i’ve been thinking a lot about happiness lately. maybe because my college bubble was finally burst and it’s not all rainbows and sunshine post-graduation (despite what some may say).

i figured that if i was doing what i thought i wanted to be doing after school, then certainly i would be happy and content. i was lucky enough to have exactly the job i thought would fulfill me before graduation day and a support system that stayed intact after that day.

and then instead of jumping up and putting my sophisticated shoes and prancing to work full of glee everyday (like i imagined it would go), i was dragging myself out of bed and showing up to work with bags under my eyes and a deeply engrained frown on my face.

it wasn’t pretty.

with some encouragement, i started doing those little things that make me feel better–like making time for yoga and friends. but i found that that wasn’t enough. so i took time to reevaluate what happiness means to me, and i realized i was limiting it to some vision i had created for myself years ago. a vision that in many ways is unrealistic and limiting in itself.

dan gilbert, a harvard psychologist, coined the term synthetic happiness, which is the idea that we, in many ways, have the ability to control our own happiness. but what we instinctively want and focus on is natural happiness, the pleasant feeling that is created from pleasing external factors.

in other words, “natural happiness is what we get when we get what we wanted;” synthetic happiness is “what we make when we don’t get what we wanted.”

while synthetic happiness is often seen as inferior, no one is always naturally happy because external factors are, well, not always pleasing. and i still have bags under my eyes some mornings.

but i can focus on all the things i think are going wrong and aren’t ideal, or i can realize that even amongst all the times where i don’t get what i want or the world just seems a little bit too mean, that i still have the choice to be happy.


for more on synthetic happiness, watch dan gilbert’s TED talk:

Dan Gilbert

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