The Recipe for Happiness 1: Synthesizing Happiness

by Waleed Ali Khan

I have decided to dedicate a couple of blogs to explore what we want to make us happy. My friend Aya Abu Jarbou, who is ALWAYS happy, says it is because she gets a lot of sleep!. Either way, I think we’re all a little confused about what it takes to be happy so I decided to do some research on experts across different fields (psychology, philosophy, economics, religion) to see what they claim to be the recipe for happiness.

I found this very interesting TED talk last summer and I had told myself that I would share it with people in any way possible because it teaches us so many lessons.

You must have heard people failing through some tasks in their lives and reflecting on them to say “it happened for the best. I’m better off now.” And you, in your mind must be thinking “yeah, Right!”

The crux of the talk was about how we sometimes “synthesize happiness” in our minds, as a result of our developed prefrontal cortex.

The author argues that “synthesized” or what seems like “yeah right!” happiness is just as real and of the same quality as “natural happiness”. For this he just doesn’t act on rhetoric, but actually provides scientific evidence to prove his point.

The doctor had asked patients who suffered Anterograde Amnesia (impaired long term memory) to order 5 pictures according to their preference. Afterwards, the doctor told them that they will own one of those pictures. After a couple of minutes, when they had no recollection of the doctor ever being there, the doctor asked them to arrange the pictures again. To our surprise, they put the one they “owned” at a higher order. (you have to watch the video!)

He also shows that after 4 months, two individuals – one who won a lottery and the other who lost his legs, rated equally in terms of happiness. WOAH!

Dan also adds that the freedom to choose is the enemy of happiness. The fact that we can go back to our previous choices or have other choices, prevents us from programming that synthetic happiness in our minds.

This is a very surprising research because it teaches us that having a structured, planned life is not the worst thing in the world. Modern society teaches us to be “free thinkers”, which is great, but it should be important that one sticks to one’s decisions and doesn’t get carried away with all that the world is to offer. For one, philosophers like Nietzsche suffered from chronic depression.I can personally speak for myself saying that because I have had the freedom to choose whatever I want, I have never been fully satisfied with any of my paths.

I think this is where religion connects to happiness. I cannot speak for all religions, but Islam is a way of life. It gives everyone a path to follow, towards happiness and it teaches to be happy with that path. Islam also encourages us to have “synthetic happiness” as we believe that whatever God does is for our best, without question. We are not even told to grieve for too long.

I also wanted to add that many people complain that I get a bit too judgmental at times, and this is a lesson that we do not really know what people go through. Just like my positive exposure post, it teaches us that happiness is a state of mind and not the objects that we posses. “Denial” is what we associate with synthetic happiness, and we should realize that masking one’s happiness until it changes into something natural might be the way to go.

I love this picture below. It shows how our perception of “popular happiness”.

Blue Happiness by ~daniellekiemel on deviantART