Nicky's Blog

On HAPPINESS! | August 17, 2010

“Longings and worries are both, to some degree, overblown because we have within us the capacity to manufacture the very commodity we are constantly chasing when we choose experience.” – Dan Gilbert, Harvard Psychologist

Two things you need to know before you here me out: 1) I get obsessed easily and especially in my pursuit for capital t Truths. What are “capital t Truths”? Phenomenon that are True, wholeheartedly and unequivocally so and 2) I’ve been really damn sad these past two weeks. I am talking about the kinda sad that keeps you in bed during the daytime, tucked under the covers, away from the big, scary world. I won’t reveal the source of that sadness because it’s not really productive to share it right now. I’ll just say that it had been a paralyzing sadness that temporarily obstructed my sense of self in painful ways.

I say all this as a premise. I really want to talk about this man and his idea, which I stumbled upon, and that carried me out of my bed and back into the world.

Dan Gilbert‘s idea is simple to deconstruct: happiness is not determined by the external circumstances we face rather it is a condition we can evoke if we learn to manipulate our mind. Happiness is not so much an entity that can be acquired in the outside, but instead it is a self-willed creation. And guess what then? The outside world becomes irrelevant.

When I first considered Dan’s happiness theory I felt suspicious. “Synthetic happiness“, as Dan refers to it, seemed to be overly artificial, and quite frankly, an excuse the weak might use in not being diligent in their pursuits. I prefer to think of myself as practical, as a realist and so I was reluctant to accept this idea that just seemed tainted by self-deception and insincerity. It just rang too kumbaya to me and I wasn’t having it.

But, I listened more to what Dan had to say and he addresses the same concern I was feeling. He argues that we all possess a “psychological immune system”, which can lead us to simulate an experience or a sensation, if needed. Dan also refers to case studies he’s conducted. The case studies demonstrate that the neurological experience of happiness we undergo during an actual event is the same as when we don’t go through that physical occurrence. He cites amnesia patients as the controlled participants. They offer a non-biased perspective considering they cannot recall their lived experience;  therefore, they wouldn’t feign happiness.

The point is essentially this: we assume that happiness is a thing to be found, but it is not. Happiness is always a synthesized experience. And it’s empowering to understand this phenomenon because it is precisely this understanding that is the catalyst for evoking the feeling of happiness. We can evoke this feeling when we most need it irrespective of what is occurring around us.

When Taty came home from work, I was running after her shouting, “I’m synthesizing my happiness”. And she looked at me as though I were just released from the asylum. My change of attitude would be case in point for Dan. A minute before I stumbled upon Dan’s talk, I was at my lowest ever. And then I watched his video and I was all sorts of giddy and inspired. And do you really think it was because I found happiness in this video and that this one video will carry me into an eternal state of happiness? Not quite. Nothing drastic changed during and after the twenty minutes I spent watching that video. It’s simply that I, that my mind, chose to be happy and to create that experience for me.

Song of the Day: New Day by Tamar Kaprelian


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About author

A lover of people, the arts, parks, curiosity, spontaneity, altruism, self-exploration, and story telling. I believe in living your life nakedly and on fire. I am one of triplets: I have two sisters running about in the city coping my look. If you see "me", think twice. Much of my writing is inspired by my daily happenings. Much of it is also closely connected to my years at Bates College. This blog is for anyone looking for inspiring insights and stories.







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