Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Secret of Being Happy

File this under "something I already knew but couldn't articulate." You can choose to be happy. It's a frame of mind, a choice, and maybe should even be looked at as your obligation: to yourself, your family, friends, and even the world. Here's the substantiating article and a video:

The Secret of How to Be Happy

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…

Here's a direct example of how the upper right quadrant (the physical brain) can affect the upper left quadrant (what goes on inside the brain. i.e., your thoughts), and how we can mentally alter the upper left interior to affect the upper right exterior, or physical. The article goes on to say:

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.

For me, happiness is being fully present in the moment and experiencing and appreciating whatever is happening right now.

Read the full article here.

1 comment:

Rob said...

This is an excellent post. Why don't we insist that this area of knowledge is standard education in our schools?

Not only would it serve our kids well growing up learning this kind of stuff. Can you imagine any kid saying "I don't want to go to school today. I've got boring classes about how I can create happiness for myself and those around me"...?

Makes you wonder all sorts of things don't you think?