"You can't always get what you want. But if you try sometime, well you might find that you get what you need."
- The Rolling Stones
In the past, we've been taught to be happy with what we have. But, today, that old cliché does not seem to wet the information age appetite. The excitement of the new greatest gadget or the new hot trendy brand that will turn any of us ordinary human beings to extraordinary.
But no matter how much we get, the void is still there. Big, wide, and unsatisfied.
So how do we fill it? How to manage to be happy when you are not rich enough nor pretty enough?
Here's another quote to wrestle with:
"You've always have the power, my dear." - Glinda, The Good Witch, The Wizard of Oz
Yes, but Helga, that is a fairy tale!
Dan Gilbert, a Harvard Psychologist and author of Stumbling on Happiness, can you tell you differently. He says that you can be happy when you don't get what you want.
He argues that "[No] economic engine would be churning if we believed hat not getting what we want would make us equally happy."
In his Ted Talk, "The Surprising Science of Happiness", he gives us examples from his research that came to this conclusion: When not given any choice and people did not get what they want, they found a way to be happy with their circumstance. He calls this "Synthesized Happiness".
He even goes on to state that "the freedom to choose is the enemy of synthetic happiness."
What a mind blowing thought!
Think about it. When we go out to buy something, we are usually face with so many brands to choose from. We make the purchase and then may second guess our choice. Gilbert demonstrates this phenomenon in a experiment he did with Harvard students.
His team set up a photography course that these Harvard students could take. They would take pictures anywhere on campus using film and then would be taught how to develop the prints in a dark room. The team had informed the classes that they had to submit one of their prints to the instructor as a requirement for posterity and legitimacy of the course. They were able to take one print home with them, but had to choose one of the two.
They gave separate instructions to separate classes. One class had to choose a print, submit it, and never see it again. The other class had to choose the print, submit, but had the option to swap it with the one they took home three days or so later.
The team had the classes answer some questions about the prints they have submitted and the one they took home. These were the findings:
The group that had no choice to switch end up really liking the print they took home.
The group that had the choice to switch were struggling with making the choice and when they decided to switch or not switch, they were very unsatisfied with the print that they have kept.
Gilbert repeated similar experiments with different groups of participants and found that:
1. We are capable of creating our own happiness even when we may not be happy with our outcomes.
2. When we are faced with too many choices, we are less likely to be satisfied.
So what does this all mean?
I can already see how these conclusions could become problematic. Should people be satisfied with poor working conditions or living under a dictatorship?
I think Gilbert was aiming for commenting on our societal conditioning to pursue happiness outside of ourselves instead from within. This isn't anything new in the personal development literature.
The message here is that no matter what ...
You are still in the pilot's seat.
The painter holding the paint brush.
The maker and creator of your life.
Synthesize your happiness!
You can view Dan Gilbert's Ted Talk below:
"Transcript of "The Surprising Science of Happiness"" Dan Gilbert: The Surprising Science of Happiness. Ted Talk, 04 Feb. 2004. Web. 09 Feb. 2016. <https://www.ted.com/talks/dan_gilbert_asks_why_are_we_happy/transcript?language=en>.