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After watching Dan Gilbert’s TED talk about how we sabotage our own happiness I was interested to look back at my day and analyze it based off of what he had mentioned. I really liked when he talked about people are as happy as they make it for themselves, and when I looked back at my day I felt that I needed to stop making it so miserable and try to, not necessarily force but, to have a more positive and happy outlook on whatever I was working on. Also, I thought that the idea of accepting how the day is going is very important, to not put so much emphasis on the word ‘love’ and ‘happiness’. I feel this because the more I try to think that my day is unhappy or unloved, the more unhappy I become, so when he talked about how just the simple word happiness has so much weight on everyones lives is very correct and we just try not to think so much about the word and just try to embody the word in a sense. I liked when he mentioned that even when people do not get exactly what they wanted, they end up accepting what they have and grow to be happy with that. They embodied what they had and grew to accept it and be happy with it. All in all, I thought this talk was a good lesson to be learned and I thoroughly enjoyed watching it.

Week 12 First Impression

This week in psychology, we will be discussing the topics of stress and emotion. The prompt that I chose to respond to was Option 1 which dealt with Dan Gilbert’s TED talk on “The Surprising Science of Happiness.”

This is not actually the first time I’ve heard of Dan Gilbert, nor is it the first that I’ve been given an explanation, however rudimentary, of his work. Last semester, I took a fascinating course on ancient and medieval philosophy that focused primarily on Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, and Augustine. Our primary goal in this course was not only to examine the history and ideologies of these thinkers, but, more specifically, to gain an understanding of what happiness is and how it might be achieved. While talking to my professor about this topic he referenced Gilbert’s book, “Stumbling on Happiness,” and some of his ideas about affective forecasting. This talk wasn’t really about affective forecasting, our ability to predict how we’ll feel about things in the future, but I was already familiar with some of the data and evidence used by Gilbert.

I wasn’t as surprised as I might have been by the idea of synthetic happiness because, as I previously mentioned, I already have had experience with Gilbert’s work, but I found this talk fascinating nonetheless. The idea of happiness is so crucial to our perception of reality, but so incredibly vague that I enjoy most any attempt to clarify it. I agree that most people in our society have a strong preference for what we consider natural happiness that comes from getting what we desire when we want it and I’m curious if this same idea of natural happiness is different in more communal societies. I found Dr. Gilbert to a reliable source primarily because most of his message was based on facts and research rather than just unsubstantiated claims. I appreciated that he not only gave examples of previous data but also demonstrated to the audience the deficiency in our ability to effectively predict our happiness in certain scenarios. The message of this talk is interesting and certainly reasonable as nothing Dr. Gilbert said was outrageous or unrealistic. The key to creating this synthetic happiness seems to be accepting reality for what it is and being willing to let go of certain paths and possibilities. In order to create this happiness, it seems to prudent to make concrete commitments that you can grow to be happy with. I don’t mean to suggest that anyone should rush into commitments, rather that they shouldn’t hesitate to do so because of alternate possibilities.

First Impression- Happiness

I love the idea of the pursuit of happiness. Dan Gilbert’s TED talk offered a unique persepctive to the old age question of what makes us happy. His premise is simply this: we are tricked into what we think makes us happy. Before I dive anymore into his talk, Dan Gilbert is a professor at Harvard which gives him high credibility considering Harvard is one of the most prestigious schools in the world. He opened his talk like a professor would do in lecture, with a pop quiz. I found his pop quiz fascinating because it showed that, on average, parapalegics were just as happy as those who won the lottery, after one year. I can see why this is true because winning the lottery only offers temporary happiness that fades with the extreme event that caused the happiness whereas a parapalegic finds his or her happiness in everyday life. He then discusses how pursuing happiness is flawed because we have been led to believe that happiness can be found. His argument that happiness is synthesized was appealling to me. I agree with the notion that happiness comes from piecing together the things that make you happy in life. The study where students had to give a picture up and then their satisfication with the picture they kept, was measured a few days later, interested me. I interpreted the results of the study as a suggestion that wanting what you have makes you happy. Overall, it was an informative talk that I enjoyed watching. In the future, I look to improve my happiness by synthesizing my enjoyments in life rather than chase the holy grail of happiness because the former has long-lasting pleasant effects while the latter offers many oppurtonities for dissappointment.

First Impressions: Emotions

This week we were asked to watch a Tedx talk and share our reactions as well as commenting on the credibility of the presenter. https://www.ted.com/talks/dan_gilbert_asks_why_are_we_happy. In this talk by Dan Gilbert, a professor from Harvard university, it is proposed that the way our emotions work and the way in which we perceive our emotions may be different than we think. In particular, this talk focuses on synthesized happiness which refers to a defense mechanism innate in human beings. When humans do not get exactly what they want or are forced to make a choice between two things, we can not only convince ourselves that the choice we made was correct, but there can actually be changes in our opinions of things that are involved in this choice. Gilbert studied this by presenting a person with some prints of some paintings and asked the person to rank the paintings based on which one the person liked the best/was the better painting. Then the researcher told the person that they only had the ones the person ranked third and fourth and asked the person to choose between those two. The vast majority of people chose the third one and then weeks later were asked to rank the paintings again based on which ones they like the best. Almost all the subjects ranked the one that they received higher than 3, and the one that was in the 4 spot lower than 4. But this was just because they convinced themselves that it was better and they just wanted to be consistent right? Gilbert did the exact same test but on the elderly who had Korsakoff’s syndrome, which causes problems forming new memories. The subjects chose the 3rd painting just as the other set of subjects had, but then the researcher said they had to go get the painting. They stepped out for thirty minutes and then returned and asked the person if they wanted their painting. The subject of course did not remember the researcher or the conversation where they made the decision for the 3rd painting on their list. The researcher then asked the person to order the paintings again, and the results showed the same trend as those from the other group even though the person had no memory of the previous interaction. This suggests that “settling” can actually cause changes in our brains that cause us to like the thing that were are forced into having more than we did before. Or in other words, we can synthesize happiness. I thought this talk was incredibly interesting, and Gilbert seems to be very credible as he is a well known professor from Harvard who presented data, and has gathered data that supports his theory.

Happiness :)


“Not getting what we want can make us just as happy as getting what we want” (Dan Gilbert).

In the Ted Talk given by Gilbert, I discovered that over time human beings evolved not only physically to adjust to their physical environment, but they have also evolved to mentally cope with the everyday mental hardships in life. There were two main types of happiness that Gilbert discussed: synthetic happiness and natural happiness. In the above quote, natural happiness would be described as the joy we get from “getting what we want” while synthetic happiness is described as the joy we get from “not getting what we want”.

Initially, while listening to the speaker discuss synthetic happiness I immediately asked myself, “Why would anyone want to be synthetically happy”? As he continued to discuss how synthetic happiness was a defense mechanism that allows us to remain happy in times of stress or misfortune, I realized that it would be reasonable to incorporate this form of happiness into my everyday life. There are many ways that we seek happiness from misfortune. For instance, when an exam doesn’t go as planned, we always keep in the back of our minds that the next exam will be better. Or maybe if we lose a significant other, we may tell ourselves that we are better off without them and that the right one will come along soon. This way of thinking is what helps us remain happy when things do not go our way. I didn’t realize until now that I had been healing emotional wounds by falsifying my happiness. To my surprise, synthetic happiness is just as effective as natural happiness.

In my opinion, Dan Gilbert is a credible source when discussing this topic due to the extensive research that he and his lab partners have been conducting overtime. I would say that the study is considerably reliable in that it included random sampling in participants. The amnesiac and non-amnesiac participants do differ in a major way which helped the final results of the study due to different outcomes when questioned/examined by the researchers.

Furthermore, Gilbert discusses how “some things are better than others”. Preferences that drive us “too hard and too fast” could cause us to be at risk. He added, when our ambition is unbounded we are liars, cheaters, and etc. When our fears are unbounded we are cowardly, reckless, and etc. However, when our ambitions and fears are bounded we are cautious, joyful, prudent, and thoughtful. Living a life that is bounded and free of unrealistic expectations allows us to manifest our “synthetic” happiness into “natural” happiness that will last a life time.


For this weeks blog I watched A Ted talk by Dan Gilbert which covered ideas about happiness. I found the Talk to be quite enjoyable and thought provoking. I have always believed happiness is what you make of it and that nothing can truly get in the way of a person’s ability to be happy. Being able to come to terms with our actions and the situations we are in and letting ourselves be happy despite how bad thing may seem may seem bleak, but I have always found that I was happy whenever I accepted the worst of a situation and moved on. For instance, I have been through two tornadoes which both took my entire house away, but I found that after the shock went away I was still happy. Looking back at it now, I would never change what happened to me and my family, because It is what lead me here and I have accepted it and moved on. So the message that we can create synthetic happiness by accepting our situations at face value seems reasonable to me from my experience. Dan Gilbert seemed very credible and his experiments were very well thought out and support his interpretations very well. I believe that I incorporate a good amount of synthetic happiness in my life already and I just didn’t realize it because I accept the outcomes in my life and move on pretty easily.

Week 12 First Impression Prompts – Stress & Emotion

Hand writing on a notebook

Here are the two prompts for this week.

Option 1: Please use the tag “Emotion.”

We all want to enjoy life and seek ways to make ourselves happy. Indeed, we spend much of lives chasing the goal of happiness. But how good are we at actually finding it? Dan Gilbert discusses the ways in which we sabotage our own happiness in his TED talk. Watch the video, share your reactions, comment on the speaker’s credibility, discuss how reasonable you find its message to be, and discuss ways in which you can incorporate more synthetic happiness into your life.

Option 2: Please use the tag “Stress.”

Stress is something all too common in college students’ lives, but what if you could change your relationship with stress. Kelly McGonigal discusses doing just that in her TED talk “Making Stress Your Friend.” Watch the video, share your reactions, comment on the speaker’s credibility, discuss how reasonable you find its message to be, and discuss how you could implement some of the ideas into your life.

I look forward to seeing what you write!

Header image: CC by Flickr user Caitlinator
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To Stress or Not to Stress

If you surveyed a room full of Americans, basically no one would say stress is good. Quite the contrary, ever piece of literature aimed at the population promising a better quality of life says to avoid stress at all costs because of its association with a host of physical ailments like migraines, acid reflux, high blood pressure, and often fatal heart attacks. (Not to mention it’s just a pain to deal with on an emotional level.) The U.S.’s ironic hatred of stress is so ingrained in our society it even infiltrates our idioms. For example:

“Don’t stress it.”

“Don’t stress. Just do your best!”

So what if new research said it’s not stress which is unhealthy but the belief of stress being unhealthy is what’s… well, unhealthy? In fact, what if stress turned out to actually be healthy? Kelly McGonigal speaks about this in her TED Talk, citing several studies claiming just so.

She first discusses statistics from a study which surveyed a population on two questions. First, how much stress the individual had been under in the past year. Second, whether or not he or she believed stress was a bad thing. After a few years, the researchers returned and tallied which categories had the most premature deaths. As expected by most, 43% of those who reported having a high amount of stress died; however, the none of the 43% said they thought stress was good. On the same tangent, this means approximately 182 000 people each year die from not stress itself but from the belief that stress is bad.

These conclusions are supported by another study McGonigal brings up in which two groups were formed. One group was briefed about the biological benefits of stress–for instance, the increased blood flow and oxygen make responding to stimuli easier–and the other was not. Those left in the dark about stress’ function did worse on stress tests than those who were informed, displaying some psychological component is in play. Additionally, those who were not informed had inflated blood vessels. Over time, these blood vessels pose a danger for heart problems. The blood vessels of the informed group, however, showed the same characteristics as when a person is happy or feeling particularly courageous. Again, this ties the biological component back into the psychological one.

The last point McGonigal brings up is how our body stress response not only produce adrenaline and cortisol but also releases oxytocin. Oxytocin is a neurohormone (so glad I discovered it’s a word!) which increases our social instincts. It causes you to get cozy with others, both emotionally and physically, which should hypothetically result in an exchange of feelings. It’s when you vent to a good friend, for instance.

Oxytocin also results in increased empathy, or compassion. On the same note, those who reported more altruistic activity, meaning more oxytocin, were less likely to suffer premature death or other stress induced illnesses than those who didn’t. This could be because oxytocin also has anti-inflammatory properties which negate the parts of the stress reflex which damage the cardiovascular system. From an evolutionary perspective, I could see this being a beneficial attribute since altruism is key in maintaining a healthy social order. It’s also maybe responsible for why people who suffer through rough situations like natural disaster or war emerge with a close-knit sense of solidarity.

I see all of this as being reasonable because of the above; however, I haven’t actually read any of the research, so I suppose there’s always room for misinterpretation.

As for trusting the speaker, McGonical is a renowned life psychologist who has penned many books on mindful living, received her Ph.D. from Stanford, and is a reference for a large percent of the nation’s news media. I’d trust her to give an accurate presentation.

All this being said, I can take some tips from her since–I’ll be the first to say it–I’m awful at mindful living. For one, whenever I encounter a stressful situation, I should remind myself of this video. Knowing stress has a purpose is comforting to some degree psychologically and physically.  \

Honestly, this was one of my favorite assignments!


Griffin, R. M., & Goldberg, J., MD. (n.d.). 10 Problems Related to Stress That You Can Fix. Retrieved May 12, 2016, from http://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/features/10-fixable-stress-related-health-problems

Kelly McGonigal: How to make stress your friend [Video file]. (2013, June). Retrieved May 12, 2016, from http://www.ted.com/talks/kelly_mcgonigal_how_to_make_stress_your_friend?language=en#t-793559


Dr. Gilbert’s TED talk on synthetic happiness changed my perspective on many topics, but also strengthened my opinions about certain issues. All my life, happiness is one thing that I have always given most importance. From simple things like “does wearing this shirt make me happy?” to life-changing decisions such as “will this college ultimately make me happy?”, I’ve based most of my decisions on how happy I would be if I were to pursue the action. Like Dr.Gilbert mentioned in his talk, however, “natural” happiness is not always reached, and it does lead to disappointment.Although I’ve always believed that time brings happiness, I have come across this idea of synthesized happiness. Even the simple statistic about how the happiness of a letter winner and a paraplegic is the same after a year simply blows my mind. If I ponder on that, however, it actually makes sense. Life is not always about chasing things which could possibly bring you happiness, it is about finding happiness in the things which are already present in your life. I am a strong believer that every thing in life has a purpose. Sometimes it may take time to realize what the purpose was, but it does not mean that the purpose was missing. Synthesized happiness, to me, seems like a form of how people accept the purpose behind events that occurred in their lives. For example, Dr. Gilbert talked about a man named Moreese Bickham who was imprisoned for no fault of his own, but upon release, described it as a “glorious experience.” I’m sure no one has high hopes and dreams to one day be imprisoned for no reason, but somehow this man has learned to accept the purpose behind this incident in his life. I believe synthetic happiness can also be described as being grateful. In the video, Dr. Gilbert talks about the fact that a freedom to choose is the greatest enemy of synthetic happiness. Freedom to choose will always result in a constant deliberation of what could’ve happened if I were to chose the other option, whereas only one option results in gratitude, even if time is required to reach that stage.

Dr. Gilbert certainly did seem credible as he used many resources and experiments to back up his results and findings. By doing so, his word was backed up with clear evidence which gives him credibility to be a reliable resource.


Dan Gilbert knows how to work a crowd. He knows what people want, he knows what the audience will find topical and funny, and he knows about the self-help craze still sweeping bookstores. Fill a book or a TED Talk with reassuring people that they’ll be happy in unexpected, miserable situations, and of course they’ll like the premise. People want to be told that life is going to be okay, life will be great, and so on no matter what happens. Books and talks not uplifting and being positive about life aren’t as appealing because no one wants to be told life is a series of closed doors because everyone already experiences it.

He also makes an interesting comment towards the end of the talk: “But when those preferences drive us too hard and too fast because we have overrated the difference between these futures, we are at risk.When our ambition is bounded, it leads us to work joyfully. When our ambition is unbounded, it leads us to lie, to cheat, to steal, to hurt others, to sacrifice things of real value.” Basically, kill any of your passions, and be completely complacent in life. This life is the only one we have, and this guy is telling the audience to keep everything in check? He never defines what “real value” is either. Things of value differ from individual to individual. It’s a horribly discouraging quote that should be taken with a grain of salt.

Listen, no one is suppose to be feel happy all of the time. Life is full of disappointments and anxieties. It’s okay to feel sadness, despair, and other usually connotatively negative emotions. No one has to call it synthetic happiness. If you feel like you are settling for less, or you would be happier in another situation, it’s okay to feel like that and go for something else. No one can tell you if it truly does get better or worse because no one knows the future, and no one knows your perspective. If you know you’ll be happy one way or another, you’ll know before anything happens. I realize that sounds lame and unscientific, but it holds truth. Masking other emotions towards your current situation as synthetic happiness is just going to catch up with you in the end. Ultimately, happiness just fills a void when we’re going through the motions of a meaningless life. Maybe it doesn’t matter if it’s artificial or synthetic or real. It does feel better when you admit you’re not really happy, and you’ve just been subscribing to the bizarre pop culture craze of happiness being the only feeling you experience though.