I’m fascinated with the study of happiness. Over the past decade, positive psychology has exploded, and there are hundreds of books written on the subject. The problem I find with so many of them is that they are a whole lot of fluff. Recently I stumbled upon two TED Talks about the science of happiness. Both presentations were given by psychologists and both do a great job of using humor and research to explore the psychology of happiness.
In his talk “Why Are We Happy?”, Dan Gilbert explains that we can actually synthesize happiness. Unlike any other being or creature, the frontal lobe of the human brain allows us to experience something before it has even happened. For example, the reason Ben and Jerry’s didn’t make liver and onions ice cream isn’t because they tried it and didn’t like it, it’s because people know before they’ve ever tried it that it would be gross.
Gilbert asks us to simulate two different experiences to determine which would make us happier. He poses the question, “Who do you think is happier – a person who won the lottery or someone who has become a paraplegic?” Interestingly enough, scientists have studied both groups and learned that a year after winning the lottery and a year after someone loses the use of their limbs, they actually rate themselves at the same level of happiness.
The bottom line? It has been scientifically proven that people can generate their own happiness, regardless of their situation and circumstances.
In the second presentation “The Happy Secret to Better Work” , Shawn Achor explains that 90% of long-term happiness is based on the way our brain processes the world. Only 25% of job success is predicted by IQ, where 75% of job success is predicted by optimism levels, social support, and your ability to see stress as a challenge instead of a threat.
He explains that our formula for finding success is scientifically broken and backward. We typically believe that if we work harder we’ll be more successful and if we’re more successful, then we’ll be happier. He explains that every time our brain has a success we just change the goal post for what success looks like. If happiness is on the opposite side of success, our brain never gets there.
Achor explains that if you can raise someone’s level of positivity in the present, their brain experiences a happiness advantage. Your brain at positive performs significantly better than at negative, neutral or stressed. Your intelligence, creativity, and energy rise. Your brain at positive is 31% more productive than at negative, neutral or stressed.
Both of these presentations explore different aspects of happiness but both offer scientific evidence that we determine our own happiness. The possibilities are endless!
What are your secrets for happiness? I’d love to know!