We all search for our own happiness, but did you know there are there different types? We are going to look at synthetic happiness, and how our brain makes us think it’s the real deal.
There are two kinds of happiness: synthetic and natural. Synthetic happiness comes from an interesting trick that our brain does. Our brain creates this artificial happiness by viewing situations and events differently than might seem logical. It is this subjective way of viewing or interpreting things that create synthetic happiness.
In his Ted Talk (video is posted at the end of this article), Dan Gilbert refers to this as a “mental immune system.” This system allows us to create the feeling of happiness out of thin air. Which is kinda weird if you think about it. Our brain is choosing to think of a bad situation differently so that the brain and body will interpret the data as good so that we get positive emotions. Then the brain releases feel-good chemicals as a treat for the brain and body to feel even better. Human beings are weird.
This brings up the question of what happiness truly is, and if it’s even real. And is synthesizing happiness going to be the same quality as traditional happiness? Well, psychologists are still arguing about that one.
Regardless of whether or not it’s real, you certainly feel good when your brain is tricked into thinking that you’re happy. This psychological immune system does have its benefits. For example, it can help us feel better when working through major life traumas by making us feel good even though we may not have an objective reason to. So perhaps there are some benefits to our brains using these cognitive processes to synthesize happiness and alter the way we feel.
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Natural vs Synthetic Happiness
Natural happiness comes from a real-life event, such as marriage or a new child, and usually doesn’t last longer than a year. However, synthetic happiness i.e. the kind of psychological happiness we experience during a self-induced activity like watching a movie or playing video games, can last for weeks and sometimes even months.
Both versions make us feel good. The feelings we get from both are real. So why don’t we just rely fully on synthetic happiness if it feels just as good as the natural stuff? Because feeling good can be a distraction that keeps us from doing what we need to do. We all know the feeling of being so content and happy that we sit on the couch and continue to let time slip by us. The problem is that we start to think that sitting on the couch is a positive experience when in reality, we aren’t making our life better. Eventually, we have to face reality and stop relying on the brain hack that makes us feel good without a good reason to.
Authentic happiness is considered the gold standard of real happiness. It is a long-lasting type of happiness that does not rely on circumstances and self-indulgence, but rather on efforts and perseverance to maintain it. This version of happiness cannot be created on demand and instead requires us to work toward it. Our reward will be attained from the results of future events that we have earned.
Going out of our way to make positive changes in our lives helps us develop true happiness. This means putting forth the effort to challenge ourselves and learn new skills, while constantly striving to improve.
You can think of authentic happiness as a flame that you constantly have to tend by feeding it. Left unattended for long enough and it will die. Authentic happiness also needs to be cultivated to grow into more happiness, and the only way to do this is through action.
You can’t sit around and hope that things will get better. You have to go out and make it happen for yourself by taking steps toward a greater goal. Sustained effort in your life over a long period of time will help you get what you want and develop lasting satisfaction.
This version of happiness is the only one that can last forever. Natural happiness comes in waves, and it usually isn’t around for very long. Synthetic happiness feels good at the moment but lacks substance, so you have to keep doing something in order to get your fix. Authentic happiness, on the other hand, can be achieved and maintained by continuous effort and perseverance. You can’t create happiness out of thin air if you want long-lasting results.
So why isn’t every single one of us just striving for authentic happiness? The answer: it requires hard work and dedication that some people just aren’t willing to put into their lives. It is easier to take the path of least resistance and settle for temporary happiness rather than constantly chasing your goals. We have to recognize that the positive psychology the human brain creates can be harmful if it isn’t kept in check.
Synthetic happiness as self-defense preservation
Synthetic happiness is considered a psychological defense mechanism, developed to protect us from the harshness of reality. It is easier to be happy when you’re not worrying about real-world issues like money problems or illness.
Our brain tricks us into being happy so that we don’t have to deal with all of these things at once. We are able to slowly deal with them over time as they come up instead of focusing on all of the negative things that are happening.
So what are the benefits of this? Is it good that we trick ourselves into being happy when things aren’t great?
One benefit is that happiness itself reduces stress. Stress is not good for you and your body. It is such a bad influence on the body that it can actually lead to health problems like high blood pressure and obesity. Even synthesized happiness has positive effects here.
These mental tricks allow us to avoid these health issues because we are able to stay calm and deal with our stress levels. We do have to eventually deal with these life issues though. If we allow ourselves to feel happy when our lives are falling apart around us, we are abusing the use of these defenses. You can burn yourself out by trying to constantly feel happy.
This form of defense also prevents us from forming strong social bonds with other people or a romantic partner because we aren’t focusing on things that are important.
It is important to be aware of and set limits on how much synthetic happiness you allow yourself to experience. Use this mechanism as a tool but don’t abuse it or your life will suffer.
For more information on this weird brain phenomenon
For a deeper understanding, you should check out the Ted Talk by Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert. He goes into way more detail about this phenomenon that happens within our minds. He also covers how our brains have worked hard to ensure our survival by making us happy and allowing us to persevere even when things get difficult. Check out his video below.