Dan Gilbert, a Harvard psychologist and the author of ‘Stumbling on Happiness’ gave a presentation on ‘The surprising science of happiness’ on Ted Talks. In this, he spoke of the differences between natural happiness, what we make when we get what we want and synthetic happiness, what we make when we don’t get what we want. He discussed the issue of choice and how when we are faced with a decision, if it is irreversible, we are much more likely to be content with our choice than if the decision was reversible, as we learn to be happy with what we have, in other words, our brains have synthesised happiness. Following extensive study, it has been found that with excessive and reversible choice, such as that faced by us today, comes the feeling of uncertainty as to whether or not the right decision has been made, inevitably causing us to be unsatisfied with the decision we have made as we are constantly plagued with the thought of the fact that perhaps we would have been happier with the other option.
What is surprising here is the fact that what Gilbert is suggesting goes against everything society tells us: choice gives us freedom which ultimately leads to happiness, so the more choice we have, the happier we are. Another thing that society preaches is “finding happiness” as if it is something we are on a search for and will be achieved with a specific job, partner, the level of success and so on. Both of these, as Gilbert explains are wrong, and are in fact preventing us from being truly happy. We live in a society that does not believe that not getting what we want could make us equally as happy as getting what we want. Many of us want to live a certain lifestyle, we want to have a top income, we want to be at the top of the career ladder and we believe that this will be the only thing that will make us happy. We never stop and think, actually, what I have is enough, I don’t need a six-figure income to make me happy, and I can learn to be content with what I have. Perhaps it could be easier for us to synthesise happiness if it wasn’t for the fact that in our world today, happiness is defined by the multitude of materialistic things in our possession.
What interests me in this idea of synthetic happiness is the simplicity of the idea yet how great an impact it can have on our lives. It will give us the ability to be in an almost constant state of satisfaction and to not be perplexed by choice as regardless of what we choose, we will be happy with what we have. We are made to believe that happiness is somewhat physical, something that we find when in fact, we make our own happiness, we must adopt a mindset and we learn not to let excessive choice (something we are endlessly bombarded with in the present day) make us feel disappointed and unfulfilled. In the world we live in, natural happiness is idealistic whereas synthetic happiness is realistic, as in life we do not always get what we want. Natural happiness, therefore, dictates that we would be unhappy whereas synthetic happiness would make us content regardless and, as said by William Shakespeare, “ ’tis nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so.”