The Surprising Science of Happiness


Dan Gilbert

What can science tell us about how we can achieve happiness? According to Dan Gilbert, Harvard University Psychology Professor, quite a bit. In this TED talk, Gilbert describes how the brain has developed the capacity to predict how happy we will be in a given situation by simulating an experience—a capacity unique to human beings. This ability, however, is somewhat flawed as our predictions often neglect the human capacity to adapt to circumstances. We can, in fact, find happiness in a large range of circumstances by reshaping our affective natures—an ability Gilbert refers to as our “psychological immune system.”

Our ability to find happiness in a situation can be undone by one simple factor: an increase in choice. When a situation is irreversible, we adapt to it, but when a situation is reversible and unfavourable we desire change. As Gilbert suggests, “We should have preferences that lead us into one future over another. But when those preferences drive us too hard and too fast because we have overrated the difference between these futures, we are at risk.”

What choices do we confront in modern life that diminish rather than contribute to our happiness?

Is the type of happiness Gilbert describes the same as a Christian understanding of joy? In what ways is it similar and in what ways is it in conflict?

Source: TED: Ideas Worth Spreading

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