The phenomenon helps explain why it's "possible that Christopher Reeve believed himself in some ways better off after he became a quadriplegic, or that Lance Armstrong is glad to have had cancer, or that cancer patients in general tend to be more optimistic about the future than healthy people, and "that conjoined twins rate themselves as happy as nonconjoined people." Apparently, the only group not stumbling into happiness are the clinically depressed, who "seem less susceptible to these basic cognitive errors. For instance, healthy people can be deluded into greater happiness when granted the mere illusion of control over their environment; the clinically depressed recognize the illusion for what it is."
I disagree with the notion that they are happy or better off because of their accidents. It was the event which led them to a shift in perception, which leads them to new focuses — more often, directing more time to instrospection and following the paths in their life that lead them to happiness. I have the documents at home, but I believe the book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, goes into how the perfect balance for optimal performance (including personal drive to accomplish and personal sense of well-being) comes from setting up challenges just increments ahead of our current set of ability to easily accomplish. It's about challenges. This may be overlaid onto the Hero's Journey, or monomyth, of Joseph Campbell, in that we all require stories and a process of growth in order to be alive. The metaphor of the autonomous people, the robots, the asleep, all the words artists, poets, occultists, and others use to refer to the vulgar masses of Others, is generally out of spite and because there is no relation of one's story and tribulations to the one making the accusations.
Through the refinement of focus, upon one's life, and the personal triumph of defining one's own path, comes something beyond happiness. This is a spiritual path, a wondrous aspect of the Great Work, the path of the mystics. "Happiness," the concept, is spoon-fed to Westerners to keep them complacent. Fear is a by-product of their fragile delusions being smashed against the wall, in essence an ontological anarchy which would allow them the freedom to think for themselves. In light of this, I say Fuck happiness. Embrace the full gamut of feelings that accompany the opportunity chaos provides!
I agree with Gilbert's delusion of happiness. As such, here is a great quote from Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature, by William James:
Recent psychology … speaks of the threshold of man's consciousness in general to indicate the amount of noise, pressure, or other outer stimulus which it takes to arouse his attention at all. One with a high threshold will doze through an amount of racket by which one with a low threshold would be immediately waked. … And so we might speak of a "pain threshold," a "fear threshold," a "misery threshold," and find it quickly overpassed by the consciousness of some individuals, but lying too high in others to be often reached by their consciousness. The sanguine and healthy minded habitually live on the sunny side of their misery line; the depressed and melancholy live beyond it, in darkness and apprehension.
Does it not appear as if one who lived habitually on one side of the pain threshold might need a different sort of religion from one who habitually lived on the other?