Daniel Gilbert, Harvard psychologist and bestselling author, delivered Elon University's Spring Convocation lecture on Thursday afternoon in Alumni Gym. Gilbert is known for his TED Talk “The Science of Happiness” and his award-winning book “Stumbling on Happiness."
In his talk, Gilbert walked the audience through his studies, breaking down how marriage, money and children effect human happiness. He emphasized that the study of happiness is highly scientific, something he expanded on by sharing a number of graphs mapping statistics he has found through his research.
"Most of us learn about what will make us happy from our parents, from our society, from bartenders and motivational speakers, ministers and all the people around us who have theories about happiness and are well-meaning and will share those theories with us," Gilbert said in an interview shortly before his lecture. "That's our map for finding happiness, and yet you wouldn't ask any of these people things like 'how do cells divide', 'what makes a white dwarf star explode', those we think of as scientific facts. Well, guess what? What makes people happy is also a scientific fact."
Sharing his scientific study of happiness, Gilbert revealed that marriage makes people happier, but having children overwhelmingly leads to a decrease in happiness. While the lecture focused largely on factors pertaining to adult life, Gilbert also shared a bit of advice for students.
"This is not four years that you spend doing something unusual," Gilbert said. "This is the blueprint for your life. You went to classes and you read books and talked about them with people. Don't ever stop reading books and talking to people about them. Don't stop going to an interesting speaker, or even an uninteresting one, and listening to their lecture. These lifelong habits of learning will keep you vital and keep you young, as well as make you happy."
Gilbert spent Thursday afternoon meeting with students around campus, later sharing positive impressions of his interactions with members of the Elon community.
"What struck me in the few hours I've been here is the people," Gilbert said. "They're warm, welcoming and they're intensely curious. I visit a lot of universities where students are kind of shy, and if they do speak up they don't have much interesting to say. That sure hasn't been the case here with the class I've visited and the lunch I've had. People are full of great and interesting questions that really make me think."
Gilbert might be best known for his appearances in television commercials for Prudential Financial, in which he talked with Americans about saving and financial planning. In addition, he has contributed to Time magazine, The New York Times and NPR’s “All Things Considered.”
More information about Gilbert and his work can be found on his website.