Cultivating Happiness: The Science of Happiness
Updated: Aug 27, 2019
Are we in control of our own happiness? Is it possible to synthesize happiness in our everyday life? Read more to discover the answers to these pressing questions!
Happiness leads to a wide range of health benefits, such as lower stress levels, stronger immune systems, and lower blood pressure. But, despite all of its benefits and people’s genuine desire for happiness, many people commonly struggle to achieve true happiness in their lives. The work of Dr. Dan Gilbert suggests that one of the reasons we struggle to possess happiness may be due to our societal belief regarding how happiness is received. As a society, we tend to view happiness as something to be found. If we find the perfect job, hobbies, or friends, then happiness “should” automatically follow. In contrast to this idea, Gilbert proposes that happiness is something that can be synthesized, in even the most challenging situations. It’s true that some situations are, simply, more joyful and positive experiences, and that individual differences (ex. Personality, genetics etc.) may contribute to our “baseline” of happiness. However, Dr. Gilbert’s research demonstrates that it is possible to make happiness, and that knowing this fact is to our own advantage. Furthermore, his studies show that synthetic happiness is as real as, and of the same quality as natural happiness (happiness that occurs when we get what we want.)
Dr. Gilbert’s TED Talk on “The Surprising Science of Happiness” discusses his research in more detail.
I want to start by emphasizing Dr. Gilbert’s point about how personal choice impacts happiness. Freedom, while beneficial for natural happiness, can actually be un-conducive to synthesizing happiness. When you lack the choice or opportunity to change your mind, you must create satisfaction and happiness with your current situation. This is possible because humans have what can be referred to as a “psychological immune system,” which allows us to modify our perspective on a situation, and helping us feel better. The important point to remember here is that while everyone wants the choice to change their mind, or choose exactly what they want, in reality these situations tend to cause the most dissatisfaction and lowest levels of happiness. When our situation is fixed and we must make the best of what we have, we actually tend to be happier overall.
I want to note that Dr. Gilbert isn’t suggesting that happiness is found in every crook and crevice of life. Naturally, some things are better than others, and we should have preferences. The important thing is to retain control over our preferences and our ambitions to achieve them, so that we don’t act in ways that promote dissatisfaction and negativity. If our preferences drive us to cheat, hurt others, or give up things of importance, then the freedom to choose them will ultimately lead to unhappiness. Happiness must be cultivated, and becoming happier is a skill that can be learned with time.
Beecuz teaches youth about the science of happiness in order to show young people how to move towards greater happiness in their lives.
Gilberts, D, (2004). The Surprising Science of Happiness. Presented at the TED2004. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/dan_gilbert_asks_why_are_we_happy?language=en
Six Ways Happiness Is Good for Your Health. (n.d.). Retrieved August 16, 2019, from Greater Good website: https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/six_ways_happiness_is_good_for_your_health