The Surprising Science Of Happiness

Dan Gilbert, author of “Touching Happiness,” challenges the idea that we’ll be miserable if we don’t get what we want. Our “psychological immune system” allows us to feel truly happy even when things don’t go as planned.

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In Dan Gilbert’s, “Surprise Science of Happiness” the speaker provides an analysis of human happiness through a psychological and neurological lense. He discovered in his research that, because of the prefrontal cortex, humans have the ability to test things out in their brain before performing actions. This makes humans unique from other animals. However, this evolutionary adaptation does not come without consequences. While one may think that a lottery winner would be happier than a recently injured paraplegic, a study concluded that new paraplegics and lottery winners are equally happy one year later. Impact bias makes people believe outcomes between situations are more different than they actually are. An individual may have a bad event happen but be happy three months later. This is because we can synthesize happiness. We can literally change our views in order to feel better about the world we find ourselves in. We synthesize happiness, yet we think it’s something that needs to be found. People think synthetic happiness is not of the same quality as natural happiness (natural is when we get what we want synthetic is what me make when we don’t get what we want and are forced to make do) However, Gilbert argues synthetic is just as good and enduring as “natural” happiness. This is supported by a study where people ranks photos on their aesthetic appeal. Afterwards, participants were able to keep photo 3 or 4. Most chose 3. When they were called in to rerank the photos some time later, 3 was placed higher and 4 significantly lower. This is the synthesis of happiness. Amnesia patients had the same result, indicating that a bias had no influence on the results. Both groups unconsciously changed their views to make the best of what they were given. Freedom is the “friend” of natural happiness because it allows people to make choices. However, freedom is the enemy of synthetic happiness because our psychological immune system works best when we are totally stuck. Not being aware of this phenomenon works to our extreme disadvantage. We choose joylessness when we go to extreme lengths to keep options open. We over think in our prefrontal cortex, and our longings and worries are both overblown because we have within us the capacity to manufacture happiness, so our choices do not matter as much as we believe they do.

I like this TED talk because it strongly challenges our conceptions of happiness and success. Many have not thought about this concept before, but I feel it would bring comfort to those afraid of picking a major in college for fear of losing out on other possibilities. It provides the neurological basis for much needed perspective many college students are deprived of. However,while this is a phenomenon people should be aware of, I feel like if people knew more about synthetic happiness they would rely on it too much. People will excuse laziness as keeping a perspective on how insignificant their choices are. Nobody would work hard and many people would suffer as a result of that. I agree with the speaker that synthesized happiness is just as powerful as natural happiness, and I believe it lasts longer because synthesized happiness is a mindset not a circumstantial emotion. I found the content fascinating, however the factors that elevated this TED talk are the speakers cadence, style, and charisma.



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