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“Why are we happy?” by Dan Gilbert

Last week I watched Dan Gilbert’s Ted Talk “Why are we happy.” His main point was that we are happy because happiness can be synthesized, meaning we can learn to be happy regardless of our situation. He compared synthesized happiness to natural happiness, with natural happiness being the “feeling we get when we get what we wanted” and synthetic happiness being “the feeling we make when we don’t get what we wanted.”

When we synthesize happiness, we teach ourselves to be happy by realizing that we are in the best possible situation. Gilbert argues that synthetic happiness can provide the same feeling as natural happiness. We have the ability to synthesize happiness in any situation, as a type of “physiological immune system.” He provides some evidence of this finding in the full version of his talk.

He went on to explain that we tend to be happier when our choices are permanent. If we have the option to change our mind and switch, we often torment ourselves on the decision. Once the choice is permanent we grow to appreciate the situation, or item and synthesize happiness. As Gilbert put it, “The psychological immune system works best when we are totally stuck.”

Here’s a quote that fits well with this idea of synthetic happiness from the founder of capitalism himself, Adam Smith: “The great source of both the misery and disorders of human life seems to arise from overrating the difference between one permanent situation and another.”

You can check out the full talk at http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_gilbert_asks_why_are_we_happy.html

It might give you a new perspective, perhaps even put a smile on your face.