03/28/2008 02:46 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Why Your Happiness Is Unpredictable

If you think you can predict what you will like, think again. When people try to estimate how much they will enjoy a future experience, they are dependably wrong, according to research by Harvard psychologists -- and the reason is something they call "attentional collapse." When we imagine future experiences, we tend to compare them with alternative experiences -- experiences we've had in the past, or other experiences we might have before or after. But the fact is that none of those alternatives come into play once we're actually in the moment. That's what Daniel Gilbert, author and Harvard psychology professor, means by "attentional collapse": it's the idea that when we are actually having an engaging, encompassing experience, it acts like a black hole of imagination, sucking in all of our attention and making our preconceptions irrelevant.

Read the rest of the Time magazine story.


Find out which country is the happiest in the world.


Read about what the West can learn from the rest when it comes to happiness.


read New York magazine's suggestions for 20 ways to be happy.


Our blogger Gretchen Rubin, who founded The Happiness Project, has written extensively on the subject.

Blogger Karen Salmansohn writes about the contagion theory on happiness.

Or read about why blogger Annabelle Gurwitch hates happiness.