The Recipe for Happiness according to Dan Gilbert

06 June, 2020
The recipe for happiness can seem like a worn-out concept, but Dan Gilbert's perspective is worth knowing. What this social psychologist proposes is to simplify your objective, thus identifying will as the main element.

Dan Gilbert is a psychologist, writer, and professor at Harvard University. He’s famous for writing the book Stumbling on Happiness, which has been translated into more than 30 languages. He’s also known because, in many of his talks and conferences, he claims he’s found the recipe for happiness.

At first glance, Gilbert’s statements may seem shallow. The whole “recipe for happiness” deal seems more like a self-help scheme. However, he’s a rigorous psychologist. He’s convinced there’s a recipe for happiness but that there are no shortcuts to get it either.

Dan Gilbert states that the first task is knowing what makes you happy. He also says that you can’t and shouldn’t be happy all the time. If you were, you wouldn’t know when you’re happy or not. Gilbert compares this to a compass always pointing to the same place. It needs to change as well.

“The brain and the eye may have a contractual relationship in which the brain has agreed to believe what the eye sees, but in return the eye has agreed to look for what the brain wants.”

-Dan Gilbert-

A man holding a happy face drawn on a paper.

The science behind happiness

Dan Gilbert states that being happy is easier than what people think. Happiness isn’t hidden somewhere nor isn’t a treasure waiting to be found. It’s neither the result of completing set goals or a given that comes with good luck.

Gilbert differentiates synthetic happiness from natural happiness. Synthetic happiness is when you get something you set yourself to, such as a job, getting married, traveling, winning first place in a contest, getting a “like”, or anything like that. He believes that that type of happiness is temporary and is conditioned to a specific outcome.

On the other hand, you have natural happiness. This isn’t about a feeling but a state of mind that happens by default. It’s there whether you just achieved a goal or even when you don’t. You’re born with it.

The recipe for happiness

The recipe for happiness needs two ingredients that anyone can get. The first is to not make suffering a bigger thing than it is. Many people always remember the bad times they’ve been through, thinking on that and fixating on it. That’s why they oversize future suffering.

This ingredient is linked to the second part of the recipe for happiness: trusting your resilience. This means being able to solve any situation that brings you pain. Your lack of trust in yourself to move forward through pain is what makes you suffer in the first place.

When you’re crippled by pain, you stop or never start doing the things you’d love to do. In a way, you limit yourself by expecting pain. The worst thing is that, usually, this suffering has already happened. You’re not afraid of the pain itself. Instead, you’re afraid you won’t be able to bear and overcome it.

The recipe of happiness follows a road.

The road to happiness

The recipe for happiness is complimented by little things you can do every day to help gain confidence in your resilience. The road to happiness includes five simple activities that anybody can do. Dan Gilbert states that learning to be happy is like losing weight: you need to do your part.

These five simple activities are:

  • Wanting to be happy. Happiness is a choice you make every day.
  • Taking care of yourself. Eating healthily, working out for half an hour a day, and sleeping seven hours a day are the foundations for happiness.
  • Establishing and keeping healthy relationships. Walk away from relationships that make you feel bad and build better bonds with the people you love the most.
  • Fun activities. Create a list of things that you like to do the most and prioritize them.
  • Be thankful. For yourself, for your life, and for anything that gives you something, teaches you, or allows you to grow in any way. Helping others can also make you happier.
The recipe for happiness is very simple.

Natural happiness is a state of mind you build every day, step by step. The good news is that everybody’s capable of being happy. In a way, believing this and motivating yourself will give you the energy you need. Learning skills, such as emotional intelligence, will make the transition easier for you. In a way, that’s the recipe for happiness: the will to enjoy life.

Gilbert, D., & Medina, V. C. (2006). Tropezar con la felicidad. Barcelona: Destino.