Harvard psychology professor Daniel Gilbert is widely known for his 2006 best seller, Stumbling on Happiness. His work reveals, among other things, the systematic mistakes we all make in imagining how happy (or miserable) we’ll be. In this edited interview with HBR’s Gardiner Morse, Gilbert surveys the field of happiness research and explores its frontiers.
HBR: Happiness research has become a hot topic in the past 20 years. Why?
Gilbert: It’s only recently that we realized we could marry one of our oldest questions—“What is the nature of human happiness?”—to our newest way of getting answers: science. Until just a few decades ago, the problem of happiness was mainly in the hands of philosophers and poets.
Psychologists have always been interested in emotion, but in the past two decades the study of emotion has exploded, and one of the emotions that psychologists have studied most intensively is happiness. Recently economists and neuroscientists joined the party. All these disciplines have distinct but intersecting interests: Psychologists want to understand what people feel, economists want to know what people value, and neuroscientists want to know how people’s brains respond to rewards. Having three separate disciplines all interested in a single topic has put that topic on the scientific map. Papers on happiness are published in Science, people who study happiness win Nobel prizes, and governments all over the world are rushing to figure out how to measure and increase the happiness of their citizens.Read the rest of the article...