It is that time of the year, the end of the year. The time where we start setting new resolutions, goals, forgiving others and reflect on the past year, 2016. It’s the time of the year where you should ask yourself, was I happy this year? Unfortunately, many of you would most likely say no. Depression, the past years, has increased and 2016 has been no exception. Depression continues to affect 350 million people globally (WHO, 2016), with 1 out of 20 Americans, 12 years and older currently depressed (CDC, 2016). Now you may ask yourself the magical question, why? Why am I so darn unhappy? Because natural happiness just isn’t enough.
Being happy is quite simple. You want something, you get what you want and boom, you are happy. That’s natural happiness; but what happens when you don’t get what you want? Simple, you aren’t happy. Could you be happy even after not getting what you want? Yes, but you have to synthesize happiness. Synthetic happiness isn’t fake, its happiness that you create for yourself. Harvard psychologist, Dr. Daniel Gilbert, explains in his TED TALK the science of this phenomenal type of happiness through experimental evidence. He uses examples from common places like New York Times to show us what synthetic happiness looks like. He uses an excerpt from an article from New York Times where Moreese Bickham says, “I don’t have one minute’s regret, it was a glorious experience,” describing his 37 years in the Louisiana penitentiary for a crime he did not commit. That my lovely readers, is synthetic happiness; creating your own happiness, even after a terrible experience. Bickham created his own happiness after being in jail for 37 years for something he did not commit. This ability to be happy after being in prison for 37 years for something one did not commit sounds completely ludicrous. Though it sounds completely senseless we can all do it, thanks to one particular brain structure.
The ability to synthesize happiness is a great ability only humans can do because we have a unique structure in our brain that allows us only to do that, that is our frontal lobe. The frontal lobe is one of the four lobes of the brain. It is located on your forehead region, hence the name “frontal” lobe. We are the only species that have a frontal lobe. It is a very special structure that allows us to have several abilities like functions for higher reasoning to make decisions, executive functions, and enables us to experience things before we even go through that experience. Thanks to the frontal lobe you can be happy even though you didn’t get that pay raise or that car you wanted or spent 37 years in prison for something you didn’t commit. As years have passed it appears we have lost this ability, but we haven’t, we have just forgotten about it. The way we view happiness has changed throughout time. We view happiness as a thing rather than a psychological state of mind. If we don’t’ get the thing we want, whether it’s a car, job, person, we become unhappy. This view of a materialistic happiness has only grown more because we have more options than ever with our world has advancing immensely; in all aspects. We have more options to call someone, text someone, more options of stores, phones, schools, careers. You name it, and you will have a platter of options. More options in life is not a bad thing, but it can be.
Dr. Daniel Gilbert, conducted a study with two groups of students from Harvard. The students were taught to take pictures in a dark room and at the end of the project, the students could only choose one of the two pictures they made. One group of students could not switch their picture after they chose it while the other group of students could come and switch their picture whenever, if they did not like it. Ironically, the group of students who could not come back and switch their picture were more satisfied with their picture than those who could come back and switch their picture whenever they wanted.
Our options in the world aren’t going to diminish, on the contrary with technology advancing so much, so quickly, we will have even more options; and we cannot stop having options because that would just limit us. What we can do is regain our ability to synthesize happiness. Unfortunately there isn’t a recipe for creating happiness, that is up to you. If you realize you are unhappy make it your goal for 2017 to create your happiness instead of waiting for it to arrive at your door by UPS or Fed-Ex.
Link to Dr. Daniel Gilbert’s TED talk: https://www.ted.com/talks/dan_gilbert_asks_why_are_we_happy#t-394317
CDC. (2016, March 30). Depression. Retrieved December 31, 2016, from Center for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/mentalhealth/basics/mental-illness/depression.htm
Gilbert, D. (2006, September 26). The surprising science of happiness Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/dan_gilbert_asks_why_are_we_happy#t-192650
WHO. (2016, December 19). Campaign essentials. Retrieved December 31, 2016, from World Health Organization, http://www.who.int/campaigns/world-health-day/2017/campaign-essentials/en/