01 Mar Dan Gilbert – “You are always changing”
Have you ever made a decision you thought would make your life better then found it didn’t make any difference at all – like getting a tattoo or winning a bet? Ever thought if only I could win the lottery it would change my life?
Looking back at the dreams you had at eighteen, would they be the same as your dreams now?
Dan Gilbert believes that, in our ardent, lifelong pursuit of happiness, most of us have the wrong map. In the same way that optical illusions fool our eyes, Gilbert argues that our brains tend to misjudge what will make us happy and these quirks in our cognition make humans very poor predictors of our own bliss.
In his TED talk “The psychology of your future self” Gilbert explains that just as memory plays tricks on us when we try to look backward in time, so does imagination play tricks when we try to look forward. He explains our presumption that we will be the same person in personality, basic likes and dislikes, and in our values at another given point in time as we are now, however, we know looking back in retrospect, how much we have changed.
As he says: “Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished. The person you are right now is as transient, as fleeting and as temporary as all the people you’ve ever been. The one constant in our life is change”.
As the Harvard College Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, Gilbert’s research with Tim Wilson on “affective forecasting” investigates how and how well people can make predictions about the emotional impact of future events. This research has its basis in both psychology and neuroscience.
It’s hard to believe with all his credentials and awards for his teaching and research that Dan Gilbert was a high school dropout – showing himself how just one individual can change!
Gilbert is very proud that he appears just before Dizzie Gillespie on the list of Most Famous High School Dropouts. Dan is one of a hugely eminent list of historical achievers which includes Thomas Edison, Richard Branson, and Albert Einstein all of whom dropped out of high school and pursued their passions for learning within the wider world.
Gilbert’s own life story fits well into his explanation on changing values, personality and passions and how you can’t always plan definitely all your dreams at one point in time. At 19, he had dreams of writing science fiction. When a creative writing class at his community college was full, he enrolled in the only available course: psychology. He found his passion there, earning a doctorate in social psychology in 1985 at Princeton. Since then, he has won the Guggenheim Fellowship and the Phi Beta Kappa Teaching Prize.
Gilbert’s very entertaining and informative book Stumbling On Happiness explores further research on the science of happiness and the importance of how our imagination works both in perceiving how our future will be, and our experiences in retrospect.
“When people say I can’t imagine that they’re usually talking about their own lack of imagination.”
We are all works on progress, not yet the finished article. Looking at life with this mindset, how exciting are the years and adventures to come?