From The New York Times:
At Harvard, the social psychologist Daniel Gilbert is known as Professor Happiness. That is because the 50-year-old researcher directs a laboratory studying the nature of human happiness. Dr. Gilbert’s “Stumbling on Happiness” was a New York Times paperback best seller for 23 weeks and won the 2007 Royal Society Prize for Science Books.
Q. HOW DID YOU STUMBLE ONTO YOUR AREA OF STUDY?
A. It was something that happened to me roughly 13 years ago. I spent the first decade of my career studying what psychologists call “the fundamental attribution error,” which is about how people have the tendency to ignore the power of external situations to determine human behavior.
Why do many people, for instance, believe the uneducated are stupid? I’d have been content to work on this for many more years, but some things happened in my own life. Within a short period of time, my mentor passed away, my mother died, my marriage fell apart and my teenage son developed problems in school. What I soon found was that as bad as my situation was, it wasn’t devastating. I went on.
One day, I had lunch with a friend who was also going through difficult times. I told him: “If you’d have asked me a year ago how I’d deal with all this, I’d have predicted that I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning.” He nodded and added, “Are we the only people who could be so wrong in predicting how we’d respond to extreme stress?” That got me thinking. I wondered: How accurately do people predict their emotional reactions to future events?