people and is thus often at risk of
meaning nothing at all. My father is an eminent biologist who, after
pondering the matter for some decades, recently revealed to me that
psychology can't really be a science because science requires the use
of electricity. Apparently shocks to your ankles don't count. My own
definition of science is a bit more eclectic, but one thing about
which I, my dad, and most other scientists can agree is that if a
thing cannot be measured, then it cannot be studied scientifically.
[k1296] I'll tell you about the first of them. The best way to
understand this particular shortcoming of imagination (the faculty
that allows us to see the future) is to understand the shortcomings of
memory (the faculty that allows us to see the past) and perception
(the faculty that allows us to see the present). As you will learn,
the shortcoming that causes us to misremember the past and misperceive
the present is the very same shortcoming that causes us to misimagine
[k1330] This general finding--that information acquired after an event
alters memory of the event--has been replicated so many times in so
many different laboratory and field settings that it has left most
scientists convinced of two things. First, the act of remembering
involves "filling in" details that were not actually stored; and
second, we generally cannot tell when we are doing this because
filling in happens quickly and unconsciously.
[k1466] Experiments such as these suggest that we do not outgrow
realism so much as we learn to outfox it, and that even as adults our
perceptions are characterized by an initial moment of
realism. According to this line of reasoning, we automatically assume
that our subjective experience of a thing is a faithful representation
of the thing's properties. Only later--if we have the time, energy,
and ability--do we rapidly repudiate that assumption and consider the
possibility that the real world may not actually be as it appears to
[k1778] Perception, imagination, and memory are remarkable abilities
that have a good deal in common, but in at least one way, perception
is the wisest of the triplets.
[k1796] When we spy the future through our prospectiscopes, the
clarity of the next hour and the fuzziness of the next year can lead
us to make a variety of mistakes.
[k1818] MOST REASONABLY SIZED LIBRARIES have a shelf of futurist tomes
from the 1950s with titles such as Into the Atomic Age and The World
[k1822] Flip a few more and you'll see a sketch of a modern city under
a glass dome, complete with nuclear trains, antigravity cars, and
well-dressed citizens gliding smoothly to work on conveyor-belted
sidewalks. You will also notice that some things are missing. The men
don't carry babies, the women don't carry briefcases, the children
don't have pierced eyebrows or nipples, and the mice go squeak instead
of click. There are no skateboarders or panhandlers, no smartphones or
smartdrinks, no spandex, latex, Gore-Tex, Amex, FedEx, or
Wal-Mart. What's more, all the people of African, Asian, and Hispanic
origin seem to have missed the future entirely. Indeed, what makes
these drawings so charming is that they are utterly, fabulously, and
[k1839] The litany of faulty forecasts, missed marks, and prophetic
pratfalls is extensive, but let me ask you to ignore for a moment the
sheer number of such mistakes and notice instead the similarity of
their forms. The writer Arthur C. Clarke formulated what has come to
be known as Clarke's first law: "When a distinguished but elderly
scientist states that something is possible he is almost certainly
right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very
probably wrong." In other words, when scientists make erroneous
predictions, they almost always err by predicting that the future will
be too much like the present.
[k1857] The list goes on, but what's important to notice for our
purposes is that in each of these instances, people misremember their
own pasts by recalling that they once thought, did, and said what they
now think, do, and say.
[k1941] Using the visual and auditory areas to execute acts of
imagination is a truly ingenious bit of engineering, and evolution
deserves the Microsoft Windows Award for installing it in every one of
us without asking permission.
[k2030] We cannot feel good about an imaginary future when we are busy
feeling bad about an actual present. But rather than recognizing that
this is the inevitable result of the Reality First policy, we
mistakenly assume that the future event is the cause of the
unhappiness we feel when we think about it.
[k2045] Imagination cannot easily transcend the boundaries of the
present, and one reason for this is that it must borrow machinery that
is owned by perception. The fact that these two processes must run on
the same platform means that we are sometimes confused about which one
[k2113] Among life's cruelest truths is this one: Wonderful things are
especially wonderful the first time they happen, but their
wonderfulness wanes with repetition. Just compare the first and last
time your child said "Mama" or your partner said "I love you" and
you'll know exactly what I mean. When we have an experience--hearing a
particular sonata, making love with a particular person, watching the
sun set from a particular window of a particular room--on successive
occasions, we quickly begin to adapt to it, and the experience yields
less pleasure each time. Psychologists call this habituation,
economists call it declining marginal utility, and the rest of us call
[k2160] Because time is so difficult to imagine, we sometimes imagine
it as a spatial dimension.
[k2167] We can inspect a mental image and see who is doing what and
where, but not when they are doing it.
[k2168] We can inspect a mental image and see who is doing what and
where, but not when they are doing it. In general, mental images are
[k2245] Economists shake their heads at this kind of behavior and will
correctly tell you that your bank account contains absolute dollars
and not "percentages off." If it is worth driving across town to save
$50, then it doesn't matter which item you're saving it on because
when you spend these dollars on gas and groceries, the dollars won't
know where they came from. But these economic arguments fall on deaf
ears because human beings don't think in absolute dollars. They think
in relative dollars, and fifty is or isn't a lot of dollars depending
on what it is relative to (which is why people who don't worry about
whether their mutual-fund manager is keeping 0.5 or 0.6 percent of
their investment will nonetheless spend hours scouring the Sunday
paper for a coupon that gives them 40 percent off a tube of
toothpaste). Marketers, politicians, and other agents of influence
know about our obsession with relative magnitudes and routinely turn
it to their own advantage.
[k2330] Comparing and Presentism Now let's step back for a moment and
ask what all of these facts about comparison mean for our ability to
imagine future feelings. The facts are these: (a) value is determined
by the comparison of one thing with another; (b) there is more than
one kind of comparison we can make in any given instance; and (c) we
may value something more highly when we make one kind of comparison
than when we make a different kind of comparison. These facts suggest
that if we want to predict how something will make us feel in the
future, we must consider the kind of comparison we will be making in
the future and not the kind of comparison we happen to be making in
[k2474] For much of the last half of the twentieth century,
experimental psychologists timed rats as they ran mazes and observed
pigeons as they pecked keys because they believed that the best way to
understand behavior was to map the relation between a stimulus and an
organism's response to that stimulus. By carefully measuring what an
organism did when it was presented with a physical stimulus, such as a
light, a sound, or a piece of food, psychologists hoped to develop a
science that linked observable stimuli to observable behavior without
using vague and squishy concepts such as meaning to connect
them. Alas, this simpleminded project was doomed from the start,
because while rats and pigeons may respond to stimuli as they are
presented in the world, people respond to stimuli as they are
represented in the mind.
[k2507] Unlike rats and pigeons, then, we respond to meanings--and
context, frequency, and recency are three of the factors that
determine which meaning we will infer when we encounter an ambiguous
stimulus. But there is another factor of equal importance and greater
interest. Like rats and pigeons, each of us has desires, wishes, and
needs. We are not merely spectators of the world but investors in it,
and we often prefer that an ambiguous stimulus mean one thing rather
[k2561] A toaster, a firm, a university, a horse, and a senator are
all just fine and dandy, but when they become our toaster, firm,
university, horse, and senator they are instantly finer and
dandier. Studies such as these suggest that people are quite adept at
finding a positive way to view things once those things become their
[k2593] Analogously, when we face the pain of rejection, loss,
misfortune, and failure, the psychological immune system must not
defend us too well ("I'm perfect and everyone is against me") and must
not fail to defend us well enough ("I'm a loser and I ought to be
dead"). A healthy psychological immune system strikes a balance that
allows us to feel good enough to cope with our situation but bad
enough to do something about it ("Yeah, that was a lousy performance
and I feel crummy about it, but I've got enough confidence to give it
a second shot").
This is a very Popperian observation.
[k2610] Scientists are credible because they draw conclusions from
observations, and ever since the empiricists trumped the dogmatists
and became the kings of ancient Greek medicine, westerners have had a
special reverence for conclusions that are based on things they can
[k2619] How do we manage to think of ourselves as great drivers,
talented lovers, and brilliant chefs when the facts of our lives
include a pathetic parade of dented cars, disappointed partners, and
deflated soufflFIXMEfffd(C)s? The answer is simple: We cook the
facts. There are many different techniques for collecting,
interpreting, and analyzing facts, and different techniques often lead
to different conclusions, which is why scientists disagree about the
dangers of global warming, the benefits of supply-side economics, and
the wisdom of low-carbohydrate diets. Good scientists deal with this
complication by choosing the techniques they consider most appropriate
and then accepting the conclusions that these techniques produce,
regardless of what those conclusions might be.
[k2626] Decades of research suggests that when it comes to collecting
and analyzing facts about ourselves and our experiences, most of us
have the equivalent of an advanced degree in Really Bad Science.
[k2636] By controlling the sample of information to which they were
exposed, these people indirectly controlled the conclusions they would
One of the reasons I left the financial forecasting industry is
this tendency to control the data to suit the needs of the models.
[k2677] This tendency to seek information about those who have done
more poorly than we have is especially pronounced when the stakes are
high. People with life-threatening illnesses such as cancer are
particularly likely to compare themselves with those who are in worse
shape, which explains why 96 percent of the cancer patients in one
study claimed to be in better health than the average cancer
patient. And if we can't find people who are doing more poorly than we
are, we may go out and create them.
[k2700] Although the word fact seems to suggest a sort of
unquestionable irrefutability, facts are actually nothing more than
conjectures that have met a certain standard of proof. If we set that
standard high enough, then nothing can ever be proved, including the
"fact" of our own existence. If we set the standard low enough, then
all things are true and equally so.
[k2777] We may refer to the processes by which the psychological
immune system does its job as "tactics" or "strategies," but these
terms--with their inevitable connotations of planning and
deliberation--should not cause us to think of people as manipulative
schemers who are consciously trying to generate positive views of
their own experience. On the contrary, research suggests that people
are typically unaware of the reasons why they are doing what they are
doing,1 but when asked for a reason, they readily supply one.
[k2875] Studies show that about nine out of ten people expect to feel
more regret when they foolishly switch stocks than when they foolishly
fail to switch stocks, because most people think they will regret
foolish actions more than foolish inactions. But studies also show
that nine out of ten people are wrong. Indeed, in the long run, people
of every age and in every walk of life seem to regret not having done
things much more than they regret things they did, which is why the
most popular regrets include not going to college, not grasping
profitable business opportunities, and not spending enough time with
family and friends.
[k2916] Indeed, research shows that when people are given electric
shocks, they actually feel less pain when they believe they are
suffering for something of great value.
[k2919] If you've managed to forgive your spouse for some egregious
transgression but still find yourself miffed about the dent in the
garage door or the trail of dirty socks on the staircase, then you
have experienced this paradox. Intense suffering triggers the very
processes that eradicate it, while mild suffering does not, and this
counterintuitive fact can make it difficult for us to predict our
[k2970] Our failure to anticipate that inescapability will trigger our
psychological immune systems (hence promote our happiness and
satisfaction) can cause us to make some painful mistakes.
[k3008] As we have seen, when experiences are unpleasant, we quickly
move to explain them in ways that make us feel better ("I didn't get
the job because the judge was biased against people who barf on Ferris
wheels"). And indeed, studies show that the mere act of explaining an
unpleasant event can help to defang it. For example, simply writing
about a trauma--such as the death of a loved one or a physical
assault--can lead to surprising improvements in both subjective
well-being and physical health (e.g., fewer visits to the physician
and improved production of viral antibodies).
[k3053] Explanation robs events of their emotional impact because it
makes them seem likely and allows us to stop thinking about
them. Oddly enough, an explanation doesn't actually have to explain
anything to have these effects--it merely needs to seem as though it
[k3243] Memory's fetish for endings explains why women often remember
childbirth as less painful than it actually was,12 and why couples
whose relationships have gone sour remember that they were never
really happy in the first place. As Shakespeare wrote, "The setting
sun, and music at the close / As the last taste of sweets, is sweetest
last / Writ in remembrance more than things long past."
I am not a fan of the bard. I like Lao Tzu translations better,
because they are simpler and easier to follow. It's a personal taste
thing. Gilbert has either read a lot of Shakespeare, or he has a good
[k3270] Apparently, the way an experience ends is more important to us
than the total amount of pleasure we receive--until we think about it.
[k3318] It seems that our theories about how people of our gender
usually feel can influence our memory of how we actually felt. Gender
is but one of many theories that have this power to alter our
[k3329] Apparently students have the same theory, because research
shows that when students do well on an exam, they remember feeling
more anxious before the exam than they actually felt, and when
students do poorly on an exam, they remember feeling less anxious
before the exam than they actually felt. We remember feeling as we
believe we must have felt. The problem with this error of
retrospection is that it can keep us from discovering our errors of
[k3343] Apparently, prospections and retrospections can be in perfect
agreement despite the fact that neither accurately describes our
[k3347] We overestimate how happy we will be on our birthdays,26 we
underestimate how happy we will be on Monday mornings,27 and we make
these mundane but erroneous predictions again and again, despite their
regular disconfirmation. Our inability to recall how we really felt is
one of the reasons why our wealth of experience so often turns out to
be a poverty of riches.
[k3389] Communication is a kind of "vicarious observation" that allows
us to learn about the world without ever leaving the comfort of our
[k3393] Yes, our ability to imagine our future emotions is flawed--but
that's okay, because we don't have to imagine what it would feel like
to marry a lawyer, move to Texas, or eat a snail when there are so
many people who have done these things and are all too happy to tell
us about them. Teachers, neighbors, coworkers,
[k3402] Given the overabundance of consultants, role models, gurus,
mentors, yentas, and nosy relatives, we might expect people to do
quite well when it comes to making life's most important decisions,
such as where to live, where to work, and whom to marry. And yet, the
average American moves more than six times, changes jobs more than
ten times, and marries more than once, which suggests that most of
us are making more than a few poor choices.
[k3411] The philosopher Bertrand Russell once claimed that believing
is "the most mental thing we do." Perhaps, but it is also the most
social thing we do. Just as we pass along our genes in an effort to
create people whose faces look like ours, so too do we pass along our
beliefs in an effort to create people whose minds think like ours.
[k3432] If a particular belief has some property that facilitates its
own transmission, then that belief tends to be held by an increasing
number of minds. As it turns out, there are several such properties
that increase a belief's transmissional success, the most obvious of
which is accuracy.
[k3455] False beliefs that happen to promote stable societies tend to
propagate because people who hold these beliefs tend to live in stable
societies, which provide the means by which false beliefs propagate.
[k3463] Americans who earn $50,000 per year are much happier than
those who earn $10,000 per year, but Americans who earn $5 million per
year are not much happier than those who earn $100,000 per
year. People who live in poor nations are much less happy than people
who live in moderately wealthy nations, but people who live in
moderately wealthy nations are not much less happy than people who
live in extremely wealthy nations. Economists explain that wealth has
"declining marginal utility," which is a fancy way of saying that it
hurts to be hungry, cold, sick, tired, and scared, but once you've
bought your way out of these burdens, the rest of your money is an
increasingly useless pile of paper.
[k3483] If no one wants to be rich, then we have a significant
economic problem, because flourishing economies require that people
continually procure and consume one another's goods and
services. Market economies require that we all have an insatiable
hunger for stuff, and if everyone were content with the stuff they
had, then the economy would grind to a halt. But if this is a
significant economic problem, it is not a significant personal
[k3489] Like so many thinkers, Smith believed that people want just
one thing--happiness--hence economies can blossom and grow only if
people are deluded into believing that the production of wealth will
make them happy. If and only if people hold this false belief will
they do enough producing, procuring, and consuming to sustain their
The pleasures of wealth and greatness ... strike the imagination as
something grand and beautiful and noble, of which the attainment is
well worth all the toil and anxiety which we are so apt to bestow upon
it. ... It is this deception which rouses and keeps in continual
motion the industry of mankind.
[k3499] In short, the production of wealth does not necessarily make
individuals happy, but it does serve the needs of an economy, which
serves the needs of a stable society, which serves as a network for
the propagation of delusional beliefs about happiness and
wealth. Economies thrive when individuals strive, but because
individuals will only strive for their own happiness, it is essential
that they mistakenly believe that producing and consuming are routes
to personal well-being.
[k3505] Rather, this particular false belief is a super-replicator
because holding it causes us to engage in the very activities that
[k3512] Prospective parents know that diapers will need changing, that
homework will need doing, and that orthodontists will go to Aruba on
their life savings, but by and large, they think quite happily about
parenthood, which is why most of them eventually leap into it.
[k3515] I have a twenty-nine-year-old son, and I am absolutely
convinced that he is and always has been one of the greatest sources
of joy in my life, having only recently been eclipsed by my
two-year-old granddaughter, who is equally adorable but who has not
yet asked me to walk behind her and pretend we're unrelated. When
people are asked to identify their sources of joy, they do just what I
do: They point to their kids. Yet if we measure the actual
satisfaction of people who have children, a very different story
[k3521] Despite what we read in the popular press, the only known
symptom of "empty nest syndrome" is increased smiling. Interestingly,
this pattern of satisfaction over the life cycle describes women (who
are usually the primary caretakers of children) better than
men. Careful studies of how women feel as they go about their daily
activities show that they are less happy when taking care of their
children than when eating, exercising, shopping, napping, or watching
television. Indeed, looking after the kids appears to be only slightly
more pleasant than doing housework.
[k3534] "Children bring happiness" is a super-replicator. The
belief-transmission network of which we are a part cannot operate
without a continuously replenished supply of people to do the
transmitting, thus the belief that children are a source of happiness
becomes a part of our cultural wisdom simply because the opposite
belief unravels the fabric of any society that holds it.
The following had me rolling on the floor laughing
[k3547] My friends tell me that I have a tendency to point out
problems without offering solutions, but they never tell me what I
should do about it.
[k3551] I've so thoroughly marinated you in the foibles, biases,
errors, and mistakes of the human mind that you may wonder how anyone
ever manages to make toast without buttering their kneecaps.
[k3562] But it is also true that when people tell us about their
current experiences ("How am I feeling right now? I feel like pulling
my arm out of this freezing bucket and sticking my teenager's head in
it instead!"), they are providing us with the kind of report about
their subjective state that is considered the gold standard of
happiness measures. If you believe (as I do) that people can generally
say how they are feeling at the moment they are asked, then one way to
make predictions about our own emotional futures is to find someone
who is having the experience we are contemplating and ask them how
[k3637] This trio of studies suggests that when people are deprived of
the information that imagination requires and are thus forced to use
others as surrogates, they make remarkably accurate predictions about
their future feelings, which suggests that the best way to predict our
feelings tomorrow is to see how others are feeling today. Given the
impressive power of this simple technique, we should expect people to
go out of their way to use it.
[k3729] Alas, we think of ourselves as unique entities--minds unlike
any others--and thus we often reject the lessons that the emotional
experience of others has to teach us.
[k3788] Our ability to project ourselves forward in time and
experience events before they happen enables us to learn from mistakes
without making them and to evaluate actions without taking them. If
nature has given us a greater gift, no one has named it. And yet, as
impressive as it is, our ability to simulate future selves and future
circumstances is by no means perfect.
[k3794] But foresight is a fragile talent that often leaves us
squinting, straining to see what it would be like to have this, go
there, or do that. There is no simple formula for finding
happiness. But if our great big brains do not allow us to go
surefootedly into our futures, they at least allow us to understand
what makes us stumble.