Wednesday, April 14, 2010

"You can't always get what you want."

Mick Jagger was right - and despite the fact that we don't always get what we want, that does not need to impact our ability to experience happiness or contentment. No images of paddling or trail running to tempt you this time. But wait now, don't go away. I completely understand that you have choices and other blogs and places of interest may already be calling out to you.

This posting is a little different from my usual offerings. I've had a little time on my hands having acquired a small cold over the weekend. Therein lay a choice. I could spend the day sitting around feeling sorry for myself given that a perfectly good day off was compromised by this seasonal malady (and the sun was shining too!)  - OK, so I did do that for awhile until I was gently reminded that my behaviour was, well, slightly pathetic. (Joan, always gentle with me when I'm in a weakened state, used a more euphemistic term.) I know, it is, after all, just a cold. Anyway, tonight it's much better and hopefully by tomorrow it will be gone.

Here's the point. To put in some time over multiple cups of green tea and honey, I cruised over to TED, an excellent site where they feature "Riveting talks by remarkable people", and a talk by Dan Gilbert, a Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. He has written and speaks convincingly on our oft-misguided attempts to find happiness in life. If you choose (there's that word again) to give it a listen, I think you'll find it both entertaining and immensely thought-provoking. Think choices, and how the increasing number of choices we demand  these days may, in fact, be limiting our potential happiness. He makes so much sense. Gilbert is not a self-help guru, he is a social scientist with research that gives one pause for thought. If you've got 21 minutes to spare, it's a good investment.

Yeah, I'd like to have gone paddling today but, as Jagger sang..."you can't always get what you want". Turns out that the day did have some productivity after all. Check this out and you'll understand why you've probably had the same experience. The fact is, when stuff happens in life, we can still make our own happiness.

In addition to learning a little something of how the brain works, here's a couple of things I took away from this short talk: First of all, the more we have the "luxury" of choices, the more we tend to fret and worry about opportunity lost. On the other hand, when our choices are limited, we come to appreciate what we’ve got, more than we would have ever imagined we would.

Second, our worries, anxieties, and longings are often way out of proportion because we are, in fact, capable of manufacturing our own happiness from within. We simply don't need to get what we want to be happy and to find contentment in life.

Makes sense...and leads to living more simply and thankfully with a deeper sense of satisfaction.



  1. That explains why I go into overload at the "Food Fair"! Too many choices and too much second guessing!

  2. great post Duncan! i was in the midst of a grand ole bad day and this was a good reminder of things never being as bad as they seem. sorry you had a cold but i'm glad ya did.

  3. Hi Gen, I know exactly what you mean! Good to see you last week!

    Hi Jimmy, Yes, it's a lesson that helps keep us grounded on, as you say, those "grand ole bad days". Always appreciate your blog and the Apr 10 piece on running "form" VERY helpful!

  4. HI
    I am so glad you posted this blog wiht the has helped me through these last few days. I am purchasing a new place...and there are three that I have liked. Now having chosen one I keep thinking about the other ones that I am not getting. The place I have chosen in pretty much perfect but there are items in the others that were more favourable. Yet I am happy with my choice..I know it is the right one...but I am not totally excited because I keep second guessing myself that maybe I should have chosen one of the others.
    I will endeavour to not look back, to forget about the others and realize that I can make any place "my home". Imagine how easy and boring life would be if we never had choices to make.

  5. Hi L,

    I think that's exactly what our Harvard prof was talking about. I'm also sure you'll really like the choice you made. Don't look back. D.

  6. LOVE TED! thanks for the post.


  7. This is another amazing TED talk about the paradox of choice.

  8. Thanks PO - I'll check that out! TED talks ARE a treasure!