Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

Inside “This Emotional Life”: An Interview with Daniel Gilbert

danielgilbert.jpgPhoto © Marilynn Oliphant 

I feel sorry for Daniel Gilbert, Harvard psychologist and bestselling author of “Stumbling on Happiness.” He is so good at everything that he has a hard time finding a suitable challenge. Alas, he has found one! The 52-year-old scientist whose work has been covered by every major media news outlet–from The New York Times to Glamour–has teamed up with Vulcan Productions and the NOVA/WGBH Science Unit to create a multimedia project called “This Emotional Life.” A 3-part documentary premieres on PBS January 4-6, 2010, but there is plenty going on already on the fascinating website, which features expert bloggers and clips from the series.


“This is an intellectual odyssey of mine,” Gilbert told me yesterday, when I had the opportunity to interview him. “It feels like being a student again, like learning a new trade, and that’s where the joy is for me.” Gilbert does this well too–gathering an eclectic group of experts to weigh in on happiness from varied perspectives. For example, in episode one, which concentrates on relationships and their role in our emotional well-being, Dr. Xavier Amador, a clinical psychologist and relationship expert helps a married couple on the show work through some of their problems. In episode three, which examines happiness and resilience from different vantage points, happiness expert Edward Diener pinpoints some universal traits of happy people, one being religion. Says Diener: “We know that in most societies, religious people are happier than non-religious people. Not everywhere but almost everywhere in the world we found that.”


Many celebrities are interviewed throughout the documentary, as well, adding an entertainment value. “It was fun introducing my wife to Richard Gere,” says Gilbert, “but I didn’t know if I was ever going to get her back. And I’ve been a fan of Chevy Chase for years.” Other celebrities include Larry David, Elizabeth Gilbert, Alanis Morissette, and Katie Couric.

But by far the most important sound bites, says Gilbert, are the stories of everyday folks. “The greatest surprise in putting the documentary together,” Gilbert explained to me, “is that I thought interviewing the living laboratory, the persons in the trenches, would be my job, but that the great fun would be interviewing the scientists. It was actually reversed.”


Gilbert went on about some the stories that touched him deeply, among them a woman named Michele Gosset who has been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, but won’t surrender to the illness. She uses meditation, positive thinking, and her faith to pull her through.

What message does the Harvard psychologist and his production team ultimately hope to convey with the series? Says Gilbert: “Here are the three important facts about happiness that have become the themes for each of the shows: 1) You can’t be happy alone. Social relationships are the single most important ingredient of happiness. They are key. 2) You can’t be happy all the time. We have to experience negative emotions as part of being human. But it’s HOW we experience negative emotions that count. 3) You can be happier than you are. There are universal traits of happy people that you can implement to raise your happiness level.”


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  • Your Name

    Great post here today and always,thanks,:)No man is an island,meaning,people who needs people are the happiest people in the world.But i wanna add to this statement,that only the right people can truly give you the most happiness or just a smile on our lips.
    I do appreciate all people around me,but it doesn’t mean my happiness depends on them.I am simply happy because i am a natural happy person,that’s it and thanks.

  • Marsley

    So true we all are our happiest when we know we’re being care for in a loving relationship. Its difficult especially when you just experienced that your other half doesn’t love you the wa you first met. Okay theres Mid Life Crisis but you devote your whole life to reconcile with this person to reason with him/her I suppose Life doesn’t turn out the way its ought ta be.
    Quite a good quote. Thanks or the advice…

  • Gevinn Banks

    See previous comment by Gevinn Banks.

  • leeannd

    So very true all 3 are correct!!! At least that is what I am learning. I wish I had seen the documentary. I do think a couple others could be added to his list maybe he could have or have a sequel and interview people and focus it on ones with mental illness and disorders or domestic abuse and the sufferings of the abused, now that would put quite a different twist on his findings. Great Article and great info.
    Thanks Therese and God Bless

  • MK

    a great show, wish I had taped it, but will buy the Dvd. check out the pbs website. sorry I don’t have the address.

  • NWD

    The title in itself “This Emotional Life”, alone is as powerful as anything I’ve read that absolutely caught me, TNT backed. Thats the best way I can explain it.
    Peace Out!

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