Do you want to know the secret of happiness?
You might not have heard this before, but you don’t need to find happiness – you can actually create happiness.
In this post, I’ll explore why external factors don’t necessarily make you happy, discuss the power of synthesizing happiness, and provide actionable steps to help you create happiness in your life.
🔍 Understanding the Fallacy of External Happiness
Have you ever had thoughts like, “I would be so happy if I could live in a fancy house, drive a car like that, or get that promotion”? “If I can just make it, I’ll be all set.”
But then, why are there so many wealthy but unhappy and miserable people? They often live in huge, fancy houses or have powerful positions.
It’s because those external factors don’t necessarily make you happy. Let’s delve deeper into why that’s the case.
🎢 Hedonic Adaptation: The Happiness Roller Coaster
As I wrote in another post, “How to Overcome Your Midlife Crisis,” external events have minimal impact on your level of happiness. You keep aiming for a bigger raise, fancier car, and more power. Once you get it, your external life may change, but your internal mind doesn’t change.
This is called “Hedonic Adaptation.” It’s like going up an escalator the wrong way. If you outsource your happiness to external events, your happiness level ends up where you started after you adapt to the new circumstances.
🚧 The Impact Bias: Misjudging the Source of Happiness
In the process of human evolution, we, Homo sapiens, developed a new part of our brains, the prefrontal cortex. This new addition made it possible for us to simulate experiences in our minds before we attempt them in real life. Just like pilots train with flight simulators, we put ourselves in a simulator and try to “experience” what it’s like to be in a different situation.
However, our mental simulators tend to be very bad estimators of reality. This tendency is called the “Impact Bias.” When you simulate an experience in your head, you tend to overestimate the impact and believe that outcomes will be much greater than they really are.
For example, when you see images of a gorgeous house online, you put yourself into the simulator and try to feel what it’s like to cook in that kitchen. When you see a glamorous actress on a red carpet, you put yourself into her dress and stimulate her experience.
But Gilbert says that both field and laboratory studies show “that winning or losing an election, gaining or losing a romantic partner, getting or not getting a promotion, passing or not passing a college test, on and on, have far less impact, less intensity and much less duration than people expect them to have.”
🧠 The Power of Synthetic Happiness
It turns out that we all have an ability to synthesize and manufacture happiness even from less than desirable situations. But there are a lot of people who aren’t aware of this innate superpower.
Gilbert shares an experiment that demonstrates this innate ability. A group of people were asked to rank six Monet prints based on their preferences. Then they were told they could have the print of either their 3rd or 4th choice. Most people picked their 3rd choice.
Later, they were asked to rank those same six prints again. The preference order changed. The print they originally put in 3rd position moved up in the ranking this time.
By choosing and owning the print, they developed a fondness for it. They used their innate ability and synthesized happiness.
💎 Synthetic vs. Natural Happiness: The Quality Debate
“Natural happiness is what we get when we get what we wanted, and synthetic happiness is what we make when we don’t get what we wanted.”
Most people think that natural happiness is of higher quality than synthetic happiness.
At least this tendency isn’t bad for our economy. Gilbert says if everyone realizes that you can manufacture happiness without external events, our economy will collapse. People will stop buying more and more material things. They will keep old phones, cars, or flat-screen TVs for much longer or not buy them at all. And our consumer economy will collapse.
🔓 The Paradox: Freedom vs. Synthetic Happiness
For a well-balanced life, you might think you need agency, the freedom to choose and change your mind.
It turns out that too much freedom can actually work against synthetic happiness. Although people like to have the freedom to change their mind, it can hinder the process of happiness manufacturing.
The key to synthetic happiness is to accept the things that you can’t change and make peace with that fact.
The experiment Gilbert conducted at Harvard shows that when people had the freedom to change their mind, they didn’t commit to what they had and didn’t develop positive feelings toward it. On the other hand, when people didn’t have the freedom to change their mind, their happiness with what they already had increased much more.
💡 The Mindset Shift: Want What You Have
This experiment shows that you can synthesize happiness by shifting your mindset.
Shift your mindset from always “wanting what you don’t have” to “wanting what you already have.”
🤔 Think, “This is what I’ve got. How can I make the best out of this situation?”
Remember that limitations aren’t always bad. Just like canvases make artists very creative, you can use the limitations to your advantage and synthesize happiness out of them.
🎯 Take Action Now
Do you always wish you could change your situation because you believe the changes will make you happier?
Instead of fantasizing about a different house, car, job, or situation, see if you can synthesize happiness with what you have now.
Believe in your innate ability to create happiness. Activate this hidden superpower and manufacture happiness with what you already have!