The surprising science of happiness – Dan Gilbert – TEDx talk

I recently saw this wonderful TEDx video by Dan Gilbert, The surprising science of happiness which raised some wonderfully thought provoking questions about how we humans as a species pursue happiness.

The video started off with Dan explaining how in the process of evolution, the human brain has tripled in mass over the course of the last two million years and that by itself is not just an increase in size, but one of the new structures formed in the brain, the pre-frontal cortex (one of whose functions is to simulate experiences for humans) has proven to be quite revolutionary. This part of the brain enables us humans to try and simulate experiences and process the outcomes in our brains well before they actually happen. For eg, just the thought of enjoying a lovely colorful ice cream on a sunny afternoon is enough to make our tongues water, just the thought, mind you, not the ice cream itself. Or just the thought of onion flavored ice cream is enough to make us go ‘Yuck’, just the thought, not the ice cream itself.

Dan then goes on to cite two examples to prove how all humans have an inherent ‘impact bias’ which is the tendency for this simulator in our brains to work badly. He goes on to prove with enough examples as to how happiness can be ‘synthesized’ by us. It turns out that all of us have a system of processes within our brains which tend to change our views of the world, so that we feel better about the current situations we find ourselves in, good or bad. And the funny part is that these processes are happening at a sub-conscious level without us even realizing it. Net result, we are actually happy even when we think we are unhappy and continuously keep looking for happiness. We synthesize our own happiness without even realizing that we do.

Natural happiness is what we experience when we get what we wanted, and synthetic happiness is what we experience even when we don’t get what we wanted. And the best part is that this synthetic happiness is every bit as real and enduring as natural happiness is. Dan then goes on to prove this point with more examples and details of real life experiments conducted in this regard.

His final paragraph, which I will paraphrase below is something that left me thinking for more than quite a bit of time.

We should have preferences that lead us into one future over another. 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. When our fears are bounded, we’re prudent, we’re cautious, we’re thoughtful. When our fears are unbounded and overblown, we’re reckless, and we’re cowardly.

The lesson I want to leave you with, from these data, is that our longings and our worries are both to some degree overblown, because we have within us the capacity to manufacture the very commodity we are constantly chasing when we choose experience.

In case you want to watch the video itself (around 21 mins long), the same can be accessed here

All that matters is….determination


Back in Jan’2003, I had it all, I had graduated with decent marks in B’Com from Bangalore University, I was working as an Staff Accountant in one of the Big 5 Consulting Firms (yes, it used to be the Big 5 then), I was earning a decent sum of money (as much as a 2.5 yr work exp graduate would earn in those days), in a nutshell life was good.

And then on 30-Jan-2003, I was called by my Manager into his cubicle. He gently broke the news that the new firm which had taken over mine had come up with new rules regarding graduates. We all had to compulsorily take up the Chartered Accountancy course and clear the same if we wanted to continue working. That sentence pretty much spelt the death knell for me as far as my job was concerned. I took 5 mins, thought through the issue and conveyed my decision to my Manager, I would quit. Cut to end of day, 30-Jan-2003, I walked out of the office of my first employer for the last time.

There I was, on my Kinetic Honda, without a job, not knowing what I was going to do from the next day onwards, both my parents retired and living off their retirement savings, my only source of income run dry.

To say that the next few days were terrible would be an understatement. Words cannot describe the despair that I went through at that point in time. As if this weren’t enough, none of my colleagues from my first job even bothered to call me, check on what I was doing, send me a mail, nothing. I am quite sure all of them were not so busy that they completely forgot that I even existed. As if losing a job weren’t enough, it was almost like I had lost almost every single friend that I ever had, given the amount of time, energy and efforts that I had expended in keeping these friendships active over the last 2.5 yrs.

Cut to 2013, I have just completed my 7th year of professional experience after my MBA at IIM Indore. I am now happily married with a 2 yr old daughter. My parents still live off their retirement savings, but at least now they are not worried about what I am going to do with my life. So what changed? How did I cope with those first few weeks of Feb-2003? What kept me going?

Looking back today, I guess (or actually I am sure) that the only thing that kept me going was sheer grit and determination. The fact that I was 23 yrs old, of prime age to be earning and supporting my parents as an only child, the motivation that I had the rest of my life to do something useful with it, these are the things that kept me going. While my parents were a pillar of support (both financially and just in terms of being there), the fact remains that this was one battle which I had to fight all alone. Of the very few people who were with me at that time, one cousin and two childhood friends were sturdy rocks whom I could lean upon. They provided me with that occasional outlet when I could actually discuss my fears, tribulations, misgivings with them. They patiently listened to me and kept motivating me by telling me that I had ‘it’ in me to come over this situation successfully.

Those few months in early 2003, I really and truly learnt that all that matters is how determined you are to succeed, how much do you really want all that you have dreamt about. If there is enough determination, then a person will figure out the best way to achieve all that he wants to, no two ways about it.


This post is written as a part of ‘<a href=”; title=”All That Matters Contest” target=”_blank”>All that Matters</a>’ contest at in association with <a href=”; title=”INK Talks 2013″ target=”_blank”>INK Talks 2013</a>.


Spend more to smile more!!!


As the title of the post suggests, all the money we spend on ourselves brings a huge smile to our faces. A new Galaxy Note 2, a pair of those lovely new ear-rings, those new fiction books that we had been dying to read for a while now, those yummy Krispy Kreme doughnuts from the Brigade Road outlet, those melt-in-the-mouth Sri Krishna Sweets Mysurpa, just thinking about these things bring a smile to our faces, then just imagine spending money  and actually laying our hands on these things. The breadth of our smiles can barely be measured.

But then, is this all that true happiness is about? Are these the only things that we can spend on which will truly make us happy? Are material possessions the only true givers of joy to us?

Apparently not. This HBR blog [Link to post] talks about ‘how money actually buys happiness?’. After conducting more than a decade of research on this particular topic, the authors have figured out that all the things that we intuitively think brings us happiness (new houses, new cars, etc) have almost no impact at all on our happiness. Where is it that we are going wrong then?

Turns out that individuals who actually spent money on somebody else were far more happier than individuals who spent money on themselves. And what’s more, companies such as Google and a few others have embraced this concept to increase their bottom lines as well.

Read the small post in its entirety to learn more about how spending money on others can immensely boost your happiness.

Image courtesy: Google image search for ‘spend money cartoon’