Shopping for Happiness

What we’ve been seeing in my lab, over and over again, is that people have an inability to predict what will make us happy — or unhappy. The truth is, bad things don’t affect us as profoundly as we expect them to. That’s true of good things, too.

So the good news is that going blind is not going to make you as unhappy as you think it will. The bad news is that winning the lottery will not make you as happy as you expect.

We know that the best predictor of human happiness is human relationships and the amount of time that people spend with family and friends.

The interesting thing is that people will sacrifice social relationships to get other things that won’t make them as happy — money. That’s what I mean when I say people should do “wise shopping” for happiness.

People think a car will last and that’s why it will bring you happiness. But it doesn’t. It gets old and decays. But experiences don’t. You’ll “always have Paris” — and that’s exactly what Bogart meant when he said it to Ingrid Bergman. But will you always have a washing machine? No.

You couldn’t pay me $100,000 to miss a play date with my granddaughters. And that’s not because I’m rich. That’s because I know that a hundred grand won’t make me as happy as nurturing my relationship with my granddaughters will.”

Daniel Gilbert
Harvard social psychologist and
author of Stumbling into Happiness