Yesterday, I read the transcript for a Ted talk from 2004, titled, “The surprising Science of Happiness“, and in this talk, Dan Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness, basically says that we have two ways of producing happiness: getting what we want, which he calls “Natural happiness”, and changing our minds, creating what Gilbert calls “Synthetic happiness”.
An example of synthetic happiness Gilbert gives is Sir Thomas Brown, who wrote in 1642, “I am the happiest man alive. I have that in me that can convert poverty to riches, adversity to prosperity. I am more invulnerable than Achilles; fortune hath not one place to hit me.”
The speaker calls this happiness synthetic rather than natural, because it is decided – not by events or circumstances, but by a kind of Stoic force of Will.
Now, most people do not posses this degree of omnipotence over their own programming, their own “reality”, and I think Gilbert provides the reasoning for this, here:
“…in our society, we have a strong belief that synthetic happiness is of an inferior kind.
Why do we have that belief? Well, it’s very simple. What kind of economic engine would keep churning if we believed that not getting what we want could make us just as happy as getting it?”
This matrix we live in is complex; there are a lot of forces at play from within and without, and society is, no doubt, the mirror we look in. This informs our scripts, our stories, which brings me to the second piece of the puzzle.
We think we are unhappy because of what we don’t have, but we’re really unhappy because life isn’t how we think it should be.
Today I was watching an inspirational Tony Robbins talk, and while there were a lot of great ideas in it from the start, there was something that really stood out to me, which was really well articulated. And while I’ve listened to Tony Robbins since I was a teenager, this idea struck me as a newer concept within his paradigmatic mode of teaching.
Here’s the core of it:
“If you and I want to know what it takes to be happy, then we have to understand what our current blueprint is. And what do I mean by blueprint; well, we have a story in our head of how life’s supposed to be. Some people’s story is you work hard in school, you become really great, you’re a nice person, you’re a good person, and you grow up and you take care of yourself, and you find the ideal man, and you fall in love, and you have a white picket fence, and you have three children, and you live happily ever after.
Somebody else’s story was – the old story was – you work really hard in school, you excel in college, you go to work for a big corporation, and you move up through the ranks until you’re the president or chairman of the company and you become successful and respected throughout life. These are old stories, old archetypes, and many don’t exist anymore.
But there’s still one archetype that’s really prevalent, and that’s the idea that to be happy, you really have to achieve a lot in life.”
“I’m now going to show you what the formula for happiness is. And it’s real simple. I’m going to reveal it to you, so you don’t ever forget it. And it’s real simple. And what it is, is, whenever you’re happy with an area of your life, it’s because, right now, your current life experience, – I call it your LC, your Life Conditions, the conditions of your life, in that area, match or are equal to your blueprint or story, your belief about how life should be in that area.”
“Let’s see if we can find the formula for unhappiness. If the formula for happiness is be able to meet your expectations or exceed them – that really makes you excited – but to be happy you have to got to at least meet it, doesn’t have to be perfect but if you generally are meeting what you expect you want from your life in that area, you feel good: life conditions match blueprint, feel good.”
“Here’s the formula for unhappiness,
When your life conditions, the way you’re living your life today, does not match – it doesn’t equal – your blueprint meet your blueprint, your story of how it’s supposed to be, then you’re going to have disappointment, frustration, or pain.
If you’re life is way different than you think it’s supposed to be, you can have enormous pain. If it’s a little different, you might feel stressed.”
“You can not have your economic needs met and still be okay, but when you have an idea, this IS what my need is, and I did the wrong thing; my life doesn’t match how I’m supposed to be: that’s when people get a little crazy.”
“You might find yourself really angry and frustrated because you have a different story about how life’s supposed to be than how it is.”
“You only have two choices in life. If life doesn’t match your blueprint, you either have to change your life or change or, in order for you to be happy – if you can’t change your life – you’re going to have to change your blueprint. And usually in life it requires a little of each. And if you change your life and your blueprint, you can have an extraordinary life.”
This is powerful knowledge. Happiness from getting what we want isn’t the only way.
We each have a wellspring of synthetic happiness available to us – the happiness from changing our minds, from adjusting our blueprints.
English writer and wordsmith Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) once wrote:
“It seems to be the fate of all man to seek all his consolations in futurity.”
And we all do this.
We think, I’ll be happy when.
This is no way to live. The time for consolation, for solace, for peace, is now.
Remember, the ego is the part of you that wants things to be or not to be a certain way. We think we are unhappy because of what we don’t have, but we’re really unhappy because life isn’t how we think it should be.
The old adage rings true, happiness if reality minus expectations, but so few of us actually take ownership of our expectations or even really examine their effect on us.
Your life is too short to suffer unnecessarily – even for a moment.
Examine your expectations, your blueprint, your story for how life should be and make today the day you stop letting these scripts in your mind limit your happiness.