Posts Tagged ‘happiness’

If Emotion is so Central to Human Nature, Why Can it Be Harmful?

March 7, 2018

The answer is the same as why some of us tend to be overweight. In earlier stages of human development when starvation was commonplace, it was advantageous to eat foods that would load the body with fat. That time has passed and there is no longer a need to load the body with fat.

So in spite of social constraints, passions overwhelm time and time again. This is due to the basic architecture of mental life. The basic neural circuitry of emotion that we are born with is what worked best for the last 50,000 human generations not the last 500 generations. Goleman writes in his book “Emotional Intelligence,” “The slow deliberate forces of evolution that have shaped our emotions have done their work over the course of a million years; the last 10,000 years—despite having witnessed the rapid rise of human civilization and the explosion of the human population from five million to five billion—have left little imprint on our biological template for emotional life.” Given this explosive increase in population, the need for emotional intelligence has greatly increased. Unfortunately, our appraisal of every personal encounter and our responses to it are shaped not just by our rational judgments or our personal history, but also by our distant ancestral past. “In short, we too often confront postmodern dilemmas with an emotional repertoire tailored to the urgencies of the Pleistocene.”

Goleman continues, “All emotions are, in essence, impulses to act, the instant plans for handling life that evolution has instilled in us. The very root of the word emotion is “motere”, the Latin verb “to move,” plus the prefix “e-“ to connote “move away,” suggesting that a tendency to act is implicit in every emotion. That emotions lead to actions is most obvious in watching animals or children; it is only in “civilized” adults that we often find the great anomaly in the animal kingdom, emotions—root impulses to act—divorced from obvious action.”

Emotions have distinctive biological signatures:

*Anger— blood flows to the hands. This makes it easier to grasp a weapon or strike at a foe. Heart rate increases and crush of hormones such as adrenaline generates a pulse of energy strong enough for vigorous action.

*Fear—Blood goes to the large skeletal muscles, like the legs, making it easier to flee. This makes the face blanch as blood is shunted away from it (creating the feeling that blood “runs cold”). Simultaneously, the body freezes, if only for a moment, perhaps allowing time to gauge whether hiding might be a better reaction. Circuits in the brain’s emotional center trigger a flood of hormones that put the body on general alert. This makes it edgy and ready for action. Attention fixates on the threat at hand to better evaluate what response to make.

*Happiness—Here the main biological change is an increased activity in a brain center that inhibits negative feelings and fosters an increase in available energy, and a quieting of those that generate worrisome thoughts. There is no particular shift in physiology but a quiescence, which makes the body recover more quickly from the biological arousal of upsetting emotions. This configuration offers the body a general rest, as well as readiness and enthusiasm for whatever task is at hand and for striving toward a great variety of goals.

*Love—Tender feelings and sexual satisfaction entail parasympathetic arousal, which is the physiological opposite of the “fight or flight” mobilization shared by fear and anger. The parasympathetic pattern dubbed the “relaxation response,” is a bodywide set of reactions that generates a general state of calm and contentment, facilitating cooperation. [Entering “relaxation response” into the search block for the healthy memory blog will produce many posts on the relaxation response, to include how to induce the relaxation response, and the many benefits of the relaxation response]

*Surprise—The lifting of eyebrows in surprise allows the taking in of a larger visual sweep and also permits more light to strike the retina, allowing more information about the unexpected event, making it easier to figure out what is going on and concoct the best plan for action.

*Disgust—An expression of disgust looks the same around the world and sends the identical message: something is offensive in taste or smell, or metaphorically so. The facial expression of disgust—the upper lip curled to the side as the nose wrinkles slightly—suggests a primordial attempt, as Darwin observed, to close the nostril against a noxious odor to to spit out a poisonous food.

*Sadness—A main function of sadness is to help adjust to a significant loss, such as the death of someone close or a major disappointment . It brings a drop in energy and enthusiasm for life’s activities, particularly diversions and pleasures, and, as it portends an approaching depression, slows the body’s metabolism. This withdrawal creates the opportunity to mourn a loss or frustrated hope, grasp its consequences for one’s life, and, as energy returns, plan new beginnings. This loss of energy might have been kept saddened and vulnerable early humans close to home, where they were safer.

The Penultimate Post from “How to Fail At Almost Everything and Still win Big”

May 1, 2017

Scott Adams has chapters on on a variety of other topics, including humor, which is obviously appropriate.  He is big on diet, fitness, and happiness.  His chapter on diet is quite extensive.  Some my want to buy this book on the basis of this chapter alone.  He also provides good advice on how to move to a healthy diet, and the advice sounds compelling.  Similarly his advice on exercise is quite good and this also includes advice on how to realistically exercise when the mood is not appropriate.  Adams emphasizes diet and exercise as they provide the energy that is essential for success.

It was disturbing to find Scientology and Dianetics in Adams’s book.  He asks the question “Does Dianetics work in terms of creating good outcomes for its followers? and responds with, “I have no data to answer that question.”  Is it that Adams is so busy that he is unable to follow the news and the court cases against Dianetics.  Not only does Dianetics not work, but it causes serious harm and has destroyed lives.  It is interesting to note that the founder of Dianetics, L.  Ron Hubbard was a science fiction writer.  He wrote that the way to become rich in today’s world was to create a religion.  So he did so.  He created Scientology, wrote Dianetics, and became obscenely wealthy.  Most of the time he lived on his yacht where it was easy to escape capture.   So here is a case where someone writes that the way to become wealthy is to create a religious scam, and does so.  It is amazing how people can be told that they are going to be defrauded and still be able to be defrauded. Most definitely Scientology is to be avoided.

Adams also has a chapter on happiness that begins with the statement, “The only reasonable goal in life is maximizing your total lifetime experience of something called happiness.”  It is quite clear from this chapter that Adams does not regard happiness as being wealthy.  For him, happiness requires doing something for the public good, and he provides examples in his book  In this respect, Adams book reminds HM of Victor Stretcher’s book, “Life on Purpose” and the distinction between eudaemonic versus hedonic pursuits.  Both agree that eudaemonic but not hedonic pursuits lead to happiness, although Adams does not use the term eudaemonic.  Both also provide advice on healthy lifestyles that are necessary for pursuing success and happiness.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Managing Your Attitude

April 27, 2017

“Managing Your Attitude” is the title of a chapter in Scott Adams’ How to Fail At Almost Everything and Still Win Big.”  Adams writes, “Your attitude affects everything you do in your quest for success and happiness.  A positive attitude is an important tool.  It’s important to get it right.  The best way to manage your attitude is by understanding your basic nature as a moist robot that can be programmed for happiness if you understand the user interface.”  This is a geeky way of saying that you control your thoughts and by controlling your thoughts you are able to manage your attitude.  This point has been made in previous healthymemory blog posts.

Although Adams makes no mention of this, the best way of managing your attitude is via mindfulness and meditation, about which many posts have been written.  Here are some tips offered by Adams.  “A simple trick you might try involves increasing your ratio of happy thoughts to disturbing thoughts.  If your life doesn’t provide you with plenty of happy thoughts to draw upon, try daydreaming of wonderful things in the future. …If you imagine winning a Nobel Prize, buying your own private island, or playing in the NBA, don’t worry that those things are unlikely. Putting yourself in that imagination-fueled frame of mind will pep you up.  Imagination is the interface to your attitude.  You can literally imagine yourself to higher levels of energy.”

However, if you are in a truly bad mood, exercise, nutrition, sleep, and time are helpful.  Once you return to you baseline level of happiness, you’ll be in a better position to get the benefits of daydreaming.

Adams also writes, “A powerful variation on the daydreaming method involves working on projects that have a real chance of changing the world, helping humanity.  Adams tries to have one or more change-the-world projects going at all times.

Adams also correctly notes that smiling makes us feel better even if the smile is fake.  When you’re in a bad mood the physical act of forcing a smile may trigger the feel-good-chemistry in our brains that is associated with happiness.

This smiling-makes-you-happy phenomenon is part of a larger and highly useful phenomenon of faking it until you make it.  He says that two-way causation can be found in a wide variety of human activities.  He’s discovered that acting confident makes you feel more confident.  Feeling energetic makes us want to  play a sport, but playing a sport will also make us feel energetic.

Adams notes the there is a bonus to smiling, “as it makes us more attractive to others.  When we’re more attractive, people respond with more respect and consideration, more smiles, and sometime even lust.  That’s exactly the sort of thing that can cheer us up.”

How Accurately Can We Predict Our Future Feelings?

August 12, 2015

This is an important question to ask as it affects the decisions we make.   This question was addressed in an article titled, “Wouldn’t It Be Nice?  Predicting Future Feelings” by George Loewenstein and David Schkade in the book, Well-Being:  The Foundations of Hedonic Psychology edited by Daniel Kahneman, Ed Diener, and Norbert Schwarz.

The chapter begins by stating three principles:
1.   People often hold incorrect intuitive theories about the determinants of happiness, which in turn lead to errors when predictions are based on them.
2.  Different considerations might be salient when predicting future feelings than those that actually influence experienced feelings.
3.  When in a “cold” state people often have difficulty imagining how they would fel or what they might do if they were in a “hot” state—for example, angry, hungry, in pain, or sexually excited.  It may also be the case that, when in a hot state, people frequently have difficulty imagining that they will inevitably cool off eventually.    Such “hot/cold” empathy gaps can lead to errors in predicting both feelings and behavior.

The authors also offer ideas as to why we typically fail to learn from experience.  “Learning from experience does not seem to offer a broad cure for prediction errors because intuitive theories are often resistant to change, memories of experiences are often themselves biased or incomplete, and experiences rarely repeat themselves often enough to make diagnostic patterns noticeable.”

Take the lottery, for example.  Many think that all their problems will be over if only they win the lottery.  Here are the results from winners of lotteries varying between $50k and $100k.  The average rating of their happiness was 4.0 on a 5.0 scale.   A control group of comparable individuals rated their average happiness as 3.82, suggesting that the lottery boozed their happiness by about 0.18.  Consider also the rated happiness of people who had experienced a disability from an accident, which was 2.96.  This result is typical.  We tend to overestimate the happiness that good things bring, and overestimate the sadness that bad things bring.  We tend to adapt to our conditions be they good or bad.

We also tend to over predict how fearful we shall be in potentially threatening situations.  For example, military trains undergoing parachute training over predicted they level of fear they experience on the first and most difficult jump.

Forty-four dental patients were interviewed both before and after dental a dental appointment.  On average, patients over predicted the degree of pain they would experience.  The mean expected level of pain was 16.5 and the reported actual level of experienced pain was 9.0.  The correlation between expected and experienced pain was 0.16, which is quite small.

We can also under predict pain.  A majority if expectant mothers stated a desire and intention not to use anesthesia  during childbirth, but reversed their prior decision when they went into labor.  This reversal of preference occurred among not only women giving birth for the first time, but also for those who had previously experienced the pain of childbirth.

There are also differences between healthy and sick people’s attitudes toward “heroic measures”  to extend the lives of the terminally ill.  Many healthy Americans, this healthy American included, state that we don’t want to die in a nursing home or hospital or, worse yet, an intensive-care unit, but 90 percent of dying patients, most of whom die in acute-care hospital, view the care they receive favorably.

In another study, different groups of respondents were asked whether they would accept a grueling course of chemotherapy if it would extend their lives by three months.  No radiotherapists said they would accept the chemotherapy, only 6 percent of the oncologists, and 10 percent of healthy people, but 42 percent of current cancer patients said that they would.   Another study found that 58 percent of patients with serious illnesses said that when death was near they would want treatment, even if it prolonged life by just a week.

The experienced quality of life of sick persons also appears to be underestimated.  In a study of 126 elderly outpatients with five common chronic diseases (arthritis, ischemic heart disease, chronic pulmonary disease, diabetes mellitus, and cancer) found that these patients generally rated their quality of life to be slightly worse than, “good, no major complaints.:

We are especially prone to mis-predict our behavior under temptation or duress.  See the health memory blog post “Good vs. Evil.”  We tend to overestimate the strength of our own willpower and to underestimate the influence of being in a hot state.  Included here are matters of sexual desire, drug craving, curiosity, the urge to spend, and hunger.

It would be good to conclude by presenting the results of the mean rang of different items with respect to producing happiness.

The importance of family life is most important, followed by friends, a satisfying job, and a high income.  It is noteworthy that income comes in last.  Obviously a certain amount of income is required for a satisfactory family life, but once a particular level of income has been reached, we do not become much happier.  $75k is the figure commonly cited and that will likely increase over time and be a function of circumstances.  However, beyond providing security and the basic comforts of life, it does not add much happiness.  I would argue that the pursuit of wealth is primarily a matter of ego and prestige, rather than living a satisfying life, per se.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.