He argues that science should be striving to understand happiness, both to capture this sublime aspect of human existence, and to enable us to increase happiness as we go about our daily lives.
For the last decade I’ve been obsessed with one problem: How well can the human brain predict the sources of its own future satisfaction? If the answer were “Very well, thank you,” then I’d be out of a job. Research suggests that I will be employed for a long time to come.
We are often quite poor at predicting what will make us happy in the future for two reasons. First, we have been given a lot of disinformation about happiness by two sources: Genes and culture. Both genes and cultures are self-perpetuating entities that need us to do things for them so that they can survive. Because we are interested in our own happiness and not theirs, both entities fool us into believing that’s what is good for them is also good for us. We believe that having children will make us happy, that consuming goods and services will make us happy. But the data show that money has minor and rapidly diminishing effects on happiness, and that parents are generally happier watching TV or doing housework than interacting with their children.
This is at a time when the Kingdom of Bhutan has included the goal of ‘national well-being’ as a part of its constitution, and UK politicians are promoting the science of happiness as the basis of future policy.
Edge also hosts a 2004 video of Gilbert discussing the mental economics of happiness and ‘affective forecasting’ – the ability of people to predict what will make them happy in the future.