Daniel Gilbert: The Expert on Predicting Happiness

Daniel gilbert

Daniel Gilbert is a Harvard psychologist, professor, and author of New York Time’s bestselling book Stumbling on Happiness.

His book has been translated into more than 30 languages, and his TED talk has received more than 16 million views. 

What makes Gilbert’s research so impacting? Perhaps it is how Gilbert challenges the very notion that if we do not get what we want, we will not be happy.

Instead, Gilbert offers an entirely different and scientifically-supported approach to pursuing happiness. He also offers inspiration on how to challenge our human tendencies that prevent people from appreciating the present moment. 

“We treat our future selves as though they were our children, spending most of the hours of most of our days constructing tomorrows that we hope will make them happy.” (Wilson & Gilbert, 2003). 



Who is Daniel Gilbert?

As the deliverer of three popular Ted Talks, Gilbert is an example of a professor and researcher who makes his findings accessible worldwide. 

He has received various awards for his research and teaching. These include the Phi Beta Kappa Teaching Prize, Guggenheim Fellowship, and Harvard College Professorship

Gilbert is primarily a social psychologist, with current research towards decision-making, affective forecasting, and social inference. 

His research has also made a strong impact, having won the American Psychological Association’s Distinguished Scientific Award for an Early Career Contribution to Psychology.

As an excellent writer in his field, Gilbert has also contributed to Forbes, New York Times Magazine, CNN, Psychology Today, and many more (Social Psychology Network, 2015).

Gilbert has always been fascinated by illusions, and how humans shape their realities. As a boy, he always loved books about optical illusions that the brain and eyes negotiated.

Now, as an adult and leading psychologist, Gilbert brings light into the illusions of our thinking brain. 


His Research

Daniel Gilbert completed his Ph.D. in Social Psychology from Princeton University in 1985. His well-known research, with Timothy Wilson, is “Affective Forecasting” or “Hedonic Forecasting Mechanism”: The ability for people to predict their emotional state in the future.

“People are motivated to make sense of any novel event, but are especially motivated to interpret negative events in ways that minimize their impact” (Wilson & Gilbert, 2003).

In general, there are 4 components of affective forecasting: predictions about the valence of one’s future feelings, the specific emotions that will be experienced, the intensity of the emotions, and their duration (Wilson & Gilbert, 2003).

Their findings also showed that people have a bias of ignoring important factors in making judgment and decisions—applicable findings used by people in the law, economic, business, and ethics field.


Stumbling on Happiness

This bestselling book, which won the 2007 Royal Society Prizes for Science Books, has given a different perspective on how we look at happiness and how we misinterpret things. In summary, this book highlights why people are bad at forecasting their emotional states.

“We cook the facts” (Gilbert, 2009).

Gilbert bases his theories on scientific research, as well as studies he conducted in his lab. He reveals that by even measuring personal happiness with the scale, a level 8 of happiness for someone might be equal to another’s level 5 happiness since our interpretation of happiness is different.

There is no way to accurately predict happiness.

Whatever you think will make you happier in the future is untrue because we are likely to base our feeling on what is going on in the present.

During an interview with the New York Times, Gilbert states that:

“As a species, we tend to be moderately happy with whatever we get. If you take a scale that goes from zero to 100, people, generally, report their happiness at about 75. We keep trying to get to 100. Sometimes, we get there. But we don’t stay long.” (Dreifus, 2008)

He suggests that the best way to predict how happy you will be in the future is to ask the person who has already gone through a similar experience.

“It turns out we’re not nearly as unique as we think,” Gilbert continues in his interview, “at least when it comes to emotional responses to events” (Jaffe, 2007).

Instead of assuming each event in our life is unique to only ourselves, Gilbert offers an interdependent view where humans learn more from each other, specifically regarding emotions.


Gilbert Ted Talks

Here are 3 videos that the happiness expert gives on Ted Talks.

Each has received more than 2 million views, with some closer to 20 million. Join the conversation by watching a video below, and sharing your thoughts in our comments section.



What are your thoughts on Daniel Gilbert’s research and findings? Let us know in our comments section— we would love to hear from you.

Wilson, T. D., & Gilbert, D. T. (2003). Affective forecasting. Advances in experimental social psychology, 35, 345-411.Gilbert, D. (2009). Stumbling on happiness. New York: Vintage Canada.

Social Psychology Network. (2015). Daniel Gilbert. Retrieved from http://gilbert.socialpsychology.org/

Jaffe, E. (2007). Interview: Daniel Gilbert. Retrieved from http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/interview-daniel-gilbert-152390035/?no-ist

Dreifus, C. (2008). A Conversation with Daniel Gilbert: The Smiling Professor. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/22/science/22conv.html?_r=0

About the Author

Chompoo Chimes, B.A., Honours, is a coach in communication and Psychology for well-being. She occasionally works as a motivational speaker for educational institutions in her country. She has taken part in numerous motivational speaking conferences, laughter therapy workshops, and Changing Life with Positive Thinking project which became the best-selling book ‘Nang Yang Lang Jai’.


  1. David A. Israel

    Very moving and enjoyable lecture to follow . We want to be happy, but it is all about the timing and ones expectations.

  2. mary grace

    WOW! o.o (shocked) Mr. Daniel Gilbert is fun to watch and i admire him so much. hahaha i love it. i’m watching his first video right now and i’m not yet done but it makes me laugh so much.

    • Reham Al Taher

      Hi Mary Grace,

      Yes, he really is so funny! He has such a great way of making you enjoy the experience with him.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *