In this Ted Talk on Synthetic Happiness, Dan Gilbert talks about how we can create our own happiness and how it’s like a mental immune system. You don’t need to get what you want to be happy. You can be just as happy if you don’t get what you want, as you can if you get what you want. It’s not just sour grapes. You can manufacture your own happiness. It’s synthetic happiness.
Key Take Aways
Dan Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness, teaches us that synthetic happiness is just as real and enduring as real happiness. Dan also teaches us that our longings and worries are overblown because we have the capacity to create happiness within ourselves rather than depend on experiences. Here’s my key take aways:
- Our prefrontal cortex is our experience simulator. In 2 million years our brains grew almost 3 times as big. As they grew, we got a new structure, the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex acts as an experience simulator. None of our ancestors and no other animal can simulate experience the way we can.
- Our mental simulator works badly. We have impact bias. Impact bias is our tendency for our mental simulator to work badly. We imagine one scenario to be dramatically different from another scenario in terms of impact. For example, the differences between winning or losing an election, gaining or losing a romantic partner, getting or not getting a promotion, passing or not passing a college test have far less impact, less intensity, and much less duration than we expect. The differences between winning or losing and getting or not getting is less significant because happiness can be synthesized.
- Synthetic happiness. Synthetic happiness is what we make when we don’t get what we want.
- Natural happiness . Natural happiness is what we get when we get what we want.
- Synthetic happiness is as real as natural happiness. Synthetic happiness is every bit as real and enduring as the kind of happiness you get when you get exactly what you were aiming for.
- Happiness can be synthesized. Synthetic happiness acts like our psychological immune system. It works to keep us happy. It’s a system of cognitive processes, largely non-conscious cognitive processes, that help them change our views of the world so we can feel better about the worlds we find ourselves in. It works best when we’re totally stuck, when we are trapped. This is the difference between dating and marriage. In dating, you look to get what you want, in marriage, you find a way to like what you’ve got.
- Experiments show we can’t predict our happiness. Experiments show time and again we can’t predict our happiness. We overestimate our pleasures or overestimate our pains. For example, we overestimate that winning the lottery will increase our happiness and we overestimate that losing the use of our legs will ruin it.
- Experiments show that choices can negatively impact our happiness. When we have choices we worry about opportunity lost. When we don’t have choices we come to like what we’ve got, more than what we originally predicted.
- Freedom is the friend of natural happiness. When you get what you want, this is the playground of natural happiness.
- Freedom to choose is the enemy of synthetic happiness. When you don’t get what you want, this is the playground of synthetic happiness.
- Our longing and worries are overblown. Our longings and worries are overblown because we can manufacture our own happiness from within.
I really think “sour grapes” takes on a whole new light. Maybe it’s just that your “bird in hand” really is worth 2 in the bush.
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