Christian Long

Dan Gilbert: Why Are We Happy?

In TED Talks on April 25, 2010 at 9:25 pm

Reflection by ANGELA W.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

Dan Gilbert: Why Are We Happy?

Why are we happy?

Even if you think you are not happy, there is always a way that we, as humans, find to be happy. Our brain finds a way to accept what has happened that we may dislike. When someone close to us dies, yes, we do feel sorrow and pain, but after a while we find a way by being happy by knowing “he would want me to be happy,” remembering the good memories and celebration that person’s life. We find ways to make the worst things into something to somehow be happy about.

How do we do that?

In the past two million years, humans have developed the pre-frontal cortex. This part of our brain is an experienced simulator, meaning we can have an experience in our head before it actually happens. Dan Gilbert gives the example of Ben & Jerry’s not having liver and onion ice cream because they made it and tried it and decided it was not good, but because their pre-frontal cortex could have the experience of tasting liver and onion ice cream and decide it was not good without actually tasting it.

Gilbert says “happiness can be synthesized.”

Synthesis, in philosophy, means using deductive reasoning or ideas that resolve contradictions. It means we pretend we are happier with the outcome of a situation that we may not have wanted. Gilbert said “We synthesize happiness, but we think happiness is a thing that has to be found,” which is very true because we always have that feeling of being happy in us, but our notion of happiness is such a greater expectation than what it really is. Our idea and view of happiness is something that only could be achieved in a perfect world. We all know our world is nowhere near perfect. We think being happy means everything in our life would be perfect, we would have no troubles, we would have all the money we wanted, and we would have the perfect family, children, and job, a perfect life. Our idea of being happy is having nothing to complain about. That is usually a person’s idea of happiness. In reality, no one’s life is like that, even though it may seem like that to another person. The person that you think has a perfect life, most likely has a lot of troubles as well, but is not showing the pain because our brain can find a way to make us happy.

Another reason we are happy is because we find ways to be happier with what we own than what we do not.

Gilbert presents an experience on people with Anterograde Amnesia, which means they cannot make new memories due to excessive alcohol consumption in the past. The experiment involved the doctor asking the Amnesia patient to pick the painting they liked the most out of a line up of six. Once the patient picked which one they liked the most, the doctor explains that they will mail the painting to them and leaves the room for thirty minutes. The doctor comes back and because the patient does not remember what had just happened, the doctor asks the patient to pick out which one they own. The patient of course does not remember and just guesses which usually is not the one they picked last time. They then put the pictures in order from what they like the most to the one they like the least and they always put the one they own first. Studies show that synthetic happiness is real because people without and with Anterograde Amnesia both like the one they own much better than the one they do not own.

“Synthetic happiness is the same as ‘real’ happiness.”

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  1. Hmmm….interesting…….I find that a lot of unhappiness stems from people thinking what they own is “not enough”, so we work together to manifest gratitude for what they have.

    I find it interesting then, that it seems to be our nature to like what we own more than that which we don’t. Kinda scoffs at the “keeping up with the Joneses”, doesn’t it? In this materialistic world so many covet what their neighbour has, causing unhappiness.

    Live Life Happy!

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