Campus & Community

Scientists pursue happiness

1 min read

But their results aren’t too cheerful

“When we try to predict what will make us happy we’re often wrong,” says Daniel Gilbert, a professor of psychology at Harvard University. “Researchers all over the world find the same predictable errors, whether the pursuit involves romance, a new car, or a sumptuous meal.” Gilbert uses the results of his study of election outcomes as an example. Many Democrats insist that the re-election of George W. Bush would make them unbearably unhappy. Many Republicans maintain that the election of Howard Dean would send them and the whole country into a deep ditch of discontent for a long time to come. Gilbert compares such forecasts to a 1992 campaign when Bush squared off against Ann Richards for the governorship of Texas. Only one month after Bush won, his supporters weren’t as happy as they thought they would be, and those who opposed him weren’t as sad. “People are wonderful rationalizers,” Gilbert points out. “They will rearrange their view of the world so it doesn’t hurt as much.” Anti-Bushers he interviewed said things like: “The governor of Texas really doesn’t have much power” and “He wants to be president, so he’s not going to do anything too dumb or crazy.”