Happiness is an elusive thing. Not that it is difficult to find happiness, but it is difficult to define and pin point what brings happiness. Daniel Gilbert in Stumbling on Happiness (Vintage Books, 2005) make as case that, as the title indicates, it is very difficult to predict what will bring happiness into the life of an individual. Even when something has brought happiness to a person in the past, a later attempt at finding the joy may not come with the same results.
Happiness is dependent on many factors. Every person will find differing amounts of pleasure in different stimuli. Ever stimulus will have a different affect on a given individual depending on other factors. One might remember an event as more or less pleasurable long after the event has passed than when they were experiencing the event.
In the end, Gilbert proposes that there is only one marginal way to predict what will bring happiness. He proposes that when options arise, an individual can look to others who are currently more advanced in experiencing event and see to what level they feel they are happy. This he admits is a marginal predictor of personal happiness, but best option available.
I chose to read this book because of an interesting interview I had heard with Gilbert. I’m not sure that the book lived up to my expectation; It didn’t bring to me the happiness that I predicted. Actually, my disappointment is less about happiness and more about utility. I’m not sure what to do with all the data that he provides in Stumbling. I’m not sure that his conclusion bring any great value to me or to those that I would love to teach on this subject. Really, his main point is that you don’t know what will make you happy, until you are happy, is difficult to do anything with.
Further, as I set out to do this project, I was less concerned with what would make people happy for a moment, but with what kind of life long choices cause people to reflect back and say, “I’ve lived a joy-filled life.” If you trust Gilbert, nobody can really do that without misrepresenting there own experiences.
However, maybe that is the point that I can take away from this book. If we seek temporary happiness, we may ore may not be happy in the longterm. We need to look beyond the products and activities that promise to make us happy, and choose to look forward to the greater things in life as God is our guide to true joyfulness.