Over the last decade, Harvard psychology professor Daniel Gilbert has become a prominent voice in the public sphere. His 2006 book Stumbling on Happiness, translated in over 30 languages, became an international bestseller, triggering a slew of invitations—to give a TED Talk, host the PBS series This Emotional Life, and write for The New York Times and other publications. Gilbert spoke with me about his untraditional path to psychology, how psychology affects (and is affected by) other academic fields, and why the study of happiness is critical for public policy.
My history is pretty different from the history of most professors. I was a high school dropout. I dropped out and became a science fiction writer. After being out of school for a few years, I went to a local community college to take a writing course, but it was closed. It was a long bus ride and I had an opening in my weekly schedule, so I asked the woman at the community college what else was open—and she told me there was a psychology class. It had never occurred to me to study psychology. I didn’t know much about it, but I knew it had to do with human beings and their behavior. As a writer, that was my interest, too. So I signed up. That was the first domino, and the rest just fell in line.
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