The Science of Happiness

Usually when people are asked what they want most from life the answer is simple; they want to be happy. In this popular TED Talk Dan Gilbert, Harvard psychologist, explores the science of happiness.

In the video, Gilbert explains that our brain works as an “experience simulator”. This simulator has the ability to think through an event before it happens. And also how we will likely react to and feel about the event. Gilbert compares a person who has won the lottery to a person who becomes paraplegic. Most would think that the person with the new-found monetary wealth would be much happier. Yet, through his research, Gilbert has found that the happiness levels after one year are the same. They are both happy. Why? How can the be? Because happiness can be synthesized.

So what does this mean in everyday life?

This means that you have the power to control your own happiness. Human beings have a “psychological immune system,” a series of non-conscious cognitive processes in which we are able to change our viewpoint of the world. In doing this we feel better about events that occur to us. Most people think that happiness is something that can be found, yet this TED Talk argues that it is something we can create. Gilbert terms this happiness as “synthetic happiness”, a happiness we create when we don’t get what we want, but make the best of a situation. He argues this is much more obtainable than “natural happiness”. Natural happiness only occurs when things go exactly your way.  And how often does that happen? Rarely. If we rely only on natural happiness we will only be happy a small amount of time. However, when we are synthetically happy we have the opportunity to be happy more frequently.

In this TED Talk Gilbert claims that “synthetic happiness is every bit as real and enduring as the kind of happiness you stumble upon when you get exactly what you are aiming for”. Gilbert provides data and humorous anecdotes to back up this allegation. Give the video a watch to see how you can create true happiness in your life, even when things don’t go as planned.

So, no worries, BE HAPPY!

UPDATE: Revisiting his popular TED Talk 10 years later, Dan Gilbert makes a few changes and clarifications.

RELATED POST: The Happy Secret to Better Work

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