You Are Wrong About What Will Make You Happy
And Sometimes That’s a Good Thing
If you do not have 21 minutes to watch this video where Harvard Psychologist Dan Gilbert exposes some surprising myths about happiness, then here is the gist: We synthesize—as in create synthetically—happiness. And even for the “natural happiness” where we get what we want, humans are terrible about knowing what will make us happy.
The video lends some exciting and surprising examples of these points:
Which will make you happier, winning the lottery or becoming a paraplegic? The data points to a surprising conclusion. Neither change makes one happier than the other.
“A recent study showing how major life traumas affect people suggests that if it happened over three months ago, with only a few exceptions, it has no impact whatsoever on your happiness.”
- There are countless examples of this synthesizing happiness despite not getting what we want in the news: a quick scan of the NYT showed these results:
– Jim Wright, the most powerful Democrat in the country at the time lost everything after being exposed in a scandal, says now (years later), “I am so much better off physically, financially, mentally and in almost every other way.”
– Moreese Bickham, exonerated at the age of 78 after spending 37 years in a Louisiana State Penitentiary for a crime he didn’t commit, said “I don’t have one minute’s regret. It was a glorious experience.”
– Harry S. Langerman, who wanted to invest in McDonald’s before it was big and could not get the money, says “I believe it turned out for the best”
– Pete Best, original drummer for the Beatles, says “I’m happier than I would have been with the Beatles.”
Even amnesiacs display the capacity to synthesize happiness (also defined by the researcher as “what we make when we don’t get what we wanted”), suggesting that the synthesis is a true “affective, hedonic, aesthetic” change, not just a psychological compensation.
Having more choices, and the option to change your mind, actually leads to less satisfaction with the outcome.
The majority of people will choose to have more options even though it demonstrably leads to less satisfaction.
What do you make of this information? How you does it affect your attitude about your life and the decisions you make?