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Miswanting

This word has been lurking in the academic undergrowth since two researchers, Daniel Gilbert and Timothy Wilson, used it in an article, Miswanting: Some Problems in the Forecasting of Future Affective States, in a book in 2000. It has suddenly taken on a higher profile because it was used in an article by Jon Gertner, entitled The Futile Pursuit of Happiness, in the New York Times on 7 September, and it has subsequently been taken up by other journalists.

To miswant something means that you mistakenly believe getting it will make you happy. Wanting to win the lottery may be your heart’s desire, but as many people who do win find it brings problems for which they are unprepared and which often make them regret winning, to want to win may be a miswant. Similarly, a new car, or that new television, or even a new partner, may all seem to be your ultimate want, but if you actually get them, the delight often cools more quickly than you could ever have imagined, proving that they were really miswanted.

The real problem with miswanting, the researchers argue, is that it leads you to want the wrong things and make poor judgements about what will really make you happy. As they said in their original article: “Much unhappiness ... has less to do with not getting what we want, and more to do with not wanting what we like”.

It is not the big stuff, hysterical action and miswanted acquisitions, that changes lives, but attending to the small details ... and enjoying everyday pleasures now rather than looking back at them with a sense of nostalgia at some point in the future.

Independent, 12 Sep. 2003

Derived from philosophy circles, to “miswant” means to erroneously believe that something will make one happy, or happier than it actually will.

Observer, 28 Sep. 2003

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 18 Oct. 2003

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Last modified: 18 October 2003.