This job that I wanted so badly and did not get or the relationship that went into pieces, will these happenings have the lasting effect on my happiness? Not according to the research Dan Gilbert and his team have been conducting. It is known that thanks to the prefrontal cortex humans have a fantastic ability to imagine the effects of something that did not happen, sort of a built -in simulator. This simulator makes us believe that different outcomes yield different degree of satisfaction. Dan Gilbert’s research shows that this simulator is not such a reliable tool after all: whether we imagine having our heart broken, winning a lottery or losing a limb, we tend to overestimate the results of the imagined events and often fail at foreseeing the effects on how we would experience our situation once there.
Our simulator fails us because when things don’t go as planned another internal mechanism gets activated and takes over – the “psychological immune system” that insures that we actually change our views of the world so that we feel better about our circumstances (some seem to be better at it than others). Although all of us have this system at our disposal and it is actually working, most of us are unaware of it and it is to our great disadvantage. Why?
One of the implications of Gilbert’s research is that we keep chasing shadows: while we think that happiness is to be found (for example by fulfilling our desires and getting what we want) and sometimes make considerable financial and emotional investments in finding it, all of us have the inherent mechanism of synthesizing happiness that allows us to actually be as happy without whatever we have been pursuing.
Gilbert provides a number of examples from their research, both entertaining and insightful but probably bad news for the marketers who are trying to convince us that we can achieve happiness by getting yet another gadget, service or experience.
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In this talk Dan Gilbert also claims our “psychological immune system” works best when we are stuck and have no choice. In fact, freedom (the ability to choose) is the friend of the so called natural happiness (when we get what we want) but is the enemy of the synthesized happiness.
Just a thought: as I understand both concepts of happiness used by Dan Gilbert imply wanting. While in natural happiness we get what we want, in synthesized happiness we start wanting what we get. Yet for some people happiness is neither but rather the absence of wanting or craving.