Happiness: Life is a Bowl of Cherries But Make Mine Cheerios

One morning several years back, I got an unintended lesson on the subject of choices and the pursuit of happiness.

It happened over breakfast, which is generally served up with a side of whatever book I happen to be reading at the moment.

This particular morning, I suddenly found myself laughing hard enough to blow cheerios out my nose.

This unexpected explosion of wisdom, laughter and cheerios was entirely the fault of Harvard Professor, Daniel Gilbert’s marvelous book, Stumbling on Happiness.

In it he serves up fascinating research on our continued, yet inane, belief in our ability to predict what will make us happy (or unhappy) in the future.

And he does so with a wit that – yes – could cause a reader to shoot cheerios out her nose.

Gilbert states that the pursuit of trying to predict in the now how we will feel about our decisions and choices in the future is a near impossible task.

And he points out a fundamental, but profoundly simple reason.  It’s because the “me” that will be evaluating those decisions in the future is a different “me” than the “me” I am in the now.

And you really can’t be where you aren’t yet.  So how can we accurately predict what we’ll like, love or – for that matter – even tolerate in the future?  We can’t.

And you don’t even need to project yourself ten years or even a month into the future to prove this to yourself.  All I had to do was remember a rather disastrous decision to change my hair color.

Hair Today and Gone Tomorrow

If you’re like me you probably spend a lot of time weighing all the options.

I honestly believe that if the weight of all my decisions were piled one on top of another, and decision-making was an Olympic sport, I’d have a gold medal hanging around my neck right now!

I had just spent weeks considering whether or not to even change my hair color.  Add to this – I was really, really, really looking forward to a change.  I thought I would feel happy.  Happy as in happy I did it.

But now here I was – my fanny in the hairdressers chair – lamenting, “What the hell were you (that would be the past me) thinking!”

The hair color I had imagined as stunning, before I sat down in the chair, wasn’t so very stunning to the future me, who now found herself paying for it.  I was another kind of stunned entirely!

And, as Gilbert aptly points out, this displeasure got served up with a heaping side of ungratefulness and moral outrage toward my past self  – just as an added bonus.

Making “Right Now” Decisions

So, the next time you’re agonizing over making the right decision, perhaps you might go a little easier on yourself.

After all, the you who’s hoping to get an ‘A’ in decision making is probably going to be using different criteria than the you who will be grading the merits of that very same choice.

So, perhaps rather than worrying about making the right decision, we should concentrate our efforts toward making a ‘right now’ decision.

If something doesn’t work out, we can always chalk it up to a Grand Learning.  Me?  I now know that the color of asphalt is best left for the pavement and not for the top of my head!

And if a happy life came from only making happy choices, then we should expect a world filled with an awful lot of unhappy campers out there.

Which, by the way, according to Gilbert turns out to be untrue.

But I won’t spoil the whole of the book.  Read it and weep with laughter . . . the cheerios are not a necessary part of the learning curve.

P.S.  Do not – repeat do not – miss the preface to this book. . . or read it, whichever you prefer.

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