Search Results for 'Happiness'

Happiness, Part xx8, Other People

happinessothersrainumbrella

We’ve already explored happiness topics ranging from drugs to business. Perhaps the most vital, if obvious, piece has only been touched on up to now.

The Portuguese island of Madeira, known most for its excellent wine, is part of a volcanic archipelago that sits in the Atlantic Ocean far off the southwest coast of Portugal. It’s actually closer to northwest Africa, and loosely associated with the Canary Islands as a stopping point for transatlantic journeys.

One small island in the group has such steep cliffs jutting out of the ocean that it actually looks a bit like a cylinder. At the top is a several-acre plateau on which are grown the most prized grapes that go into Madeira wine. On this plateau lives only one large animal: an ox whose job is to plow the field. The only way to the top is a winding and narrow path. There is no way an ox could navigate the path, so when the ox dies, how is it replaced? A baby ox is carried on the back of a worker up the mountain, where it spends the next forty years plowing the field alone. If you are moved by this story, ask yourself why. One ox, alone, in a field on the plateau of a small rock island in the middle of the ocean.

Very little that is positive is solitary. When was the last time you laughed uproariously? The last time you felt indescribable joy? The last time you sensed profound meaning and purpose? The last time you felt enormously proud of an accomplishment? Even without knowing the particulars of these high points of your life, there is one thing I’ll bet they had in common: all of them took place around other people. Simply put, other people is the best antidote to the downs of life and the single most reliable up.

Recent research on human evolution points to the importance of positive relationships. Studies of the big social brain, hive emotions, and group selection persuade me that positive relationships are a basic element of well-being.

It’s really pretty simple, except the catch is that nasty tendency we sometimes have to not want to be around people when things aren’t going well. It’s a downward spiral.

The other tricky aspect, is being around the right people. If you spend time with someone who brings you down or causes you stress, even if through no particular fault of his own, then at minimum you need others in your life who provide the type of companionship that makes the rest work. It turns out we’re pretty complicated socially, yet we produce anxiety and ultimately unhappiness because we don’t always set our lives up in a way that takes care of this truth, or honor and act on behalf of the changes we undergo throughout life. When someone connects and makes you feel good, pay attention, as it’s you trying to tell yourself something. Recognizing the importance of that is essential to not just happiness, but to fundamentally taking care of yourself.

 

Advertisements

Happiness and Stuff

What exactly are we storing away in the boxes we cart from place to place when we move? Much of what Americans consume doesn’t even find its way into boxes or storage spaces, but winds up in the garbage.

The Natural Resources Defense Council reports, for example, that 40 percent of the food Americans buy finds its way into the trash.

Enormous consumption has global, environmental and social consequences. For at least 335 consecutive months, the average temperature of the globe has exceeded the average for the 20th century. As a recent report for Congress explained, this temperature increase, as well as acidifying oceans, melting glaciers and Arctic Sea ice are “primarily driven by human activity.” Many experts believe consumerism and all that it entails — from the extraction of resources to manufacturing to waste disposal — plays a big part in pushing our planet to the brink. And as we saw with Foxconn and the Beijing smog scare, many of the affordable products we buy depend on cheap, often exploitive overseas labor and lax environmental regulations.

Does all this endless consumption result in measurably increased happiness?

In a recent study, the Northwestern University psychologist Galen V. Bodenhausen linked consumption with aberrant, antisocial behavior. Professor Bodenhausen found that “Irrespective of personality, in situations that activate a consumer mind-set, people show the same sorts of problematic patterns in well-being, including negative affect and social disengagement.” Though American consumer activity has increased substantially since the 1950s, happiness levels have flat-lined.

My experiences show that after a certain point, material objects have a tendency to crowd out the emotional needs they are meant to support. Often they take up mental as well as physical space. It’s a hard train to get off of. Many of those things mean a lot at the point of acquisition, but later…not so much. Yet we hang on to them as if they do. Like that’s our security from something.

Let ’em go…

ModelBurningSet

 

Happiness, Part xx7, Am versus What Does

For reference: Happiness part xx1, xx2, xx3, xx4, xx5, and xx6.

BWGirlEach day brings with it an opportunity to experience life in ways that affect our happiness. Of course the cycle of perceived happiness (or lack thereof) greatly impacts our willingness and ability to engage in ways that emotion. If you’re already down, there is a pretty good chance you’re going to make choices that reinforce that mood, and vice-versa. But with some intention you can either disrupt the down cycles, or carefully reinforce the up ones.

An important component in effectively managing this is to understand what drives you and makes you happy. You may really have to do some work to figure this out, and it may take time to fully understand. It’s also easy to get confused in the subtle nuances between things that make us happy, doing things that produce happiness, and things that tap into and/or stoke a fire within us.

  • Am I happy doing what I am doing? I don’t mean happy in a shallow, saccharine way. I mean it in the full sense of the word: purpose, fulfillment, contributing in my own way to leaving the world better than how I found it. Think about everything you do and sort out the parts that produce happiness. Make a list.
  • What is it that makes me happy? Very different from the question above. I am very happy doing something nice for a friend. I want to nurture my relationships in every way possible. But artistic output in some form is an example of something I find satisfying on an ongoing basis. I feel compelled to do it, and there would be a void if I didn’t/couldn’t.

“Nurturing my relationships” belongs in the first bullet. “Art” belongs in the second one. The first one is about evaluating everything we do; the second is about identifying what drives us. Both are vital to happiness. It usually works out that when we’re experiencing the mood of unhappiness on an ongoing basis, lack of engagement or satisfaction in one or both of these is a root cause. It’s harder to locate and correct when we don’t operate with a clear distinction between the two.

Happiness, Part xx6, The Chemistry

Parts xx1, xx2, xx3, xx4, xx5. Part xx6 will unfold over a series of related posts.

We’re animals with bodies wired to respond to stimuli in ways that increase our chances of survival. While we have certain physical vulnerabilities, we overcome them by having been graced with a complex array of genetic tools that make us adept at learning and cooperation. We’re social. We work well in groups, and need them. We respond to what we call feelings, which help to facilitate this cooperative, social behavior. Our feelings have chemical underpinnings. There are two primary kinds: Selfless and Selfish. The selfish ones produce good feelings when we accomplish things for ourselves, while the selfless ones are oriented more toward the feelings we get in cooperation with others.

The primary selfish ones are:

Endorphins – Associated with the runner’s high. Their job is to mask physical pain. To help give us the will to push through when we’re tired or injured. But they serve other purposes as well. When we laugh they are released, which can mitigate anxiety. An example might be a comedic moment in a horror movie. We feel better even after the laughing stops.

Dopamine – Responsible for the feeling of satisfaction we get when accomplishing something. The bigger the accomplishment the more dopamine we get. We even get a little along the way to start us up and keep us going. It’s a part of what makes us goal oriented. Eating food produces dopamine, which is one reason why we like to eat (too much). In fact, dopamine is a major factor any many different types of addictions. This includes not only food or drugs, but things like checking e-mail or Facebook. That little bit of intrigue when there is something new releases dopamine. We like it. We want more. We can’t put our phones down for want of it.

There are some others in this category that are a little less important for feelings, though more important for action, such as Noradrenaline and Adrenaline.

The primary selfless ones are:

SeratoninSerotonin – Our warm feelings when others support and approve of us, or we support others, are linked to serotonin. Getting likes on Facebook or feeling like you have followers or loyal friends triggers the release of this chemical. The feeling of respect from others triggers it, and so it helps us to organize around being a good team member or leader. Because of this chemical we feel the weight of responsibility toward others – not just results (that would be dopamine), but the people, especially when they are counting on us in some way. It helps make us want to do right by people, or to make them proud.

Oxytocin – Known as the love chemical, oxytocin helps to produce a feeling of closeness or intimacy with others. It is often, but not necessarily triggered by physical contact. It helps to reinforce a bond between people, whether friends, siblings, or parent and child. It’s why others showing support of our endeavors makes us feel better about them, and why we feel better about ourselves and them when we offer that support. It triggers feelings of empathy and the strongest bonds of trust and friendship. Unlike dopamine, which is fast and temporary, oxytocin lasts and strengthens relationships over time. It produces a feeling of warmth and security that allows us to reveal our vulnerabilities.

Try to find ways to laugh or seek other enjoyment to trigger endorphins, especially when times are tough. Easier said than done. Try to find healthy (as in not too frivolous) measures of accomplishment to achieve. Dopamine will help you once you set up some clearly defined goals. Show up (or come through) and do something to help someone else or make them feel good for a little boost of serotonin. And for oxytocin, reveal your vulnerability and show yourself. Strive to get close.

In other words, fake it ’til you make it. It’s not easy, but your body will respond by chemically helping you…if you can just find a way to get started. Each day.

Happiness, Part xx5, the Distraction

climberFocus

(Links to part xx1, xx2, xx3, and xx4.)

A recent Harvard study determined that those with persistent stray thoughts and wandering minds were less likely to be happy than those able to focus on task.

It seems to confirm what Buddhists, sages and saints have long taught – That an unruly mind creates unhappiness and disfunction and that the keys to happiness lay in mastering the mind, not in changing external factors in our lives.

The most startling part of their discovery, however, is that unhappiness doesn’t just come from the mind wandering to unpleasant things. The study shows people with minds that wander to neutral or even pleasant thoughts are still less happy than if the mind did not wander at all (1).

During the study people were asked to focus on a given activity. It was found that even if the activity was some hum-drum chore, participants were happier if their minds were fully there, focused in the moment. The conclusion is that when the mind wanders repeatedly (and for many of us it wanders frequently every day) it reduces our overall happiness and wellbeing (2).

All consistent with declarations I’ve made for years that it’s much more about what’s happening on the inside than on circumstances. It comes from within. If only we had the Spock-like ability to control our mind’s thoughts.

While we may not be able to control our minds the way we want to, we can manage by living in the moment. It’s a refrain I hear often – “live in the moment.” Again, easier said than done.

One key is to be busy. When we’re busy we don’t tend to think as much. It’s a double-edged sword, but one that does temporarily help. That’s a little too simplistic though. It’s about being engaged as much as just being busy. When you are mindful with your activity, you’re not preoccupied with regrets or worries; you’re not planning or wanting for anything. You’re not lending power to thinking processes and so they do not dominate your awareness.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a leading researcher in positive psychology, refers to this state of mind as “flow.” Csikszentmihalyi describes flow as being totally absorbed, or immersed, in the activity in which you’re engaged. It doesn’t matter what the particular task is— what matters is that you are fully present when you’re doing it.

Csikszentmihalyi, often called the grandfather of positive psychology, found that our happiest moments are when we are in the state of flow. In this state, we are highly alert. We are totally focused with one pointed attention. This focus—this mindfulness of being in the moment—is when happiness spontaneously arises (3).

It certainly can’t hurt to find and nurture activities that enable one to get into this state of flow, or mindfulness. Engaging in activities that are perceived as risky and/or important enough to hold our attention work well. But the specter living underneath is that these effects are temporary, and for some probably feel more like a disguise or distraction from ‘reality’. I’m also a proponent of the notion that one’s perception is their reality, which characterizes it as being rather subjective. It is what we make it. It comes from within.

So maybe it is just a distraction, but it’s still nice while it lasts. However the bigger rub is it also distracts us from taking more proactive and profound measures to strategically improve our lives? There is the risk of waking up one day to realize that your inertia took you to a place you don’t really want to be.

It’s a balancing act. If the pendulum swings to the negative it’s a good idea to get (more) engaged in something. But it’s also wise to step back from time to time to assess. It’s a potentially painful or discouraging exercise, with risks of getting derailed. But it’s a necessary evil unless you can Spock yourself into a perpetual “don’t worry, be happy” mindset.

Happiness, Part xx4, The Numbing

Numbing

Happiness is startlingly elusive sometimes.

One of our techniques for achieving happiness is avoiding potentially painful or at least threatening situations, or to even run away from them. It certainly works to some degree. When we change the environment, and find ways to mask or otherwise distract from the symptoms, the load lifts and we feel more free to be happy. We fill up our lives with people and things that do this. But in some areas in some ways we also know, down deep inside, it isn’t really real. It’s a perception worked to create for ourselves. Contrived.

This is one of the traps of alcohol. It’s good at masking pain, but oh so temporary, and it comes with very disruptive side effects. As is the case with many drugs. But there are drugs that provide an answer.

Clinically depressed people are prescribed drugs. Bi-polar disorder is treatable with drugs. The symptoms can be taken almost completely away. The problem is, those individuals often believe that the happy, medicated version of themselves isn’t really them. One could argue it’s them revealed through the correction of some chemical imbalance that messes it up, but those arguments ultimately suffer from the logical fallacy that you can’t introduce something artificial and believe that what it produces is more real than not having it introduced. After a time the underlying nagging of the lie robs them of the idealistic visions of joy, and it becomes harder to trust one’s identity, or to engage in intimately satisfying ways. In some cases it makes it very difficult to stay on the drugs. In one of the more cruel jokes on a large portion of humanity, we refuse to be happy even when we are actually, clinically and controllably happy.

Drugs do provide a good solution for many, but the dark corners of our humanity can rise to the occasion no matter how good we have it.

Happiness, Part xx3, Validation

We are trained almost from birth to listen to and obey the wishes of others. Much of this is necessary, of course, but it often bleeds into other areas of our lives and continues for too long. A stimuli most of us grow up with and the effects of which culminate over time. It’s hidden everywhere in our culture. Ultimately, most of us don’t fully develop our sense of personal sovereignty and inner guidance; and thus, we believe or at least worry that someone else has the more correct way or knows better than we do.

We discount our own intuition and mistrust ourselves as a result of this learned response. Subsequently, this becomes a filter for how we view the world, and for how we view ourselves in the world.

We come to rely on the opinions of others for validation, because we expect they know better than we do. And the more we get validation from others, the more we seek it. It becomes an addiction. When we are validated by someone else, it triggers our psycho-biological reward system releasing dopamine into the brain. We feel good. We feel accepted. We want more of that feeling.waxmuseumfire

The rub is because we do not validate ourselves, we hold ourselves back, which leads to rarely getting the validation we want from others. Or worse, we may restructure aspects of our lives and the way we live in order to garner attention. Our ideal identity lost in the quest for external validation, a barrier to reaching our full potential. We’re incomplete.

If we would just validate, trust and know ourselves this cycle could be broken.

Happiness, Part xx2

BaloonSunset

 

Sometimes it’s very simple. A fun activity, or even something as straight forward as a warm feeling image can make us feel good. Happy, even if only for an all too fleeting moment. Those times are nice, but the realities of life and the situations we’ve put ourselves in are draining.

We left this topic last with the question of whether we can find effective ways to manipulate our dispositions.

We know there are things we can do that influence how we feel. A leading authority on the subject is Sonja Lyubomirsky. She says cognitive and behavioral strategies can be systematically retrained.

Intervention studies with students, kids, community members, workers, depressed individuals, and hospital patients are testing the efficacy of six cognitive and behavioral volitional strategies:

  1. Regularly setting aside time to recall moments of gratitude (i.e., keeping a journal in which one “counts one’s blessings” or writing gratitude letters)
  2. Engaging in self-regulatory and positive thinking about oneself (i.e., reflecting, writing, and talking about one’s happiest and unhappiest life events or one’s goals for the future)
  3. Practicing altruism and kindness (i.e., routinely committing acts of kindness or trying to make a loved one happy)
  4. Pursuing significant, intrinsic life goals (e.g., listing and taking action on “baby steps” towards goals)
  5. Affirming one’s most important values
  6. Savoring positive experiences (e.g., using one’s five senses to relish daily moments or living this month like it’s one’s last in a particular location)

She and others are testing a positive activity model by exploring whether the benefits of such activities differ across cultures, and whether their success is moderated by such factors as person-activity “fit,” motivation, effort, social support, variety, dosage, intrinsic motivation, and expectations. They also examine the “why” of happiness-boosting interventions by testing the mediating role of positive events, positive thoughts, positive emotions, and need satisfaction, as well as genetic and environmental influences on individual differences in responses to happiness-increasing interventions.

We can do it. Being engaged in something compelling to us provides a good conduit to get started. But what if we don’t find engagement? It still seems like we may need more.

Happiness, Part xx1

 

Part xx1, because it’s a topic that has already been a loosely disguised recurring theme in many dozens of posts. It will continue to be so, in a more direct way.

 

800px-Maldives_sunset_silhouettes

 

I wrote recently that what most of us really want is just to be happy. So simple, yet how that happens, how we define it, and how we get there is the subject of volumes, and still nobody has really figured it out. I have always said and believed that happiness comes from within…but…why? How? Can we really control it?

The elusive feeling seems to stem from the result of a vague triangulation on three characteristics: Perceived Situation, Choices, and Genetics.

The debate about how much influence one’s circumstances has over happiness has raged for years. Evidence suggesting the child of wealthy parents, who has every material thing in life, will be happy, is sketchy at best. Many studies have been done, and about the only clear conclusion is that a person needs a combination of enough money to take care of basic needs along with a feeling of belonging, or being loved. Beyond that, things like more money, more membership, etc. may contribute, but the results get a lot murkier. It’s pretty safe to say that aspects of one’s situation has some impact on happiness. How much is unclear.

The choices we make clearly result in outcomes that have profound impacts on our ability to be happy. This breaks down into three constituent areas itself. There are the choices themselves, and the outcomes/situations/circumstances they lead us to, plus the component of how hard we work at those choices (our engagement), and then finally our ability to manifest a feeling of satisfaction from the work, or from the act of making a choice in and of itself.

Satisfaction may arguably be another choice we make. Do we decide to be satisfied (if so, why?), or do external factors drive how satisfied we are with a given outcome? A higher degree of engagement and work toward the outcome tends to produce more satisfaction, but that’s not always enough, especially when we don’t live up to our expectations. Or sometimes just the act of making a tough choice believed the be the ‘right’ one can produce satisfaction (with ourselves), and thus a degree of happiness. These characteristics are elusive and seem interdependent on one another, as well as another elusive characteristic that we could probably refer to as our disposition. Our disposition is…often…affected by how happy we feel… (Catch-22)

Studies have shown that genetics play a role as well. In fact, given the somewhat circular nature of the points above, genetics may actually play the pivotal role. A person with higher or more easily raised levels of serotonin is likely to feel better about most circumstances that arise, and may well have an easier time navigating to and getting engaged in things that ultimately lead to more satisfactory outcomes. A self-fulfilling prophecy or sorts.

So our fates are sealed in a way. There’s not always much we can do about our perception of our situations, yet the actions we take as a result are in our control. But remarks along the lines of, “don’t worry, be happy” come off as insulting and insensitive by those who may be struggling for one reason or another. Our circumstances are what they are, and while we do have some control over them through our choices and actions, our inherent ability to find the good in all of it seems to be under the influence of genetics, or at least chemistry. Bypassing the idea that drugs are the answer (they can be), can we find effective ways to manipulate our dispositions?

To be continued…

Out of Time

timehasrunout

This is it.

As promised over a year ago, this will be the final post for this blog. The reasons for this are primarily:

  1. I think it has reached a point where I am saying many of the same things over and over, only differently. Not useless, but less than ground breaking.
  2. It is time for ME to move on, which has been one of the underlying themes as well.

I figured the last day of the year would be a good time to make the change, but one thing led to another, and I couldn’t get it done. So here we are. It is not easy. I like doing this, but, in addition to the reasons above, I don’t really have time for it anymore.

My plan a year ago was to work through all of the posts I had in a draft state to get them online before signing off. I failed. Just like what happens in life, time caught up and I didn’t get everything done I wanted to do. There are dozens still sitting incomplete. I have decided to let them go. I’m not a big fan of symbolic actions because I think they ultimately don’t work. We know we’re doing it symbolically, which belies our sincerity and speaks as much to a need for drama. Show business can be powerful, but the power is often fleeting. All of that is true in this case as well. So…I’m not suggesting I will not write again. Only that it’s time for this blog to rest in peace.

On the occasion that I go back and read previous posts I am at once astounded and proud of how good and insightful some of them are, and also disappointed at how incomplete or lacking in any innovative thinking others are. To the astute reader, I have revealed a lot here, about myself, and human nature in general.

It was never for anyone but me. I never promoted it or cared how many people looked on. It’s simply my art, and started as a way to get some basic thoughts down. Something about writing things down codifies them, forcing the writer to think rationally in complete sentences and to ground statements and feelings. A worthy exercise, and one I think I got better at over the seven years of posts.

It evolved, as I knew it would, though I found myself surprised at how it evolved. I don’t know how obvious it is, but there was actually a turning point in the nature and presentation of the subject matter. It would be interesting to bring someone in to read through it all to see if that stands out. It’s blatantly obvious to me when I read many of the posts before and after that time. It happened over a number of months, but began here (not coincidentally, that post is the most linked to throughout the rest of the blog, barely beating this one.), and began to get momentum here. Life changes, sometimes in ways that there is no undo button for.

As a sort of farewell gift, I offer up my top 50 favorite posts (not already linked elsewhere in this one), which was an agonizing process that probably wasn’t worth the time it took, especially since the list would likely be different if I did it again next week. I hope that for those who come along later, this might get you started with what’s behind the scenes here. In chronological order…

  1. Common Sense
  2. If the Voltage Gets High Enough…
  3. Boundaries
  4. Start by Doing a Good Job
  5. Religion and Politics
  6. Hierarchy of Money
  7. Science Has a PR Problem Too
  8. Policies
  9. Brass Tacks
  10. Battle of the Unknown
  11. Compromise
  12. Love Will Find a Way
  13. Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable
  14. The Curse of Perseverance
  15. Love and Trust
  16. I See Dead People
  17. Serendipity
  18. Dedication
  19. The Drain of Friction
  20. The Value of Images
  21. What Life Really Is
  22. Ideal World
  23. The Chosen Ones
  24. Forgive
  25. A Metaphor for Life
  26. The Result of Answers
  27. Creativity
  28. In the Flesh
  29. Move Past Go
  30. The Pretty Girl Gets Kissed
  31. A Beautiful Story
  32. Hope is Not a Strategy
  33. Morality
  34. Caged
  35. Free Will is Fake
  36. Burning Ships
  37. Blind Spot
  38. Delusions
  39. Why Love Wins
  40. Strength
  41. One Step
  42. Trust, the Hidden Part
  43. Probability: Facts, Statistics, and Reality
  44. Changes
  45. Pride and Face
  46. Comfort
  47. Atheism: Instrumental versus intrinsic
  48. Reasons or Excuses
  49. New Information
  50. The Opposite of Success
  51. Bonus: the whole Happiness series

 

And here are a few random facts.

  • The most visitors to the blog in one day was on 1/6/2015, after this post.
  • 2015 was the busiest year for visitors, with 2011 close behind.
  • 2015 also has the most published posts, at 81.
  • Nearly 2,000 unique people visited the blog throughout 2015.
  • After the United States, Germany had the most visitors.
  • The most viewed page, by far, was the home page.
  • The most looked at post was this one, followed by this. It appears traffic to the site was more influenced by my use of a couple of popular terms people search for than the actual content of the blog. Humbling, though not surprising.
  • The longest time gap between when an entry was started and when it was actually completed and posted was 56 months.
  • There are almost 1,000 comments posted across the 493 blog entries.
  • There are over 22,000 comments not posted, as they marked as spam. Unfortunately some of those are/were legitimate comments. I never got to sorting them all out. Sorry about that.
  • There were 520 images posted over the course of the blog. The images are very important, and often contained additional information/meaning.

To quote a friend, “It’s time.” I could drone on about all that I’m thinking as the final letters get typed, and the unused material gets trashed, but it’s a frivolous delay of what I have decided.

It’s a lot like life. Time runs out while we still have things on our to do list.

I do have another potential endeavor in the works. If anything gets going on that I may return here to leave a trail of bread crumbs to it.

And with that, I bid you adieu.

All the best,

David Stewart

 

 

 

 

Next Page »



%d bloggers like this: