Dan Gilbert

The Heart Goes Where the Head Takes It

"If you ask people to imagine winning the lottery, they typically talk about the things they would do — ‘I’d go to Italy, I’d buy a boat, I’d lay on the beach’ — and they rarely mention the things they would think. But our data suggest that the location of the body is much less important than the location of the mind, and that the former has surprisingly little influence on the latter. The heart goes where the head takes it, and neither cares much about the whereabouts of the feet.”

~ Dan Gilbert, from "When the Mind Wanders, Happiness Also Strays," by John Tierney, New York Times, November 15, 2010


Participate in this research by using your iPhone to track your happiness.

What’s Essential in Life

Bob Shumaker, a former POW in Vietnam, describes how he and his fellow prisoners developed a social network that was crucial to their surviving three years in solitary confinement. They succeeded by creating a tap code that allowed them to communicate through their cell walls. "Being a prisoner really focuses on what's essential in life and there are a lot of things we can do without and still be happy. The key lessons from Bob Shumaker's story are that inside almost all of us is the capacity to overcome the most horrific of stress in our life and even ultimately learn from that stress and thrive and grow as a person."

~ from Rethinking Happiness, an episode of the PBS program This Emotional Life

Thinking about the Future

From Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert:

Stumbling on Happiness What is the conceptual tie that binds anxiety and planning? Both, of course, are intimately connected to thinking about the future. We feel anxiety when we anticipate that something bad will happen, and we plan by imagining how our actions will unfold over time. Planning requires that we peer into our futures, and anxiety is one of the reactions we may have when we do…

…Not to think about the future requires that we convince our frontal lobe not to do what it was designed to do, and like a heart that is told not to beat, it naturally resists this suggestion…

…No one can imagine everything, of course, and it would be absurd to suggest that they should. But just as we tend to treat the details of the future events that we do imagine as though they were actually going to happen, we have an equally troubling tendency to treat the details of future events that we don’t imagine as though they were not going to happen. In other words, we fail to consider how much imagination fills in, but we also fail to consider how much it leaves out.

We Don’t Remember Breakfast

From Content by Cory Doctorow:

Content We make the future in much the same way as we make the past. We don’t remember everything that happened to us, just selective details. We weave our memories together on demand, filling in any empty spaces with the present, which is lying around in great abundance. In Stumbling on Happiness, Harvard pscyh prof Daniel Gilbert describes an experiment in which people with delicious lunches in front of them are asked to remember their breakfast: overwhelmingly, the people with good lunches have more positive memories of breakfast than those who have bad lunches. We don’t remember breakfast—we look at lunch and superimpose it on breakfast.

We make the future in the same way: we extrapolate as much as we can, and whenever we run out of imagination, we just shovel the present into the holes. That’s why our pictures of the future always seem to resemble the present, only more so.

So the futurists told us about the Information Economy: they took all the “information-based” businesses (music, movies, and microcode, in the neat coinage of Neal Stephenson’s 1992 novel Snow Crash) and projected a future in which these would grow to dominate the world’s economies.

…The futurists were just plain wrong. An “information economy” can’t be based on selling information. Information technology make copying information easier and easier. The more IT you have, the less control you have over the bits you send out into the world. It will never, ever, EVER get any harder to copy information from here on in. The information economy is about selling everything except information.

The U.S. traded its manufacturing sector’s health for its entertainment industry, hoping the Police Academy sequels could take the place of the rustbelt. The U.S. bet wrong.