Posted by Dr. Vollmer on February 18, 2014
A “psychological immune system” is what Dr. Gilbert terms the mechanism about how we cope with adversity. “We synthesize happiness,” he says, implying that we frame events in our lives in order to feel happy. He cites the story of a man who was wrongfully in prison for most of his life and then describes the prison as “glorious.” This TED talk got me going towards this post, as I found myself talking back to the podcast. What people say and how people feel are two different things, I wanted to say. There is the manifest content, what is expressed, often representing wishes and fears, which are part of the latent content. In other words, asking people if they are happy is not a useful exercise, as happiness is an affect which has layers of complexity and ambiguities, and hence not amenable to a yes or no question. We do not “synthesize” happiness,” we experience meaning, closeness, a sense of importance, joy, humor and relaxation, and with those feelings comes happiness. Self-assessment of happiness is also not the best measure as it presumes that people know how they feel, which, to my way of thinking, is not always so clear. Understanding one’s mental state is a challenge for many, and so the answer to the question about happiness is subject to the “living in wishes” experience that I have blogged about previously. How to obtain happiness is an interesting question. I do not think Dr. Gilbert is helping us towards that answer.