in book

Stumbling on Happiness Summary

Here’s the Stumbling on Happiness summary. Learn the insights about the quirks of our mind. Learn why imagining on the future is not always a good exercise.


Stumbling on Happiness author Daniel Gilbert explains why humans are bad predictors of the future. He also explains why humans don’t know much about what will make them happy.

Learn how the imagination and reality works through hilarious stories and credible findings. Also learn the importance of not saying “I’m happy.” Finally learn how the average people see themselves.

About the Author

Daniel Gilbert is an American social psychologist and writer. His international bestseller, Stumbling on Happiness, has been translated into more than 30 languages.

He has given three popular TED talks. These are The Surprising Science of Happiness, Why We Make Bad Decisions, and The Psychology of your Future Self. Each one has millions of views.

Main takeaways: Stumbling on Happiness Summary

Let’s discuss the key takeaways from his book:

  1. Our brains have blind spots.
  2. We are bad predictors of the future, including about happiness.
  3. Most of us overestimate or underestimate ourselves.

Our brains have blind spots

It’s just like with our eyes. Our eyes don’t actually see everything. We have blind spots. There are areas we don’t actually see. There are areas in our visual field that lack photoreceptor cells.

What does that mean? It means our brains play trick on us. We don’t actually see the whole. But our brains claim that we see everything. Our brains fill each area. We don’t see a dark spot whenever we open our eyes.

Filling in each area is not the only trick the brain does to us. There is one more. It also fills in the missing information. Surprising thing here is our brain plays tricks on us all the time.

It fills in all the areas and all the missing information. Our reality is not really complete. For example you’re imagining you’ll be a millionaire next month. The brain is quick to provide tons of information about living the life.

Another example is about your memories. You went to a party and someone spilled a drink on your shoes. You actually fabricate other details of the party beside that spilling. Your brain fills in the missing information.

It goes on with other imaginative activities. Whether you imagine something good or bad, your brain is quick to fill in the details. We do it all the time. Here is the thing though. Our brains are not always accurate.

We are bad predictors of the future, including about happiness

Did you know that we’re the only species that thinks about the future? Look at your dog or cat. Does it seem to worry about the future? Look at the birds. Do they imagine the future? Do they think of what will happen next week or next month?

We’re the only ones who can imagine the future. We’re also the ones who like engaging in it. The thing is experience won’t help us predict the future accurately.

One factor is the one mentioned above. Our brains continuously fill us with information. Even if we didn’t experience something yet, we can simulate what’s going to happen.

That applies to almost every thing that we imagine for the future. We make forecasts and predictions. But in any case we don’t have all the data to make an accurate guess. In other words our imagination is likely to be inaccurate.

The same thing happens when we’re trying to predict what will make us happy. Some imagine how it feels to be a celebrity. But if it actually happens, they feel miserable. They didn’t know at the time what it takes to keep a celebrity status.

It also happens when we imagine ourselves being millionaires. We always think that it’s nice having the millions and living the life. But we don’t often consider the financial pressures. In addition, wealth increase doesn’t mean much when you’ve reached a certain threshold. When someone is lifted from poverty, he will be happy. But when he’s already wealthy and you increase his wealth, it won’t add much to his happiness.

Most of us underestimate or overestimate ourselves

Keep in mind that our brains are not always accurate. We are easy to fool. We also hold opinions of ourselves that differ from the reality around us.

For example average people don’t actually see themselves as average. They estimate that they are above average. Most students see themselves as more intelligent than the average student. Most football players see themselves as better than their teammates. If most of us are better than the average, there is something wrong. It’s conflicting.

We also see ourselves as unique. We think that our situations are unique. We think that our dreams and imaginations are unique. Our brains also often don’t estimate our skill level very well. We see ourselves as better in driving and biking (and other basic tasks). But we see ourselves inferior when it comes to difficult tasks (like playing chess).

Aside from our brains have blind spots, people are bad predictors of the future, and people have bad estimations of themselves, you can also learn the following from the Stumbling on Happiness book:

  • Why you should just ask someone instead of imagining
  • You will regret inaction more
  • Our imagination and memory can also remove details
  • Why we should not say “I’m happy”
  • Why past prices affect us in evaluating the value of a thing

My personal takeaways

I realized that imagination is not accurate. It’s better to just ask one person of how he felt of a certain situation. The experiences are the same for all of us. In addition, we get an accurate assessment.

Inaction also produces more regrets. We imagine all the good things if we have done that “something.” But if we acted we can still derive satisfaction from what we did. We can still see the positives. We can also learn from the experience.

But if we didn’t try something, we’ll come up with a long list of regrets. We think “I should’ve tried that.” Or “I might be better off if I tried that.” We’re not learning anything because we didn’t try.

Buy this book through my Amazon affiliate link

You might also like these summaries:

A Guide to the Good Life Summary

Thinking Fast and Slow Summary

The Power of Less Summary