engineering a better experience
Friday, April 23, 2010 (Updated )

Synthetic Happiness

by The Metaist


Dan Gilbert has an interesting discussion about ways in which our "experience simulator" (aka prefrontal cortex) makes mistakes—particularly in judging our future happiness.

(Video: [YouTube]( via [TED](


Gilbert highlights the notion of Impact Bias: "tendency for people to overestimate the length or the intensity of future feeling states." Example: both lottery winners and paraplegics feel about the same level of happiness after a year.

Why? Here are some reasons & insights:

  • There is a sort of psychological immune system that allows us to synthesize happiness.

  • Despite our feeling that "natural happiness" (when we get what we want) is somehow superior to "synthetic happiness" (when we don't get what we want) they are both about the same in quality.

  • Synthetic happiness actually changes your intrinsic preferences and outlook.

  • Irreversible conditions promote synthetic happiness. However, people think they would prefer reversible decisions.


Ever catch yourself synthesizing happiness?