A scientific exploration of the various ways people attempt to make themselves happy has won the annual Royal Society Prize for Science Books.
Daniel Gilbert beat five other shortlisted titles
Daniel Gilbert's Stumbling on Happiness had been tipped as the favourite to win the prestigious £10,000 award.
It beat five other titles including Henry Nicholl's Lonesome George, an account of the last known individual of a subspecies of Galapagos tortoise.
Each runner up received £1,000 at a ceremony at the Society's headquarters.
Professor Colin Pillinger, from the Open University in Milton Keynes, chaired the judging panel. He said that all of the books had been "excellent" and deciding on first prize had been "extremely difficult".
Discussing the winner he said: "Daniel Gilbert's voice provides a witty companion throughout this exploration of the science behind the pursuit of happiness.
"He uses cognitive science and psychology to provide intriguing insights into human nature, helping us to understand why we make the decisions we do."
Gilbert himself was thrilled to take the book prize. "I'm absolutely delighted to receive this tremendous honour from the world's oldest learned society," said the Harvard University psychology professor.
"There are very few countries (including my own - the US) where a somewhat cheeky book about happiness could win a science prize - but the British invented intellectual humour and have always understood that enlightenment and entertainment are natural friends. So God bless the empire!"
Tour de force
Now in its 19th year, the award was known as the Rhone-Poulenc Prize from 1990 to 1999. Until this year, it went by the name of the Aventis Prize but now bears the name of the Royal Society.
There are two categories: the junior prize, which is given to the best book written for under-14s, and the general prize, for the best book written for a more general readership.
The author introduces readers to the world of physics
This year's junior prize was won by BBC Top Gear presenter Richard Hammond for his book Can You Feel the Force? published by Dorling Kindersley (DK). It explores the world of physics.
Eleanor Updale, children's writer and chair of the junior judging panel, said it was an "instantly appealing book".
"With clear illustrations, practical experiments, and well-paced text, it makes an interest in science look like fun," she said.
Reacting to his win, Richard Hammond, who also presents the science series Brainiac on UK TV, said: "I was immediately captivated when the team at Dorling Kindersley approached me about making a book to try to bring physics to life.
"Perhaps all children need is the confidence to approach a subject with enthusiasm and an open mind. The DK team gave them just that and winning this award is recognition for a group of very talented people."
The general prize is often referred to as the "Booker prize for science writing", although the science prize winner often outsells its better-known counterpart.
Past winners have included Bill Bryson, Stephen Hawking and Chris McManus.
The judges were Colin Pillinger; Trevor Baylis, inventor of the wind-up radio; Louisa Bolch, commissioning editor for science on Channel 4; Emily Holmes, Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Fellow at the University of Oxford; and Christine McGourty, science correspondent for BBC News.
The full shortlist for the 2007 Royal Society Prize for Science Books:
Homo Britannicus, by Chris Stringer (Penguin Allen Lane)
The book tells the epic story of the human colonisation of Britain, from our very first footsteps to the present day. Drawing on all the latest evidence and techniques of investigation, Chris Stringer describes times when Britain was so tropical that humans lived alongside hippos and sabre tooth tigers; and times so cold they shared the land with reindeer and mammoth; and times colder still when humans were forced to flee altogether.
In Search of Memory, by Eric R Kandel (WW Norton & Co)
Nobel laureate Eric R Kandel charts the intellectual history of the emerging biology of the mind, and sheds light on how behavioural psychology, cognitive psychology, neuroscience and molecular biology have converged into a powerful new science. These efforts, he says, provide insights into normal mental functioning and disease, and simultaneously open pathways to more effective treatments.
Lonesome George, by Henry Nicholls (Macmillan)
Lonesome George is a 1.5m-long, 90kg tortoise aged between 60 and 200, and it is thought he is the sole survivor of his sub-species. Scientific ingenuity may conjure up a way of reproducing him, and resurrecting his species. Henry Nicholls details the efforts of conservationists to preserve the Galapagos' unique biodiversity and illustrates how their experiences and discoveries are echoed worldwide. He explores the controversies raging over which mates are most appropriate for George and the risks of releasing crossbreed offspring into the wild.
One in Three, by Adam Wishart (Profile Books)
When his father was diagnosed with cancer, Adam Wishart couldn't find any book that answered his questions: what was the disease, how did it take hold and what did it mean? What is it about cancer's biology that means it has not been eradicated? How close are we, really, to a cure? There was no such book. So he wrote it. One in Three interweaves two powerful stories: that of Adam and his father; and of the 200-year search for a cure.
The Rough Guide to Climate Change, by Robert Henson (Rough Guides)
Robert Henson has written this guide to a pressing issue facing the world. The guide looks at visible symptoms of change on a warming planet, how climate change works, the evolution of our atmosphere over the last 4.5 billion years and what computer simulations of climate reveal about our past, present, and future. It looks at the sceptics' grounds for disagreement, global warming in the media and what governments and scientists are doing to try to solve the problem.
Stumbling on Happiness, by Daniel Gilbert (Harper Press)
Psychologist Daniel Gilbert reveals how and why the majority of us have no idea how to make ourselves happy. The drive for happiness is one of the most instinctive and fundamental human impulses. In this revealing and witty investigation, psychologist Daniel Gilbert uses scientific research, philosophy and real-life case studies to illustrate how our basic drive to satisfy our desires can not only be misguided, but also intrinsically linked to some long-standing and contentious questions about human nature.
The full shortlist for the 2007 Royal Society Junior Prize for Science Books:
Can You Feel the Force?, by Richard Hammond (Dorling Kindersley)
The BBC Top Gear presenter takes the reader on an introductory tour of the physical forces in the universe. The book uses quizzes, brainteasers and home experiments to cover all areas of physics, answering questions such as why a cold ball bounces higher than a warm one and why a person's stomach goes up when a roller coast plummets straight down.
How Nearly Everything Was Invented by the Brainwaves, by Ralph Lazar, Jilly MacLeod, Lisa Swerling (Dorling Kindersley)
The book is introduced by a group of pint-sized pals known as the Brainwaves who set out on a journey to discover the story behind 300 key inventions such as the light bulb, train and wheel. The friends uncover the who, what, when, where and why of each invention and how they have transformed the way we live today.
It's True! Space Turns You into Spaghetti, by Heather Catchpole, Vanessa Woods (Allen & Unwin)
The sixteenth book in this non-fiction series is packed with quirky facts about life in space, including anecdotes from previous space missions as well as further information about the solar system and beyond.
KFK Natural Disasters, by Andrew Langley (Kingfisher)
Part of the Kingfisher Knowledge series, the book details some of the most catastrophic events that have shook and shocked the world. It examines why disasters like tsunamis and wild fires occur and looks at new technologies which are trying to predict and prevent similar disasters occurring.
My Body Book, by Brita Granstrom, Mick Manning (Franklin Watts)
A colourful book aimed at younger children, it uses multi-coloured illustrations and half-page flaps to reveal the inner workings of the human body.
Science Investigations: Electricity by John Farndon (Wayland)
A practical book that answers common questions about electricity such as what it is, how it is measured and why it can make some objects glow. The book also provides questions for readers to investigate further on their own and links to useful websites as well as glossary, index and a list of further reading.