Synthetic happiness

Have you ever had this feeling that some event in the future will make your life so much better than it is now? For example, finally getting the promotion you have been working for, finding the partner that you have always been longing for, or losing the 10 kg of weight that you have been trying to get rid of for years? And then, finally, you will be the happiest person on the planet? Science says that you might be for a while, but you won’t be for long.


In a TED Talk, psychology professor Dan Gilbert from Harvard University explains that no matter whether we win a lottery or become paraplegic from one day to the other, we will after a certain amount of time return to our initial level of happiness. However, we have the “impact bias”, meaning that we overestimate the hedonic impact of future events. In truth these events have less impact than we think.
Dan Gilbert says there are two kinds of happiness: Natural happiness is when we get what we wanted. Synthetic happiness is what we make when we don’t get it. In a series of experiments he found that humans are actually pretty good at creating it for themselves. On the other hand a lot of misery stems from overrating the difference between the situation one is currently in and the alternative situation – from wanting too much what we do not have at the moment. Thus, he argues that happiness does not so much originate in what happens to us. Rather, we have the power to synthesise our happiness!

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