TED Talk (Blog 10) / Uncategorized

Happiness? a thing we find or a thing we make?

I watched a TED talk by Dan Gilbert, author of a book titled “Stumbling on Happiness.” His lecture discusses his experimental research and his vitally important and interesting findings on happiness. Dan is a psychologist at Harvard University and his research and commentary was very informative.

He explains that there is natural happiness and synthesized happiness. Natural happiness is the happiness humans feel when they get something they have wanted. Synthesized happiness is our way of coping, and moving on when we don’t get what we want. We make the best out of situations and synthesize happiness to be content with our current situations.

Oddly enough, he explains that freedom to choose and change our minds too much is the enemy of synthesizing happiness. We synthesize happiness when we feel trapped. We make light of situations and look for the good in them when we are forced to deal with them.  (15:15) When we get too much freedom of choice we harp on the ‘What ifs” and we never become satisfied with our current situations. He goes on to explain a social experiment he conducted with harvard students to show this. In the experiment he took two groups of students. He had them take pictures of their lives and their favorite things and decide on their 2 favorite pictures and develop them in a dark room. They were taught how to use sophisticated cameras and develop pictures in a dark room. The pictures were blown up on glossy 8 by 10 posters and the students gained a large sense of pride for their pictures. He told one group of students that they could only keep 1 poster and the poster they chose not to keep would be shipped off somewhere else immediately. This was the irreversible action group. The other group was told that they too would only be able to choose 1 poster to keep but they would have the next 4 days to think about their decision and they could change their mind about which picture they wanted as many times as they wanted in the next 4 days. This was the reversible action group. The students were asked to predict their satisfaction with the picture they chose in the  3 days after they were asked to choose a poster. The students predicted that the reversible action group would have greater happiness. Results showed that the participants in the irreversible group had exponentially higher happiness and satisfaction with the picture they had chosen. The group with reversible action were dissatisfied with their decisions and were not happy at all.  (17:48) Dan GIlbert states that “freedom to choose to change and make up your mind is the enemy of synthetic happiness”


Hey- I found the actual embed code and added it for you.  it wasn’t visible on the playlist page where you found the talk.

4 thoughts on “Happiness? a thing we find or a thing we make?

  1. I think the idea of synthesized happiness is really interesting. We have so much choice in our lives and so we spend time thinking about what could have happened if we had made another choice. If life were simpler, we would just have to be happy with what we had, because it was the only option.

    • Yes I agree, when it comes to things that do not violate our basic social, safety, survival, mental or physical needs, we often have too much freedom of choice. It is this freedom of choice that leaves us so hasty to make a decision, and so unsure with our decision when we do make it. It is when we decide on something 100% that we can start to see the positives with our decision and our “psychological immune systems” allow us to like this decision more and more with increasing time.

  2. I can’t see the video…. hmmm.

    THIS is some groundbreaking findings. Imagine what it means for marketing, for consumer relations, for education.

    Seems like I should make you pick a topic for your paper on day one and not let you change.

  3. The “what ifs” are killer for sure! As a psych major, I am always interested in the real world implications of psychological findings. It makes sense that autonomy is so important to our happiness. In another management course, HR Management, we often discuss how the freedom to make decisions contributes greatly to employee work satisfaction.

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