Last week, I watched a TED talk by Dan Gilbert on why we’re happy. He talked about natural happiness versus synthetic happiness — how our brains decide that we’re happy with what we’ve got — and more, how we’re happier with irreversible choices.
They did an experiment with college students, letting them take photographs, teaching them how to use the dark room, and making prints of their two best pictures. After all of this, the students were told that they only got to keep one. The students who didn’t get the chance to change their minds were more satisfied with their choice.
This intrigues me because I always have more story ideas than I have time to write, and when I decide which one to work on, there has almost always been a tacit acknowledgment that I can change my mind if it doesn’t work out. According to Gilbert’s study, that’s the wrong approach.
According to his work, the best approach if I am to remain satisfied is to pick a project, work on it to completion, and then choose again. I don’t think that necessarily means I can’t slip small projects in, as long as I continue work on the first choice, but rather if I’m trying to decide between a fantasy novel, two science-fiction novels, and a cozy mystery as my next major project, I don’t get halfway through (or one-third — 30,000 words seems to be a big hurdle) and say, “I need to think this through. I’m going back to this other idea I set aside.” More importantly, I don’t second-guess myself, saying maybe I should have chosen X, Y, or Z instead. I choose, I work, I’m happy.
That’s the theory. We’ll have to see how it goes in practice. The current project is getting the urban fantasy edited and out the door, and everything but paying work and family time is taking the backseat to that. So maybe I’m on the right track.
What about you? What makes you happy? Or have you watched a different TED talk that influenced the way you think about your life?