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For some it may sound like self-deception; for others, to conformism. However, it is not either of them.
We talk about synthetic happiness , a concept developed by Professor of Psychology at Harvard Harvard University Dan Gilbert.
In 2004, Gilbert was included by the magazine Science in the list of the 50 most followed scientists in social networks and in 2017 he was considered one of the 50 most influential living psychologists in the world.
He has received numerous awards for his teaching and research activity and his book Stumbling on Happiness remained six months on the list of best-selling publications in The New York Times.
And it seeks to revolutionize the way we understand happiness and, as a consequence, the way we approach life.
The explanation of synthetic happiness, he says, is scientific and found in our brain.
Our psychological defenses
Let’s start by explaining what the psychologist defines as our psychological immune system.
“Human beings have something that we can understand as a psychological immune system , which is a system of cognitive processes – mostly non-conscious – that help them change their perceptions of the world in order to feel better in that world they are in. “, explained Gilbert in a TED talk that he titled” The surprising science of happiness “(” The surprising science of happiness “), in 2004.
According to Gilbert, we all have the ability to synthesize happiness, but it is not always easy because we tend to think that happiness is “something that is found”.
This is how the professor states that there are two types of happiness: natural and synthetic.
Natural happiness, explains Gilbert, is what we experience when we get what we want and synthetic is what we make when we “do not have what we wanted”.
According to the researcher, the adjective “synthetic” generates suspicion to many of us because “we think that synthetic happiness is not of the same quality as what we could call natural happiness”.
“In our society we have the strong belief that synthetic happiness is inferio r . Why do we believe that? Well, it ‘s very simple. What kind of economic engine would turn if we believed that not getting what we want we will equally happy that have it? “, argues the professor.
Gilbert firmly believes that synthetic happiness is as real and lasting as the one that makes us jump when we get what we want so much.
And its effects are equally beneficial for our body.
To demonstrate that point, the researcher appeals to a paradigm of more than 60 years that is known as the paradigm of free choice.
After making experiments with participants of different profiles and different contexts, the teacher concludes that freedom understood as the ability to make decisions and change one’s opinion is a friend of natural happiness, but becomes the enemy of synthetic happiness.
And is that, explains the professor, the psychological immune system works better when we have no options.
“That is the difference between courtship and marriage,” reflects the researcher.
“When you have a date with a guy and you see that he puts his finger in his nose, it does not even occur to him to go out with him again,” TedTalk said in the talk.
But what if you’re married to the boy who stuck his finger in his nose? You say to yourself: “It does not matter, he has a heart of gold, but he is not going to touch the cake”.
Here’s how it works synthetic happiness: ” V as to find a way to be happy with what happened “; Find a way to be happy with what you have.
And, the psychologist warns, “not knowing this can become a supreme disadvantage.”
Ambition with limits
Gilbert explains that it is good to have preferences when, for example, we project our future and compare it with other potential scenarios or when we anticipate what will happen.
But, ask for caution. “When those preferences drag us extremely strong and fast because we have overvalued the difference between those futures, we are at risk,” he warns.
“When our ambition is limited, it leads us to work with joy, when our ambition is unbridled, it leads us to lie , to cheat, to steal, to hurt others, to sacrifice things that have real value,” says Gilbert.
“When our fears are limited, we are prudent, cautious, reflective, when our fears are rampant, we are imprudent, pretentious and cowardly,” he adds.
Gilbert’s key message, based on his experiments, is that “to a certain extent we exaggerate our desires and our concerns, but inside, we all have the capacity to generate that same product of value that we constantly pursue when we choose the experience.”
And how does it help us with failures?
To understand how the theory developed by Gilbert can help us cope with failures, it is key to return to the concept of the psychological immune system.
Thanks to the fact that the brain counts on him, we can change the way we perceive what happens to us and convince us that what we lost (a job, a prize, a girlfriend) or whatever we did not get was not going to do us so much well as we thought.
It is a process of adaptation and acceptance of what happens to us and that allows us to overcome the disappointments and move on.
This is how many people find happiness in difficult situations.
The psychologist María Carmen Martínez, associate professor of social psychology at the Miguel Hernández University in Elche, summed it up very well in her blog “Psychology, Communication, Emotions and Health” when she analyzed the difference between natural and synthetic happiness:
“Suffering for loss lasts little in the human brain and, what is more important, happiness is an experience that can be created by the individual, happiness as an experiential experience of our brain is generated internally, it can even be simulated without the need for any external stimulus. “