Dan Gilbert, a psychology professor and researcher at Harvard University, has been studying the psychology of happiness for the majority of his professional life, and has come up with some interesting findings about happiness, which he explains in his New York Times bestselling book, Stumbling on Happiness. In Gilbert’s TED Talk, which happens to be one of the 20 most famous TED talks of all time, he also explains the premise of his research, which is based off of the idea “happiness can be synthesized.” Because of the brain’s prefrontal cortex, humans are able to synthesize situations before they happen, and therefore are able to think about which situations will make them happier.
Dan Gilbert’s research suggests that synthetic happiness is essentially the same emotion as natural happiness. He defines both of these terms in his TED Talk, stating: “Natural happiness is what we get when we get what we wanted, and synthetic happiness is what we make when we don’t get what we wanted. In our society, we have a strong belief that synthetic happiness is of an inferior kind.” Research shows that one year after winning the lottery, lottery winners are equally as happy as individuals who have been paraplegics for one year. Most people would think that the lottery winners would be happier with their lives, when really, they are just as happy as those who have lost the use of their limbs.
This research explains that synthetic happiness is a state of mind where one can acknowledge the situation that he/she is in and recognize that it is better than an alternative. Essentially, second place is not second best, and people should be content with what they have. Gilbert’s research also reveals that when individuals have the opportunity to think about their decisions for long periods of time, they are less happy with the decisions that those who acted quickly. This is similar to Dr. Dean Kashiwagi’s IMT, where an individual who is very detail-oriented, and has to know all of the facts before making a decision, is less observant and therefore less content.
Dan Gilbert suggests that humans have the ability to be content with their lives by accepting our current situations and making the best out of them, without worrying about the “what ifs” of any alternatives. Dr. Dean also tells his students that accepting who we are and making fewer decisions will lead us to have greater happiness, and a greater sense of fulfillment in life.