First it is important to realize that the following discussion is about psychological happiness. It is not Aristotle’s concept of “happiness”, which he called eudaimonia or ” living well”. In the recent years scientists have turn their attention to examining psychological happiness.It seems there are two kinds of happiness, the natural happiness and the synthetic happiness. According to Dan Gilbert – “Natural happiness is what we get when we get what we wanted, and synthetic happiness is what we make when we don’t get what we wanted.”
If we had the freedom to go anywhere and at any time for our holidays; then get to go to our chosen location and at the time of our choosing, we will be happy; this is “natural happiness”. But if we are told where and when to go for our holidays and have no freedom to choose, our inclination is to think we will be unhappy. Dan Gilbert’s challenges this assumption. His research shows that when people are stuck and have no choice they synthesize happiness. And this synthesis happens unconsciously; further more this synthesized happiness is just as good and as long-lasting as the natural happiness. The synthesis of happiness only occurs when we are left without a choice. Any choice which is reversible is not conducive to the synthesis of happiness.
He asks the question if the synthesis of happiness will allow us to be happy under all human conditions or to put it another way, is there a reason to say one situation is preferable to an another. He answers yes. But says that our longing and our worries are both to some degree overblown in any human experience. This leads us into trouble, because we have within us the capacity to manufacture happiness. When our longing for happiness is bounded, it leads us to work joyfully. When our longing for happiness is unbounded , it leads us to lie, to cheat, to steal, to hurt others, to sacrifice things of real value. When our worries are bounded,we’re prudent; we’re cautious; we’re thoughtful. When our worries are unbounded and overblown, we’re reckless, and we’re cowardly.
I will leave you with Dan Gilbert to explain in his own humorous style the evidence and the conclusions of his fascinating work.