Reading in the Fast Lane

Posted on November 19, 2008

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The number one benefit of taking the train to work (traffic nightmares and environmental sins aside) is that I have plenty of time to read… and read… and read.  So, moving forward, I'll try to post short book reviews every time I finish something.  That said, here's the latest:

Yesterday I finished reading, "Stumbling on Happiness" by Daniel Gilbert, which was recommended by Phil Greenough, my boss.  I have to say, the book was particularly insightful and nearly life altering if you're into psychology books like I am.  It was one of those books that reads like a Malcom Gladwell contemporary classic: it housed really great examples, was easy to plow through and made you think of how every aspect of what the author was saying was in one way or another, true in your own life (or true for a friend).  I can't count the number of times that I've quoted the book since beginning to read it.

Don't let the title fool you, "Stumbling on Happiness" is not a self-help book about how to find happiness.  Rather it's about how happiness works within our brain.  Here are (without looking back) the things that will stick with me the most:

  • Humans are the only animals that use imagination and it fools us. 
  • The way we imagine the future is heavily influenced by our current state of mind. If you're struggling to get out of bed today, you can't possibly imagine feeling happy and frolicking through fields with lovers in the future.
  • It's impossible for us to predict how happy we'll be about something or to remember accurately how happy/sad we were about something.  Trust me.  I didn't believe it either until I read this book.
  • Other people (yes, even strangers) are better at predicting how something will make us feel than we are.  If you truly want to make the right decision, find someone who's already made that decision and ask them how it made them feel.
  • Almost everything we know in the world is second-hand knowledge.  Think about it, if you know a fact, where did you hear it?  The passage of both true and false information is what makes the world go 'round.  As do the two things in the next bullet.
  • Money doesn't make you happy (especially if you already have some).  You probably already knew that, but here's the kicker: having kids won't make you happy either.  You think it will, but it won't.  The false belief that money and children will make you happy are the two things that ensure our society will sustain itself.

If you were intrigued by any of those facts, or if you want proof: read the book.  It comes with my personal recommendation.  Finally, since this blog is about marketing to my generation, my advice from Daniel Gilbert to marketers is this: we don't do things because they make the world go 'round, we do things because we believe they will make us happy.  Play to our desire to be truly and personally happy (even if your product in no way will make us happy – see above point about having kids), and you have a winning campaign.

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