04 March 2007

Happiness is When You Stop Slamming Your Own Head Against the Wall Part II

People inherit a "set point" for happiness. But it is what people do with that inherited "set point" that determines their actual happiness.
Tiberius looks again to ancient philosophers who suggested people should develop their character if they wanted to have a good life. One way to do that is to gain some perspective on your life. Volunteer at a homeless shelter for even a day or two and you'll quickly realize how fortunate you are.

"We all spend too much time being upset over things that really don't matter that much," Tiberius says. "You know, something like worrying that your new kitchen cabinets won't match the countertops or something like that and calling all your friends to complain about it. We'd all be happier if we tried harder to keep our reactions proportional to the events in our life. And the fastest way I know to do that is to get outside of ourselves and do something for someone else."

But don't go outside expecting to find happiness. Go outside to gain perspective and to build character. The happiness that happens comes from inside yourself, when you stop slamming your head against the wall.
Guess what? You were sold a bill of goods. Nothing out there can make you happy. Nothing. You want to know why? Because things change. You change. That beautiful girl you married changes. Women that are worth knowing really don’t care what kind of car you drive. Men who are worth knowing really aren’t as concerned with the smoothness of your skin as they are the love in your eyes. It’s been said before, and it will be said again - The only thing that doesn’t change is that we live in a world of change.

As important as happiness feels to us, it is not the meaning of life.
To over-simplify things down to the basic evolutionary origin, happiness is what we feel when we achieve a goal. It's the indicator of success. (The actual emotion of happiness is far more complex in rats, never mind humans, but let's start with the simplest possible case.) By seeking "happiness" as a pure thing, independent of any goals, we are in essence short-circuiting the system.

In terms of brain function, happiness is a balance of brain activity--reflected in brain wave behaviour.
For general health and wellness purposes, we need all the brain wave types, but we need our brain to have the flexibility and resilience to be able to balance the brain wave activity as necessary for what we are doing at any one time.
What stops our brain from having this balance all the time?
The big 6:
  1. Injury
  2. Medications, including alcohol
  3. Fatigue
  4. Emotional distress
  5. Pain
  6. Stress

These 6 types of problems tend to create a pattern in our brain's activity that is hard to shift.

In chaos theory, we would call this pattern a "chaotic attractor". Getting "stuck" in a specific kind of brain behaviour is like being caught in an attractor.

What we are looking for is balance--the well-lived life. Humans are notoriously bad at predicting what will cause them the greatest happiness. We need to learn to listen to our true inner needs. To do that, we have to provide ourselves time away from noisy distractions and clamoring demands--and learn to listen to the voices behind the voices.

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Blogger Fat Knowledge said...


Good stuff.

One of the issues with looking at happiness is that it is a term that encompasses many things that are not all the same. Happiness can mean pleasure, joy, contentment, life satisfaction or achievement (and probably others as well).

I found using a precise definition of happiness to be very helpful to me when thinking about this topic.

Seeking pleasure or contentment or life satisfaction are all very different things. I agree that you shouldn't set pleasure as the meaning of life, but using life satisfaction works for me.

Of course, you and all your readers can read more of my thoughts on happiness here.

Sunday, 04 March, 2007  
Blogger al fin said...

Life satisfaction is a good approximation of happiness.

Contentment may come with wisdom, but is reportedly rare among the very ambitious, driven person.

For some people, happiness is riding the big wave--balancing on the edge of disaster while juggling several balls at one time. Stopping to contemplate their situation could spell disaster.

Our world needs all the talent it can get right now.

I don't think pleasure has ever qualified as happiness, given the fleeting nature of most pleasures. A sense of well-being based upon reaching a major goal can last for days, weeks, or months. Far longer than the high from sex, a good meal, or a runner's high.

But the person needs to be working toward worthy goals at all times. A person needs reason for being satisfied with himself. Children are full of self-esteem, while narcissistic and stuck in a psychological neoteny--all because of peculiar modern methods of education and child-raising.

Self-satisfaction can be downright silly if not based on anything substantial.

Still, better to be delusionally happy than realistically miserable, as Seligman suggests.

Monday, 05 March, 2007  

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“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

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