April 13, 2007
Faculty and Alumni from St. John’s University listened to an
enthusiastic lecture by Harvard Professor of Psychology Dr. Daniel
Gilbert. The third guest in St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and
Sciences’ Alumni speaker series, Gilbert’s talk was titled “What
the Secret of Happiness Isn’t.”
Dr. Gilbert is the author of the New York Times bestseller
“Stumbling on Happiness.” The book, which is not designed as a
self-help manual, explores what doctors and scientists have
discovered about why we tend to wrongly predict what makes us
Dr. Gilbert stated that throughout history happiness was “an
elusive thing that no one expected to obtain,” since, with life
expectancy much shorter, people lived each day trying not to die.
In the past 75-100 years, a large portion of people have just about
everything they want; however, society in general doesn’t seem to
be any happier.
He presented a formula that suggests how human beings might go
about finding happiness through decisions they make: The wisdom of
any action is equal to the odds of getting what you want multiplied
by the value of getting what you want. The problem, Dr. Gilbert
says, is that humans make errors in determining the odds and the
values and mispredict what will make them happy.
Dr. Gilbert supplied examples of our common errors in predicting
odds and values and noted another problem – the problem of shifting
“The ruler you use to predict value when you are making a
decision isn’t the same as what you use to rate the actual
experience,” Dr. Gilbert explained.
Dr. Gilbert suggested using careful, accurate estimates to
determine the odds of getting what you want. He provided one last
example, stating, “We didn’t get to the moon using our intuition.
We got there by using rational, reasonable thinking.”
In conclusion, Dr. Gilbert explained how the complex system of
our brain evolved in relation to the world of years ago. As a
result, we are not great at making the decisions we have to make on
a daily basis today. His advice – the road to happiness = learning
to listen to the theories of those from the past. His research on
how people make choices and decisions incorporates cognitive
psychology and behavioral economics and has been used in the areas
of strategic planning, sales and marketing and for businesses to
help better understand their customers.
Dr. Gilbert has received several awards for his teaching and his
research, including the American Psychological Association’s
Distinguished Scientific Award and was selected as one of the
Harvard’s 20 Most Outstanding Professors in 2005. In addition to
his bestseller, he has published works of science fiction and has
written for Time Magazine, The New York Times, The Los Angeles
Times and Forbes Magazine.
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