Sunday, May 07, 2006

Our culture's come a long way about marriage


(From today's NY Times book review of "The Joy of Delusions")

Gilbert is an influential researcher in happiness studies, an interdisciplinary field that has attracted psychologists, economists and other empirically minded researchers, not to mention a lot of interested students. (As The Boston Globe recently reported, a course on "positive psychology" taught by one of Gilbert's colleagues is the most popular course at Harvard.)

But from the acknowledgments page forward, it's clear Gilbert also fancies himself a comedian. Uh-oh, cringe alert: an academic who cracks wise. But Gilbert's elbow-in-the-ribs social-science humor is actually funny, at least some of the time.

"When we have an experience . . . on successive occasions, we quickly begin to adapt to it, and the experience yields less pleasure each time," he writes. "Psychologists calls this habituation, economists call it declining marginal utility, and the rest of us call it marriage."

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