Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The KEY to HAPPINESS from a neuroscientist


-Results show that people who have everything they want and lose everything they don't want are NOT happier than anyone else

-Happiness is about the mental habits you practice from moment to moment.

Don't understand? Let me try to explain..

Some will already know that the brain works in a similar way to training your muscles. Just like how the more you train your biceps the stronger they become, the more you THINK about something the stronger that mental thought becomes, and it becomes easier to think about it.


Close your eyes and think about something you don't like about yourself.

Done? I bet you managed to bring the answer into your thoughts pretty quickly right? Thats because you've thought about this before. A LOT. You are GOOD at realising your flaws. People who are genuinely "happy" are GOOD at realising strengths.

Some people think about their flaws so much they start to see it in other people. You know the quote, "takes one to know one", the more you think about things that are wrong in your life, things that make you inadequate, the more you start to see it everywhere. It's because this part of the brain is the most active, and people like this are more often than not severely depressed. 

But if I asked you to think about someone who inspires you and you look up to, and the quality that this person possesses that makes you think this way, it will probably take you a little longer. Happiness is about controlling, cultivating and enhancing those thoughts.

Watch this video if you found this at all interesting:

It is important NOT to equate this with "The Secret" stuff. There's nothing remotely like "positive thinking gets you free things" in this entire YouTube. It is about how one can be happy.

"The secret" aka "law of positive attraction" is BS. Great example: Don't worry about your bills and make yourself sick. But don't just sit there visualizing how awesome it would be to have all your bills paid off, to me that's fucking stupid as it is self delusional.

She's talking about cultivating meditative states like the Brahmaviharas. Essentially loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity. The idea is that they all work together and extend outwards uniformly and unconditionally (ie: we regard enemies the same as our friends or ourselves, etc). It's not 'positive thinking', because that implies a kind of compartmentalization or denial of the negative, and this is the total opposite. After all that would be the very antithesis of Equanimity. It's more about finding more natural joy where we can within life, making it more natural through practice, and producing more of it ourselves for the benefit of others, making these states more accessible and natural so we grow to embody these traits in our lives.

What the TED talk actually talked about was fairly uncontroversial, in my view.

Thinking in certain ways now will cultivate thinking patterns in the future. The brain works by building pathways when it first encounters an experience, and the next time it encounters a similar situation, it will tend to take the shortest route down those old pathways rather than create new ones.

If you are quick to anger today, you will be quicker to anger tomorrow.

If you are quick to forgive today, you will be quicker to forgive tomorrow.

If you are quick to recover your mood and stay happy, you will be quicker to recover your mood tomorrow.

"Contemplatives" are simply people who have tried to actually sit down and pay attention to the habits of their mind, so that they might clear away unhelpful habits, and cultivate helpful ones. There's no reason to flee if you hear their traditions brought up in order to figure out what might work in the modern world.

If someone had a compulsive need to get really angry at every little thing people do... wouldn't it be a good idea for them to go sit in peace for a little while and get their thinking straightened out as to why they keep doing this? It's only prudent. That's what a contemplative is doing.

What about the thing about "positive thinking"? I do think it's important but not that kind of "The Secret" hogwash. I have a different approach. To begin with, I may have no accomplishments to start with, but telling myself I'm a failure makes it harder for me to actually go out and achieve. I'm not talking about self-delusion like "I'm so fucking pro man." I'm thinking more along the lines of "I have potential, and if I work hard I can achieve what I want." Basically just ignore the "I SUCK I SUCK I SUCK" bit. Even if I didn't succeed in the first place, it tells me something honest about myself and requires me to realize that, "in the fist place", I sucked, I don't have yet the knowledge or the skill, a lot of times I don't even have the will. So I gotta suffer a little, even live unhappy a little, so I can learn something.

In addition, people can give up easily, including me sometimes, because of tired of the PAIN and SUFFERING... it sucks to hurt all the time and very hard to stop focusing on it because pain has a way of keeping my attention. So, in order to achieve, does that mean I should ignore and lock away the negatives in my life? No, I believe that we can slowly train ourselves to look for happiness from within instead of happiness from the material world or by people's expectation imposed onto us. Rather than repressing the negative we should learn to totally accept it and be at peace with it. It won't happen overnight that we can change the habits and our years of negative wiring. But it is possible, when we still have these little things called "hope" and "faith". These two hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying point to build courage when courage seems to fail, to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith, to create hope when hope becomes forlorn.

Key notes:
- Assuming you suck makes it harder to try to not suck. (http://www.businessweek.com/lifestyle/content/healthday/637439.html)

- People who base their own self-worth on what others think and not on their value as human beings might pay a mental and physical price (http://www.apa.org/monitor/dec02/selfesteem.aspx). 

Results: Overall, students were found to have a high level of self-esteem. When students were asked about what they base their self-worth on, more than 80 percent said academic competence, 77 percent said their family's support, 66 percent said doing better than others, and 65 percent--70 percent of which were women--said their appearance.

College students who based their self-worth on academic performance did not receive higher grades despite being highly motivated and studying more hours each week than students who did not rate academic performance as important to their self-esteem, Crocker found. Students who based their self-worth on academic outcomes also were more likely to report conflicts with professors and greater stress.

It is important to know how you see yourself, rather than how would others see yourself. You are the mold of your life, shape it the way that will bring you happiness.

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