The surprising science of happiness

The previous post on prevalence induced concept change reminded me of this old 2004 TED talk from Dan Gilbert. An effective ode to the pre-frontal cortex:

…one of the most important things [the pre-frontal cortex] does is an experience simulator… Human beings have this marvellous adaptation that they can actually have experiences in their heads before they try them out in real life.

For example:

Ben and Jerry’s doesn’t have liver-and-onion ice cream, and it’s not because they whipped some up, tried it and went, “Yuck.” It’s because, without leaving your armchair, you can simulate that flavor and say “yuck” before you make it.

A key take away from the talk, that I often find myself thinking back to is this:

Here’s two different futures that I invite you to contemplate. You can try to simulate them and tell me which one you think you might prefer. One of them is winning the lottery. This is about 314 million dollars. And the other is becoming paraplegic… the fact is that a year after losing the use of their legs, and a year after winning the lotto, lottery winners and paraplegics are equally happy with their lives.

Watch the talk. It’s better in context.