I watched this video by Dan Gilbert about happiness on Ted Talks. He challenges the idea that we’ll be miserable if we don’t get what we want, and states that our psychological immune system lets us feel truly happy even when things don’t go as planned. Gilbert explains how the prefrontal cortex in our brain acts as an “experience simulator.” He states:
We have something called the ‘impact bias’ which is the tendency for the simulator to work badly–for the simulator to make you believe that different outcomes are more different than in fact they really are. But they have far less impact, intensity, and much less duration than people expect them to have. A recent study that shows how major life traumas affect people suggests that if it happened over three months ago, with only a few exceptions, it has no impact whatsoever on your happiness.
Gilbert presents data showing that lottery winners and paraplegics were equally happy one year after winning the lottery and losing their legs, respectively. He suggests that in our society we have a strong belief that synthetic happiness is somehow inferior to “natural” happiness, which is the type of happiness we stumble upon when we get what we want.
It was an interesting and thought-provoking talk. I see too many people chasing what they want, and never truly finding lasting happiness. I notice in my own life seemingly significant desires or events that turn out to be not nearly as important or meaningful as I had originally thought. I find that time spent with my best friend Brent and our girls, relationships, and creating opportunities to pursue my interests and passions trump anything else that may or may not happen. This power we have to synthesize happiness is truly a gift, and it certainly puts things into perspective.