Dan Gilbert is a researcher on happiness. I recently watched two fascinating TED videos he gave about his research and I heard him on NPR this week – that’s a sign! Not only does his research provide practical insights on how you can feel happier right now but it also supports mindfulness meditation. But in some ways his presentations are simply entertainment more than specific instructions.
I was able to glean some specific ideas out of what I saw, however, and I wanted to share them with you. And the point isn’t one of – “make sure you look at things through rose colored glasses” or “it’s the power of intention.” While these thoughts are also good and useful for many people, I know that studies show when you are feeling really bad “fake it ’til you make it” might not be effective. Plus, I don’t want to leave you feeling like there is something wrong with your brain that you can’t just make yourself feel better.
There are some practical evolutionary insights in Gilbert’s work to be had. And I say, if I have to trick my brain into feeling happier, well so-be-it! Bring it on baby, bring it on.
I hope you enjoyed his video. He does mis-speak in this video at one point. Toward the end he says, “The irreversible condition is not conducive to the synthesis of happiness.” But he meant reversible condition. I think he just got excited. Anyway, to repeat, he should have said (based on his data there) that the reversible condition is not conducive to the synthesis of happiness. Lesson: Commit. It gives new meaning to the kid’s saying, “You get what you get and don’t be upset!”
How can we use this information? Well, first, note that this information is helping us to feel happier – and specifically to learn about synthesizing happiness. But perhaps your goal isn’t happiness. So process that for a moment. Is your goal happiness? If so, then you could move on to the experiments list below.
Observational Side Note of the Zeroth Order. If your goal is to be more successful, more productive, more famous, better looking, cleaner, tidier, healthier, less achy, stronger… well that’s not the same thing. Remember none of those things will necessarily bring you more happiness (you just think they will because your brain over estimates how much these things will help you to feel good.). But just because it won’t bring you more happiness doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. This is because happiness isn’t the only measure of satisfaction with life. It’s one measure, but you could just as easily measure how much someone has contributed to the lives of others, how much their work has endured through the ages, how much they’ve contributed to human progress, etc. and that requires different energy and effort. You are then measuring your sense of purpose. I assure you, you have one. Also you might measure ease of existence or comfort. These things are important too, but we all know that some people live a very easy life and are still quite miserable. So moving back to happiness…
Experiment 1. Make a mental or written list of things you want in your life. Every time you feel there are choices you are torn between pick one and commit to it fully. Tell yourself that’s your only option. You can do this safely because studies show it really won’t be as much different than any of the other choices as you think it will.
Experiment 2. If for some reason you don’t get your 1st choice on something that’s also great – now all you have to do is commit to that. As soon as you’ve recovered from the disappointment tell yourself that this is really better for you anyway, find something to latch onto on this and then stick with it. As Christine says “Love What Is.”
Experiment 3. It’s the journey… yes, yes, I know you’ve heard it before but for experiment 2, I don’t mean to simply give up on your goals and settle. I mean that instead of committing to the thing you know you don’t want – cause that happens sometimes as we all know – commit to the journey of making it something you do want. For example, lets say you are single and you wish you were married but the men you’ve fallen for haven’t fallen for you. Well, commit to the journey of finding one that does adore you and vice versa. No matter how long it takes – you’ve committed to the journey.
Anyhow, that’s about what I took from the video. The other two things I watched / listened to involving his research can be found here:
NPR – You can’t see it but you’ll be a different person in a decade!
TED – Decisions – how we make them and why they are bad… 😉
How does all this relate to mindfulness and yoga? Well, I think that it reminds us that our idea of what makes us happy – that our outward circumstances are the root of our misery – isn’t accurate. I’m sure it contributes, don’t get me wrong, but we have the ability to talk ourselves into happiness and it isn’t just through conscious self talk but other things influence the manufactured or synthesized happiness. Many people do it quite naturally and without the help of a therapist or a yoga teacher or a set of mantras they repeat every evening before bedtime. Basically, they “Love what is.” instinctively. For example, those who have already committed to their yoga practice by signing up for a 1 year membership are going to love it and feel quite happy with it. If you’re still on the fence… still paying as you go… unsure about how many classes you can make it to… well, then you’ll probably be much less satisfied. Membership has lots of rewards and most of them aren’t in dollars saved. These non-monetary rewards are priceless. It’s being part of our yoga community, it’s easy access to information both interesting and beneficial to your health, and it’s making a commitment to yourself that will bind you and make you take care of your health – and Christine and I know it’s going to be worth every dollar you spend. We are committed to you and your health: Mind, Body, and Spirit!