This week in psychology, we will be discussing the topics of stress and emotion. The prompt that I chose to respond to was Option 1 which dealt with Dan Gilbert’s TED talk on “The Surprising Science of Happiness.”
This is not actually the first time I’ve heard of Dan Gilbert, nor is it the first that I’ve been given an explanation, however rudimentary, of his work. Last semester, I took a fascinating course on ancient and medieval philosophy that focused primarily on Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, and Augustine. Our primary goal in this course was not only to examine the history and ideologies of these thinkers, but, more specifically, to gain an understanding of what happiness is and how it might be achieved. While talking to my professor about this topic he referenced Gilbert’s book, “Stumbling on Happiness,” and some of his ideas about affective forecasting. This talk wasn’t really about affective forecasting, our ability to predict how we’ll feel about things in the future, but I was already familiar with some of the data and evidence used by Gilbert.
I wasn’t as surprised as I might have been by the idea of synthetic happiness because, as I previously mentioned, I already have had experience with Gilbert’s work, but I found this talk fascinating nonetheless. The idea of happiness is so crucial to our perception of reality, but so incredibly vague that I enjoy most any attempt to clarify it. I agree that most people in our society have a strong preference for what we consider natural happiness that comes from getting what we desire when we want it and I’m curious if this same idea of natural happiness is different in more communal societies. I found Dr. Gilbert to a reliable source primarily because most of his message was based on facts and research rather than just unsubstantiated claims. I appreciated that he not only gave examples of previous data but also demonstrated to the audience the deficiency in our ability to effectively predict our happiness in certain scenarios. The message of this talk is interesting and certainly reasonable as nothing Dr. Gilbert said was outrageous or unrealistic. The key to creating this synthetic happiness seems to be accepting reality for what it is and being willing to let go of certain paths and possibilities. In order to create this happiness, it seems to prudent to make concrete commitments that you can grow to be happy with. I don’t mean to suggest that anyone should rush into commitments, rather that they shouldn’t hesitate to do so because of alternate possibilities.