Our brain is a simulation machine… It is great, but it tends to overemphasize the effects of major events in our lives. For example we tend to overestimate the potential upside of good things that happen to us, and tends to overemphasize the potential downside as well. If something happened over 3 months ago, it has virtually no impact on your current happiness. A great example of this is the opposite cases of the lottery winner, and someone who becomes a paraplegic. After one year, both individuals are at the same level of happiness that they we at before their supposed life changing events. Very counter intuitive.
We have with-in us the ability to create or “synthesize happiness”. In other words we can look for the good in everything that happens to us, and can genuinely feel happy. He gives examples of people who have had terrible things happen to them (like being put in jail for 20 years for a crime the person did not commit), and how they say that that terrible thing was the best thing that happened to them. These people looked for the good in what they experienced and “created” or “synthesized” happiness.
Dan talks about how we tend to place a higher value on happiness that we encounter by chance rather than by happiness that we create ourselves. Natural happiness is when you get what you want, and synthetic happiness is what make when we don’t get what we want. In our society we tend to believe that natural happiness is of a higher quality than synthetic happiness. Why? “What kind of an economy would we have if people believed that they could be just as happy with the ‘stuff’ they currently own, rather than going out and buying new stuff at the shopping mall, that marketers have told us that will make us happy?”
He goes on to explain that “Synthetic” happiness is just as good as “Natural” happiness. Watch the 20 minute video for the details… It’s great!
Lastly Dan talks about how excessive choice is the enemy of synthetic happiness. We seem to be able to more easily create happiness when we are stuck with a choice or stuck in a particular situation. We find ways to be happy with what we are stuck with. If we have multiple choices or opportunities to change our choices we don’t have the same sort of ownership of the situation. We may change the situation or what we have, so we unconsciously don’t invest in it by synthesizing happiness. Ironically enough, if people are given a choice to be in a situation where they can change their minds, or simple make a choice and stick with it, most people with opt for the situation where they can change their minds, which will tend to make them less happy.