The secret of (synthetic) happiness according to science

Research shows that we have the capacity to synthesize happiness when we don’t get what we want.  But is synthetic happiness as good as “real” happiness?  Or is all happiness just a concoction?  Let’s look at the science behind happiness and synthetic happiness.

This is a very instructive TED talk by Harvard University psychologist Dan Gilbert.  He explains all about the secret to happiness – synthetics.  Yes, we all synthesize happiness.  Is it fake?  Yes…and no.  When we fake happiness, it turns out that we make happiness.  And that makes it real.  But I should let him explain it, as he does it so much better than I can.

He quotes the words of Thomas Browne:

“I am the happiest man alive. I have that in me that can convert poverty to riches, adversity to prosperity, and I am more invulnerable than Archilles; Fortune hath not one place to hit me.”

This is a quote that I very much like.  It is empowering.  It is very positive.  Repeat it over and over and you might even become invulnerable to emotional distress.

Tweet this quote: “When we fake happiness, we make happiness.”

But the best part of this video is when Dan Gilbert lays down the four secrets to happiness, as gleaned from scientific research.  And here is the screenshot from the video:

Secret Of Happiness

OK, those are not really the conclusions he draws.  But he does call on the same type of research that I address in my own book, Climb Your Stairway to Heaven: The 9 habits of maximum happiness, namely that three to six months after a major life event, people return to their pre-event level of happiness. Consider these events:

  • You win the lottery.
  • You become paraplegic.
  • You get divorced.
  • You have a miscarriage.
  • You win the marathon.
  • You win an election.
  • Your home is destroyed in a tornado.
  • You are presented with an award.

And a few months later…nothing.  The event was traumatic or exhilarating, but it has no long-term effect on your happiness.  How can a paraplegic be just as happy as he was before the accident?  How can a lottery winner be no more happy than before the windfall?

Read also: Yes, Virginia, There Is a Secret to Happiness.

Happiness is not something tangible.  It is how we feel, and that is something we synthesize.  Is it real?  Yes.  Is it genuine? Yes.  De we “create” it?  Yes.  There you have it – the real secret to happiness.  You can now safely join The Beatles.  Or go to jail.  Either way, you’ll end up just as happy.

Read also: A happiness poem.