On Happiness

I was viewing one of my most favorite speakers today, Lawrence Lessig, talk about copyright, giving a speech that is very similar to one that I have heard a few times online, but Lessig presents it so well that I end up watching it over and over again. This particular speech was given at TED. The nice thing about coming across a TED talk is that it is almost always enlightening in some way. Lessig’s speech is enlightening enough, and it reminded me that I should watch something of his since he has switched to fighting corruption instead of copyright.

Another nice thing about the TED talks is that they are all sitting on the same site - so they are all interlinked with similar topics and they also include the new videos which are being posted fairly often. Sometimes I don’t have time to watch more than one talk, but today I was blessed with a surfeit of time, so I clicked on another link which interested me. This talk was from Dan Gilbert and was coarsely about happiness, and more importantly synthetic happiness and how our brains work. It started with talk about the foundation of our evolved brains, of which the most important fact was considered the Impact Bias. Gilbert talked about the Impact bias as a primary result of the evolution of the mind from earlier man to modern man - it is the ability of our mind to predict the future without actually trying it. It is the reason why you have an aversion to a food that you haven’t even eaten or don’t think you will like a movie that isn’t even released, or the opposite. I believe that the impact bias is very important to the psychology of human beings - while it may not actually be very important to the state of the world that you eat a pastrami sandwich today instead of a salad, it must mean something to you, or your life will end up seeming meaningless and insignificant. Gilbert focuses on the impact bias in the dual - that choices that we are given to make ourselves will eventually have an effect on our overall happiness. The experiments explained in the video show that, if a choice has been made, the user is more likely to be happy with that choice later, especially if the choice is an irreversible decision. In the talk he talks about simulated happiness and actual happiness, and that the mind is incredible at simulating happiness when placed in a situation where it did not come out for the better - some famous examples include people who are in jail for long times feeling that they are better for their incarceration after being released (or even while incarcerated). One important part which I think wasn’t really touched upon by Gilbert was the fact that while the mind can produce synthetic happiness, in the long run the difference between synthetic and “real” happiness is actually rather small - over the long run all the happiness produced tends to even out, and the mind doesn’t distinguish about really being happy or not. For a third point, it is a very interesting conclusion (and probably a significant jump) that most people strive to be happy overall, and most people succeed. This means that even though there are people in many different levels of happiness from an outside perspective, it is worthless to look at someone who is rich and happy and someone who is poor and happy and say that one must be happier than the other because they have more of the “real” and less of the synthetic happiness. Happiness is not a zero-sum game - everyone can be happy all of the time, and noone loses out. This may be an interesting ideal to reach for and may seem impossible to achieve considering all of the hate and rage which exists in the world today, but I believe that it is even possible yet - especially considering this “Happiness Bias” which seems to exist within everyone.