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What Makes Us Happy

We watched a TED talk the other day that really got us thinking. It was by a Harvard psychologist who studies how we as humans have developed the amazing ability to synthesize our own happiness.

What the heck does that mean? Well, psychologist Dan Gilbert says it’s how we go through something hard or awful, or maybe just experience things turning out different than we expected or wanted, and come out the other side saying we were “better off because of it.”

Because we’re always thinking about what it means to live well, we think this is so interesting!

Without consciously knowing it, we humans are frequently taking life’s lemons and making lemonade. We adapt to our circumstances, which is why a person who wins the lottery and a person who becomes a quadriplegic are about equally happy one year after the event that changed their lives. (!!!)

“Synthesized happiness,” Gilbert said, is every bit as real and valid as “natural happiness,” which comes from getting what we want.

The difference is that freedom to choose—obviously a big thing here in America—can get in the way of synthesizing happiness. Because when you question your choices, or feel you have the power to continually change your circumstances, you don’t adapt to them. So it could be natural happiness or none at all. On the other hand, if you’re stuck you tend to shift perspective and make the most of it.

Yay for empowerment and self-actualization! How terrible it would be not to be able to make one’s life better! For one thing, it’s a privilege and a gift that, in our time and place, we can do things, learn things, buy things to improve life for ourselves and others. It’s good to have choices. (For another thing, the capitalist marketplace would implode if everyone suddenly stopped wanting things, haha.)

But maybe it’s helpful to evaluate the emphasis we put on choices and circumstances. Conventional wisdom has it that more and freer choices = better life. But Dan Gilbert’s findings seem to dispute that, at least to a degree.

Clearly, freedom to choose and to change is a beautiful and valuable thing. But what happens when the world is more open than it’s ever been and you could go anywhere and do anything? Analysis paralysis, anyone? Dissatisfaction? The grass being greener? Nobody can have natural happiness all the time. And the vast array of inputs, information and choices available can definitely get in your head.

For example, in the mattress business we constantly see people trying to tow the line between choice and limits and pick the option that’ll make them happiest. This is good, because all mattresses are definitely not created equal!

But the array of choices in the mattress industry can make your head spin. Even if you spent hours researching, you might still question whether you got the best one.

That’s why we carefully hand-pick the mattresses we sell and don’t sell some of the major brands. And it’s why we always take time to listen, understand each person’s unique wants and needs, and make suggestions without raising too many confusing, overwhelming options…and without stretching budgets.

What makes us happy? One takeaway is that we all need both choice and limit. You can find the best bed for you and you can be happy with it even if you can’t afford a pricey, hand-made model, because it’s yours.

Sleep tight, Urbanites!