Let me not injure the felicity of others,’ says Sir Thomas Browne in a suppressed passage of the Religio Medici,
“I am the happiest man alive. I have that in me that can convert poverty to riches, adversity to prosperity, and I am more invulnerable than Achilles; fortune hath not one place to hit me.” - Sir Thomas Browne 1642
His writing is characterised by wit and subtle humour, as can be seen more clearly later in the book when he asserts that he ‘could lose an arm without a tear, and with few groans be quartered into pieces.‘
There are many things in this book, so he tells us, ‘delivered rhetorically, many expressions therein merely tropical,… and therefore also many things to be taken in a soft and flexible sense, and not to be called unto the rigid test of reason.‘
It seems as if we should be careful when we interpret how people describe their inner most feelings, in print perhaps even more so than in confidence. However, even if the quote is not quite sincere, the point Dan Glibert is making in his talk is that happiness is relative, and that we have within us the ability to “manufacture happiness”. In the talk, he provides evidence that this synthetic happiness is no different in quality from real, or what we might call natural happiness.
Interestingly, it turns out that freedom — the ability to make up your mind and change your mind is “the friend of natural happiness, because it allows you to choose among all those delicious futures and find the one that you would most enjoy. But freedom to choose, to change and make up your mind — is the enemy of synthetic happiness.” Dan goes through some psychological experiments that back his assertion here up. He somes up nicely:
The lesson I want to leave you with from these data is that our longings and our worries are both to some degree overblown, because we have within us the capacity to manufacture the very commodity we are constantly chasing when we choose experience.