Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert says that you “synthesize” your happiness. That you have a “psychological immune system” that helps you change your views about your world, in order to feel better about the world in which you find yourself.
Not only that, he also maintains that when we imagine what could make us happy, such as new clothes or winning the lottery, our brains are invariably wrong in advising us that those things will make us happy. In fact, statistics show that paraplegics are just as happy as lottery winners one year after the event of either becoming injured, or winning the lottery!
We tend to think that getting things such as a job, a new car, or a trip around the world is what will make us happy. However, studies have shown that we make ourselves happy by simply imagining that we are happy. So getting what we want doesn’t actually have anything to do with being happy.
Why is this?
Your prefrontal cortex works as an experience simulator, which means you can imagine an experience in your head before you try it out in real life. This ability is essentially what brought humankind out of the trees and into shopping malls – it allows you to desire things and events, imagining they will make you feel a certain way. The problem is that your simulator works rather poorly. In reality, gaining or losing something turns out to have far less impact and duration than you expect them to have. After about three months, the event (or item) has virtually no impact on your happiness…
So, your ability to create “synthetic” happiness is in fact your key to sustained happiness. Which, by the way, is very real, even though it is not “natural.” Synthetic happiness is a choice you make when you don’t get what you want, whereas natural happiness is what you feel when you do get what you want. However, you often don’t get exactly what you want.
Additionally, your belief that being able to change your mind will increase your happiness turns out to be completely false. Your “psychological immune system” actually works best when you’re totally stuck, when there’s no turning back and making other choices, because that is when your mind can find a way to be happy with your reality.
This is vitally important, beyond the obvious fact that being happy feels better than being unhappy. In fact, there is little doubt about the powerful effects positive emotions can have on your physical health and well-being. At the same time, there is equally little doubt about the effects that negative emotions can have on you.
Happiness will not only protect your body from stressors that can lead to coronary heart disease, but it can even boost your immune system‘s ability to fight off the common cold.
Unfortunately, “happiness” can be a rather nebulous term. For most people, it is virtually impossible to define what truly makes you happy. So I want to reiterate a definition that nearly everyone can grasp and apply with greater ease.
Happiness can more accurately be identified by your brain as “whatever gets you excited.” Happiness is that which makes you jump out of bed in the morning with eager anticipation to start your day. Once you identify that activity, whatever it is, you can start focusing your mind around that so you can structure your life to do more of it.
Personally, my happiness is tied to my mission to catalyze the change of the entire fatally flawed health paradigm. This is what makes me somersault out of bed each morning, and it is the driving force that allows me to truly enjoy the many, many hours of my “work” weeks.
Being able to manifest positive emotions and happiness is perhaps one of the greatest gifts you have been given as a human being. And, interestingly enough, Gilbert’s talk resonates along the same lines as a previous article I wrote about how limiting choices can increase your happiness, which is quite fascinating, because most of us live with the false belief that more choices mean greater chances of finding contentment and happiness.
It also resonates with the fundamental rules of optimal health… You don’t need ten pills a day to get healthy. It’s a false belief, manufactured by the pharmaceutical industry through the mass media. In reality, you only need to focus on a few very basic things to optimize your health:
- Address emotional traumas
- Get optimal sun exposure
- Drink pure water
- Avoid toxins
- Eat the right fats
- Eat right for your Nutritional Type
- Eat raw foods
- Control your insulin and leptin
- Sleep properly
Health, like happiness, can be optimized by limiting your options to that which is natural, and realizing there's no "magic pill."