There are tons of things you can do using the Internet. You can get updates about your friends and families. You can shop without leaving your chair. Also, you can become a multimillionaire using decentralized online trading platforms. So when you are stuck in a rut and have no idea how to really live life, it’s not entirely surprising that the Internet has some answers, too.
Do you have existential questions and have no idea what the purpose of life is or how to find happiness? Some YouTube channels aim to help people who have exactly these questions. For one, Ted Talks has been doing this for more than 15 years now as far as online video platforms are concerned.
Whether it’s the science of heartbreaks or how to be a good parent, TED Talks has some serious answers. If you want to know how to boost employee performance or how important it is to have a life or business coach for adults, you will find what you seek. That is, as long as you are willing to sit through at least 20 minutes of science-based content. Here is Ted Talk about what happiness really is and how you get it.
The Surprising Science of Happiness
This Ted Talk is already eight years old, but the findings that Harvard Psychology Professor Dan Gilbert shares are still mind-blowing. Basically, the surprising science behind happiness is that you can manufacture it. Yes, you can synthesize happiness.
According to him, there are two types of happiness: natural and synthetic. Natural happiness is when you achieve what you want, and synthetic happiness is when you don’t. To backtrack a bit, you need to understand that humans have the prefrontal cortex as an essential part of the brain in the present. This part helps people simulate what it would feel like to achieve a specific goal.
For example, your brain can create a scenario where you finally shed the ten kilograms of weight you have been wanting to. When you do finally shed it, you will be happy, but not for long. It is because of what is called the impact bias. The impact bias happens when you overestimate the impact of a thing or event on your happiness. You expect to be at this level of joy when you finally become slim, only for that happiness to wane in a few days or weeks.
This might seem like a total bummer, but it actually works both ways. For example, even if you fail to achieve your goal weight, you will not be sulking for a long time. It’s the mind’s natural coping mechanism to create synthetic happiness when you do not achieve what you want.
An example of this is winning second place in a competition you prepared a lot for. When you fail to secure the championship, your mind will start churning thoughts along the lines of, “At least I placed second. This is so much better than nothing.” You have probably said that a million times. After failing, your brain consoles you by thinking that you are happy because at least you tried.
Gilbert calls it the psychological immune system. It helps you synthesize happiness so that you will feel good about what you have initially thought of as a negative experience. This finding is the result of a series of studies conducted on different subjects. Even with people who suffer from amnesia, this psychological immune system works the same.
Gilbert stresses that a person with paraplegia who lost the use of all limbs is not significantly less happy than someone who won the lottery. In fact, one of his case studies was a man who served 37 years in prison despite his innocence. He said he did not regret any second he was inside when he came out.
According to Professor Gilbert, the common misconception people have about happiness is that it needs to be found. In fact, it’s not lost at all. You actually have the power to manufacture your own satisfaction, and it’s been happening since your prefrontal cortex started developing.
Another misconception is that you have to be happy all the time. No, if you are always happy, you wouldn’t know that you are. You experience different levels of happiness, and you can tell them apart because you have a point of comparison.
With everything that science reveals about human emotions, things start to make sense. You have probably wondered if any other human being is truly happier than the rest of the world. According to Gilbert’s explanation, it is not likely.