Stumbling on Happiness

June 10, 2008

You may have noticed how ridiculously small the TV-screens are in most old sci-fi movies. Or how that low exam score moved from “catastrophe” to “oh well” within a few hours. Or how that long-awaited vacation is so disappointing now that it’s finally there. Or how an I love you written years ago seems so fake now. You may have wondered how you could possibly have had such thoughts or made such decisions. Now you’ve got answers.

From the also-available-in-audio shelf comes Daniel Gilbert with his great non-fiction book called Stumbling on Happiness. The author tries to answer the question of why happiness is so elusive and unpredictable.

What the book basically tells you is:

  • experience is subjective;
  • your imagination lies to you all the time;
  • your memories lie to you all the time;
  • your predictions can never be accurate;
  • you make ridiculous choices all the time;
  • you can never be sure of anything, past, present or future;
  • you are not unique.

Pretty tough truths, huh? Well, I’ve actually exaggerated quite a bit. Besides the fact that it points out uncomfortable things, I loved everything about this book:

  • It’s written in a very accessible and succinct style. If your attention slips for even a few seconds, you’ll have to rewind.
  • The author has a great sense of humor (I rarely laugh out loud).
  • Every chapter starts with a quotation from Shakespeare.
  • It will not trigger your “citation needed” alarm. In fact, it has such a solid scientific basis that the most frequent word combination after “for example” is probably “in one study”.
  • The examples given are logical and straightforward. Hey, the guy’s a Harvard professor!
  • The audio version is read by the author himself. That’s a plus because his tone of voice shows you exactly what he means.

I strongly recommend this book to anyone who wants to find out the inner workings of memory, imagination, and future prediction. It’s so good that I’ll probably want to go through it again in a few months. For a more thorough summary check the Wikipedia page.

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The World is Flat.

May 31, 2008

by Thomas L. Friedman.

When I first heard about this book it was not amongst my priorities (for me, economics == boring). But after hearing recommendations from two different sources, I decided to give it a try. I ended up listening to the audio version instead.

What I liked:

  • Good answers to questions like:
    • Why does India have some of the best programmers?
    • Why are most of my gadgets made in China / Taiwan / Malaysia?
    • Why does Amazon.com not ship electronics to Moldova?
    • Why do I find it strange that my parents expect their employer to keep them hired for life?
  • The author really did his homework. You wouldn’t expect to be finding Linux references in an economics book, would you? (That’s just an example.)
  • Good thoughts to consider about the positive side of globalisation. The few globalisation critics I have asked couldn’t give me a good answer to what’s so BAD about it.
  • Although written from an American point of view, the book contains enough ideas for people in the third world to be worth the read.

What I liked less:

  • It is written in a very repetitive (self-help-like) style. To avoid falling asleep I listened to it at 1.3x speed
  • This is not the author’s fault, but there doesn’t seem to be a definite way for countries like Moldova to really get into the “flat world”. India made it, but it seems like we have neither their optimism nor their hard-work genes…

This book has convinced me (yet again) that this is the perfect era to live in, and that technology and globalisation are solving more problems than they are creating. The world is moving in the right direction, and there is no point turning towards the past and swimming against the current.

A quotation from the final chapter:

When memories exceed dreams, the end is near.