This talk by Dan Gilbert is one of my all-time favorite TEDTalks, I must have listened to it a half-dozen times. I can’t help but think of my mom who has as one of her principal catch phrases, “I like to keep my options open.”
There are several gems in there, but the central point revolves around the idea that humans synthesize happiness around whatever situation they find themselves in, despite the fact that we usually don’t get what we want. Surprisingly, studies show that what happens to us has far less impact on our happiness than we suppose. Gilbert argues that this “synthetic” happiness is just as real and just as valuable as “natural” happiness.
In a crushing indictment of my mom’s preference for options, Gilbert argues that although having choices is good for natural happiness (getting what we want), it is devastating for synthetic happiness (happiness created when we don’t get what we want). He describes a fascinating study in which one group was forced to make a permanent decision about what photograph they wanted to keep while another group made the same choice but had an option to change their minds. Apparently, having options open to us prevents us from synthesizing happiness. Synthesized happiness forms most easily around things we are stuck with.
Given that happiness is the object and design of our existence, its possible some of you will see religious implications. Personally I don’t see a lot of religious implications, but I do see practical implications. I wonder if this doesn’t help to explain why more money does not lead to more happiness (once you escape extreme poverty). I think this definitely makes a good case for the way we distribute callings in the church. Due to good luck my wife chooses counter tops, paint colors, carpets, and faucets quickly and never wants to reconsider. Like me, she likes to keep her options closed.