Dr Daniel Gilbert, Research Psychologist, Harvard, and author of the US National Best Seller: Stumbling on Happiness, has coined this phrase: synthetic happiness.
So, instead of using the term “imaginary happiness”, synthetic happiness can equally well apply to the state of artificially generating a state of “happiness”
(insert whatever positive state you desire here such as: gratitude, peace, calm, joy, excitement etc.)
What is this all about? Are we going to deliberately try to “pretend” we are happy instead of waiting for the “real” state of happiness to arrive? Interesting questions!
Generally, when we look at the state of happiness we tend to relate that state to the achievement of some goal, desire or expectation, unless we somehow have stumbled upon it and are happy even though our circumstances do not warrant being happy.
So, when we set a goal what we are doing is this: we choose a goal, we make a plan to achieve it and then we take action. At the same time we are doing that, we attach meaning to the end result desired e.g. ‘I will be happy when I achieve x’, whatever that end result is. So, what we are doing is actually putting off being “happy/contented etc” until we achieve this end result.
The problem with that scenario is that the end result may not arrive; it may come as something completely different from what we imagined – witness the partners matched in the recent television program: married at First Sight, or our brains have overestimated the impact of the feeling we will get when we achieve that end result. For example, when people get that new car. They are at first excited, happy and keep telling everyone about it. For how long does that feeling last? A month, 2 months, per only two weeks. So, we have overestimated how we are going to feel when we do finally get what we want.
Now. Instead of waiting until that goal is achieved, the new research indicates that because what we most want is the feeling we get from achieving our desires or goals, what we might consider doing is changing how we go about life by instigating having the feeling now, instead of waiting to feel that at some time in the future, which is not guaranteed to happen. This is “synthetic happiness”.
Dr Gilbert found that expectation is a happiness killer. This means that when you set a goal, the outcome of which is external to your immediate control, you place yourself in a chronic state of stress. if you are already stressed then this state will be exacerbated. Yes. You are stressing yourself out for no good reason. And you keep repeating this pattern for years at a time.
What if you never achieve that goal? Are you going to put off being happy forever? Are you going to sit in a state of stress the whole time willing and hoping this goal eventuates?
The unfortunate thing is that people do just that. They constantly go against the grain using willpower to try to fulfil their wishes. You see, willpower is governed by the conscious part of the brain where you make plans and decisions. The other part of your brain, the unconscious or subconscious part, is doing its’ best to keep you where you are now because it has been charged with helping you survive on this planet.
If you are stressed your subconscious deals with this position as an attack on your very survival and what is does is use tried and tested methods, admittedly very old methods, of keeping you where you are. As soon as you try to move to a more preferred position via goal setting, the subconscious whirls into action and pulls against this conscious desire. Because the subconscious is at least a million times stronger than your conscious mind, eventually it will win out and you will give up on your goal. Witness the enormous number of people, who on New Year’s Eve decide once and for all to: give up smoking, lose weight, stop drinking or some other goal. How many have given up within six weeks?
So, if you are tying your happiness to an end result, the achievement of some goal in the future, which is outside your control, and, in fact, may never happen, eventually you will fail because of the pull of the subconscious.
The reason behind this strong pull back towards a safer position is due to the deeply ingrained negative beliefs, emotions and patterns of behaviour that you have learnt in your early formative years. Unless and until you deal with those effectively to minimise their effect you will continue to cycle back towards a position of failure.
So, what do we do instead? How can we make or set goals or ever achieve a state of “happiness”?
The answer lies in working on the feeling you have that you attach to the goal that you have decided that you want to achieve. For example, if you desire more money and you feel that this will make you freedom to do what you want, then what you need to do is to work on changing your physiology to experience the feeling of “freedom” now, and not wait until or if you ever get that end result of more money.
So, if you instigate a feeling of “freedom” now and practise having that feeling often and constantly, then eventually your brain will reprogram and “think” that you are free. In this way you are instigating a state of “synthetic happiness”. Reprogramming yourself is key to living in the now and not relinquishing your state of happiness until some time in the future. Your brain won’t know any different! Why not try this for a week and see what happens? You can always go back to what you were doing!