- On November 6, 2018
With mid-term elections upon us, are you as tired as I am about the overwhelming amount of anxiety, frustration, anger, disappointment, blame, fear (and fear-mongering), and hopelessness and desperation in our country? Whatever happens on Nov 6th, some part of our community will likely continue to feel that way.
When I read about the idea of ‘manufactured happiness’ I was curious. Is that something that could help begin to heal the deep divisions and raw emotions so many of us feel?
Have you ever met someone who experienced a terrible event or a discouraging setback and, instead of complaining about it, they concluded they’re better off in the end?
Whether it’s a toxic relationship, a life-threatening illness–or in our current national climate a never-ending stream of divisive language fanning the flames of scarcity and survival–certain people somehow manage to experience happiness and gratitude even when they don’t get what they want in life.
Are they delusional? Are they in denial? Are they living a Pollyanna existence or perhaps merely crazy?
In 1958 Moreese Bickham was sentenced to death after being falsely convicted of murder. For 14 years and seven stays of execution he lived on death row, in solitary confinement, for 23 hours a day. In total, he was incarcerated for over 37 years before being exonerated and walking away a free man in 1996. Upon his release he was quoted as saying: “I don’t have one minute’s regret. It was a glorious experience.”
According to Harvard University social psychologist Dan Gilbert, people who can frame a terrible experience in a positive light are far from crazy. They’re simply in touch with their capacity to synthesize their own happiness.
Synthesized happiness is the capacity within the human brain to feel happy about an unexpected or unwanted outcome. It’s happiness we ‘manufacture’ when we don’t get what we want. The Bickhams of the world aren’t crazy, in denial, or rationalizing their experiences – they’re merely displaying the ability to manufacture their own happiness.
It’s easy to feel happy when we get what we’re after in life: the dream vacation, a bigger salary, earning a degree, becoming physically fit. But what happens when life hands us a situation that’s less than ideal?
While we can’t always get what we want, it’s possible to learn how to positively appreciate what we get.
During his incarceration, bitterness and anger could have consumed Moreese Bickham. Instead, he seized the experience as an opportunity and learned leather making, worked in the visitor’s center, maintained a garden, and became an ordained minister. His happiness was determined by his behavior, how he perceived his relationships, experiences, and circumstances.
Creating your own happiness isn’t about fooling yourself, settling, rationalizing, or living in denial. It’s about finding what to like about a particular situation and realizing that even the worst circumstances bring with it something to be positive about.
Synthesizing happiness allows us to accept the uncertainty and disappointment by manifesting positive thoughts when things go wrong. When we’re better able to accept uncertainty and setbacks, or even welcome them, happiness can flourish.
People who can find hope in hopeless situations tend to be healthier, have more positive relationships, and live longer. These people aren’t faking it – they genuinely believe things worked out for the better.
It’s unlikely we will ever experience the kind of injustice Mr. Bickham did, although many Americans have felt like we are living with injustice in where our leaders are taking our country. Practicing synthesized happiness in the face of so much negativity is a challenge, yet it amplifies our resilience and resolve by seeking to find the good, the opportunity, the positive actions in every event and circumstance.
Moreese Bickham’s experience is proof that happiness is achievable under any conditions. He manufactured his own happiness by making the best of his circumstances and you can too.
The next time you are feeling like you’re in a terrible situation ask yourself:
What’s one positive thing I can take away from this situation?
Once you come up with one good thing ask yourself:
What’s another good thing about this situation?
This triggers the mind to create alternative perspectives and focus on the positive. A positive ‘above the line’ mindset can figure out solutions. A mind mired in looking at only the bad focuses on survival and self-preservation with no energy left for growth.
There will always be winners and losers, but we always lose if we don’t learn to interpret less-than-ideal outcomes in a positive light – to manufacture happiness no matter how dire the situation seems.
The next time you find yourself missing out on the happiness you want, take charge and create it yourself. You may need that skill on Nov 7th…