Happy at All Cost


Are We Having Fun Yet?

Most people think life sucks, and then you die.  Not me.  I beg to differ.
I think life sucks, then you get cancer, then your dog dies, your wife leaves you,
the cancer goes into remission, you get a new dog, you get remarried, you owe ten million dollars in medical bills
but you work hard for 35 years and you pay it back and then one day you have a massive stroke,
your whole right side is paralysed, you have to limp along the streets and speak out of the left side of your mouth and drool
but you go into rehabilitation and regain the power to walk and the power to talk
and then one day you step off a curb at 67th Street, and BANG you get hit by a city bus and then you die.  Maybe.

- Denis Leary

I don't want to die now, but is there a purpose for the second half of life other than doting on your grandkids and budgeting for extras?  Is success measured in smugness?  Because you're ageing better (physically or financially) than others of your generation?  If so, then why bother living?  Probably the main reason assisted suicide is fought with such fervour is because everyone fears they'll want it for themselves some day (they can already feel the tug).  Their present self, still imbedded in the web of communication, the fabric of life, wants to manipulate the future from the vantage point of now.

I think a person who is ageing well has the means to engineer situations wherein knowledge accumulated over a lifetime of diligence can be brought to bear to provide the winning edge in a fair contest.  Then getting old would be tolerable because the old would be respected.

Personalities are myths.  All culture is based on myth.  The "average man" is a myth.  We are cascading chemical and physical reactions set in motion æons ago.  We are living chaos, changing from day to day as we interact.  We serve a larger purpose - no, not God, but Existence.

Will the science of neuroendocrinology ever become so exact that I can decide which features I want to carry into old age and pharmacology can deliver the vehicle I need to ensure my brain chemicals are just so, allowing me to feel continuing pleasure at still accomplishing feats normally the province of those much younger?  Of course, just like steroids, this enhancement would have a price.  An ageing body, pushed beyond its reasonable endurance level, could stress itself right out of mobility.  Or respire-ability.

Should happy pills be freely available to everyone?  Would everyone sit around being happy, eating less and less, smiling themselves away?  Would that thin the population out (ha ha) so that the only ones left were those who found enough happiness naturally?  (Happy pills would need to be hangover-free to really answer this.)  Maybe the ones left would be the ones able to do without happiness.  (Somehow, that world doesn't sound like a very appealing place.)

You're Happy. Imagine That!: Why People Are So Bad at Predicting What Will Make Them Feel Good

by Judy Stoffman

Real estate agents say you should buy the worst house in the toniest neighbourhood rather than the best house on a modest street.  But Daniel Gilbert, a Harvard University psychology professor, believes such a purchase is rarely a prescription for happiness.  Before you sign that offer to purchase, consider how you'll feel coming home each day to a dump amidst the mansions.  "It will make you feel bad because the brain is a difference detector; almost everything that it senses, it senses as a comparison," he says in Toronto to talk about his book Stumbling on Happiness.

The capacity to imagine future happiness or unhappiness - called "affective forecasting" - is, Gilbert says, what distinguishes us from other animals.  As he puts it, "We don't have to actually have gall bladder surgery or lounge around on a Caribbean beach to know that one of these is better than another."  Gilbert has spent 15 years at Harvard's Social Cognition and Emotion laboratory investigating how people imagine what will make them happy, and why they so often get it wrong.  He has found that small pleasures like coming home to a house no worse than the neighbour's is more likely to yield long-term joy than inheriting $1 million, getting a big promotion or being elected president.  "It's the frequency and not the intensity of positive events in your life that leads to happiness, like comfortable shoes or single malt scotch," he says.

Gilbert's happiness level increased when he was hired by Harvard, not because of the prestige but because he could walk to work.  Cargo pants also make him happy; he likes to buy them 5 or 6 at a time, though he wore a black sports jacket and well-tailored black trousers for our interview in the office of his publisher, Knopf Canada.  Although we humans have the capacity to imagine what will make us happy lodged in our well-developed frontal lobes, we are not good at it.  It's the way we consistently err that fascinates the professor.  His researchers at Harvard interviewed voters before and after recent US elections who said they would be extremely unhappy if George W Bush won and would likely move to Canada - but who reported after the vote that they feel just fine.

"In prospect it always seems so dire," he says.

The Harvard researchers have also done extensive interviews with sports fans who just know they'll never smile again if their team loses but, of course, recover speedily after a loss.  "The human brain mispredicts the sources of its own satisfaction," Gilbert says, "and the reason is that we fail to understand how quickly we will adapt to both positive and negative events.  People are consistently surprised by how quickly the abnormal becomes normal, the extraordinary becomes ordinary.  When people say I could never get used to that, they are almost always wrong."

Gilbert believes we have an emotional immune system that helps us regain our equilibrium after catastrophic events.  The studies of Holocaust survivors are clear - most went on to lead happy and productive lives," he says.  He also cites extensive research to show that disabled people and those who have had cancer are just as likely to report that they are happy as the able-bodied and healthy.  "I am not saying that losing a leg won't change you in profound ways.  But it won't lower your day-to-day happiness in the long run."

Gilbert is not working in a vacuum.  He is one of a growing number of scholars engaged in the relatively new field of happiness studies, an interdisciplinary area comprising psychologists, neuroscientists, philosophers and economists.  At Harvard, economists Max Bazerman, Sendhil Mullainathan and David Laibson are notable in the field.  A behavioural economist, Laibson is an expert on retirement-savings plans who studies why people tend to devalue the future in favour of present gratification.  At Princeton, Daniel Kahneman has co-written a standard work, Well-Being: The Foundations of Hedonic Psychology.  Ed Diener at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne is studying the relationship of income to happiness.  Launched in 2000, there is even a peer-reviewed Journal of Happiness Studies, of which Diener is co-editor.

While some see it as a soft subject, understanding happiness may be extremely relevant today, says moral philosopher Sissela Bok, due to a worldwide rise in living and health standards and a drop in birth rates and infant mortality.  More people expect to be happy.

In Canada, University of British Columbia economist John Helliwell is the country's leading figure in happiness studies.  Helliwell, whose book Globalization and Well-Being won the Donner Prize in 2003, has studied the happiness that comes from social affiliation and its relationship to productivity.

One of the problems in happiness studies is how to measure outcomes.  You can't build a science on something that can't be measured.  Gilbert, however, says that self-reporting, the method used by his lab, is perfectly reliable.  "We just ask people how they feel right now.  The eye doctor relies on you telling him what you see.  Vision, like happiness, is subjective, yet they have built a whole science of optometry on this."

Is there a better way to predict what will make us happy than using our imagination?

"Yes," he says, "but no one wants to use it.  It's called surrugation, and it circumvents biases and errors.  If you want to know how happy you'll be if you win the lottery, ask a lottery winner - it's a mixed blessing.  Will having children make you happy?  Observe people who have them."

People discount this approach because of what Gilbert calls the myth of fingerprints.  "Most of us have the illusion of uniqueness," he says.  "We believe that other people's reactions won't tell us about our likes and dislikes.  But we are remarkably similar.  We share the same biology, and others' experiences can teach us a great deal about our own.  As long as we maintain our illusions about our uniqueness, we will continue to ignore information that's in front of our noses."

Source: thestar.com Toronto Star 21 May 2006

Happy Hour

by Carlin Flora

Summary: We search for happiness in eager anticipation and joyful memories, but we're better off paying attention to each moment as it passes.

Jason Carpenter was one of those Red Sox fans - determined, passionate and absolutely convinced that a World Series win would be a life-changing event.  The baseball team famously botched an easy win during the 1986 championships, and Carpenter, 13 at the time, broke down in sobs.  Yet he never gave up on his dream: that the Red Sox would one day prove they deserved his unwavering devotion.  "I imagined crying with happiness," he says.  Last fall, Carpenter, now 31 and living in New York City, saw his dream come true when his team beat the Yankees - their blood rivals - in the league championships, after the biggest comeback in baseball history.  Carpenter was over the moon.  "I went nuts with 200 of my closest 'strangers,' all displaced Boston fans, partying in the streets deep in the heart of enemy territory until 4am."

With the next morning, though, came the darker side of triumph.  Carpenter's elation had worn off.  "I was wondering what to do with myself.  I was depressed."  Years of longing for a win had boiled down to a fleeting moment of bliss.  What Carpenter had believed his whole life would make him happy actually happened - and then he faced...nothingness.

The things we expect will bring us lasting joy rarely do.  Whether it's losing 25 pounds, getting a major promotion or watching a troupe of perennial losers finally win the big one, long-anticipated events give us a swell of glee...and then we settle back into being just about as happy as we've always been.  Most of us have a happiness "set point," fixed by temperament and early life experience, which is very difficult to shift.  Whether you win the lottery or wind up in a wheelchair, within a year or two you generally end up just about as happy (or unhappy) as you started out.

Yet the quest for happiness isn't futile.  Psychologists now believe that many of us can turn the well-being thermostat up or down a few notches by changing how we think about anticipation, memory and the present moment.  Our sense of well-being is intimately tied into our perception of time.  The problem is that we usually get it wrong.  Memory tricks us - we don't remember our experiences properly, and that leaves us unable to accurately imagine the way we'll feel in the future.  At the same time, expectations mislead us: we never learn to predict what will make us happy, or how to anticipate the impact of major life experiences.

Focusing on the moment may help us understand how to be happy.  Besides, we have a built-in tendency to grow more cheerful as we get older: ageing helps us ignore the negative and shift our attention toward the positive.  Finding happiness isn't hopeless - it seems to be just a question of time.

Youth is a downer, it turns out.  Young people naturally pay more attention to the negative.  Older people are faster than younger people to orient to smiling faces rather than scowling ones in advertisements, finds Linda Carstensen, a professor of psychology at Stanford who studies how age influences time perception and goals.  Similarly, young people are quicker to pick up on negative stimuli.  This youthful attention to the bad may be a necessary part of growing up - a cognitive mechanism that helps with survival.  Since the young are focused on new (and therefore possibly dangerous) experiences and acquaintances, they may be more likely to put themselves in harm's way.  "Young people need to take risks, and as such, they need to pay attention to the potentially negative, to recognise the lion or bear that is going to jump out at them," Carstensen explains.  As we grow older, though, we are increasingly drawn to the familiar, like close friends and relatives.  If given a chance to meet either their favourite author or a close friend for lunch, younger people chose the former, while older people preferred the latter.

Carstensen's findings shatter the stereotype of seniors as a crabby bunch.  When she spent one week frequently monitoring the moods of 184 adults, aged 18 to 94, she saw that older people experienced highly positive emotional experiences for longer periods of time than younger people, and their highly negative emotional experiences subsided more quickly.  In other research, she showed that their memories were in general more positive.  The sunny habit of revising history may explain why seniors tend not to wallow in bad moods: pleasant memories are always invading their thoughts, and these fond recollections may "wash away" anger or sadness.  "There is no empirical evidence that older people are grouchy," she says, although personality studies have revealed that they do tend to care less about what other people think of them.

Carstensen thinks this shift toward the positive occurs because as we age, we become aware, consciously or not, that time is running out.  The awareness of life's fragility turns our attention to the present moment, so we worry less.  The potential missteps and possible catastrophes that cloud a young person's vision of the future fade away.  "If you think about the things you worry about - getting a job, finding a mate or an apartment - they are almost always concerns about the future," she says.  The gap between ambition and achievement, a major source of stress and unhappiness for young people, also narrows with age.  As we get older, we either achieve our goals or replace them with more reachable aims.

Older people's positivity bias can even boost their memories.  The elderly generally do poorly on tests of short-term memory.  But when Joseph Mikels, a post-doctoral fellow in psychology at Stanford and researcher in Carstensen's lab, showed them joyful scenes of babies and puppies, older adults demonstrated better visual memory than their younger counterparts.  He theorises that they are able to overcome their cognitive handicaps because they are highly motivated to remember images that match up with their personal goals of fostering warm relationships.

These cheerful habits of mind can also be adopted by young people, especially when a chapter of life is coming to a close.  Think of getting ready to move to a new city.  Annoyances or grudges toward local friends recede; memories of good times flood your mind.  Your awareness that your time with them is finite pushes the things you'll miss about them to the foreground, and the present moment comes more clearly into focus.  Mikels says that conjuring this state of mind, simply by appreciating life's brevity, could help young people find the contentment that comes more naturally to their elders.

Carstensen and her team are now studying Buddhist meditators, to see how their practice alters their perception of time.  Her theory is that meditation may cultivate a mind-set similar to an old person's, since it shuts out thoughts of the past and the future in favour of the present.  "The religion is centred around the fact that we could die at any moment," she says.

Related research by psychologist Richard Davidson at the University of Wisconsin has in fact shown that meditation may change how the brain works.  He measured brain activity in people who had finished 8 weeks of meditation training and found significantly more activity in the left prefrontal cortex, a region associated with positive feelings and pursuit of goals.  More recently, Davidson traveled to India to measure the brain activity of Buddhist monks who had each spent at least 10,000 hours in meditation.  The activity in their left prefrontal cortex far exceeded that in their right prefrontal cortex, which is the brain's home for negative emotions and anxiety.  Most of us don't have 10,000 free hours to devote to brain resculpturing.  But the finding suggests that if we train ourselves to become more mindful and slow down our sense of passing time, we can learn to monitor our moods and thoughts before they spiral downward.  We can, in other words, make ourselves happier.

In the quest for happiness, most of us try to guess what the future might bring, then project our current selves - with all of our hopes, quirks and predilections - into that unknown.  We use a fuzzy image of the future to make all kinds of decisions, whether it's what to make for dinner or whom to marry.  Those predictions are essential to happiness - and they are almost always wrong, finds Daniel Gilbert, professor of psychology at Harvard.  As a result, our efforts to improve our lives often fall flat.

Working with Tim Wilson, professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, Gilbert has shown that we are remarkably bad at "affective forecasting," or predicting how we'll feel in the future.  The good things are never as good as we imagine they'll be; the bad things are never as bad.  We think of ourselves as both more fragile and more easily satisfied than we really are.  We overestimate the impact of a good turn of event: we think that a fresh career or a new relationship will permanently change us, when all it does is provide a short-term mood boost.  On the other hand, we are also much more resilient than we give ourselves credit for.  Most of us do recover emotionally from life's traumas, whether it's the death of a close friend or a bitter divorce.

"Memory is a flawed partner to anticipation," explains Gilbert.  "If I ask you to remember a terrorist attack, you will instantly think of September 11, not because it's a prototypical act of terrorism but because it's so unrepresentative."  But if your memory provides you with the example of September 11 as a representative for all terrorist attacks, you're very likely to mispredict how you'll feel in response to future attacks.  You expect that you will feel the way you did after September 11, yet because the vast majority of terrorist attacks are very small and involve the loss of relatively few lives, you would probably be a lot less upset and recover more quickly.  The bright side to forecasting errors like this is that they expose our built-in psychological immune system, as Gilbert calls it, which ensures we will survive future horrors we can't predict.

There are many other reasons why we have such trouble imagining how we'll feel in the future: we don't account for our own internal spin-room, the rationalisation techniques we use to explain away bad situations.  ("She wasn't right for me anyway.")  We also tend to anticipate the most dramatic symbol of a future event.  If it's a promotion, for example, we fantasise about the moment the boss breaks the news.  What we forget is that life goes on after the congratulatory handshake - there will still be a job to do, a commute to endure and a family to raise.

Even simple choices between concrete alternatives are plagued by forecasting errors, shows Christopher Hsee, an economist from the University of Chicago.  As a result, we have a hard time picking the job, the house or the car that will make us happiest.  That's because there is a big difference between the criteria we use to choose something and the criteria we use to evaluate it later.  If, for example, you're hemming and hawing over whether to buy a top-of-the-line camera that is bulky and heavy or a second-best model that's easier to carry, the comparative difference in picture quality may steer you toward the unwieldy model.  Once you get the fancy camera home, though, you no longer have the lesser-quality photo to compare it with.  All you notice is that it's a hassle to lug around - and as a result you barely use it.  A better strategy is to try to get a holistic impression of each experience or product you're contemplating, Hsee says.  Just consider the first camera and imagine how it would be to use it, without immediately comparing it with the second.

Gilbert has another solution to the prediction problem: asking other people for advice.  "Grandmothers, rabbis and philosophers have been telling us for years that we shouldn't want shiny new things, but it's impossible not to," he says.  "The important lesson is to learn how to predict more accurately what will give us lasting pleasure versus short-term pleasure, because there are things from the mundane to the transcendental that really do bring pleasure and happiness."  His remedy is surrogation, or quite simply, asking people who have already done what you're considering doing how they liked it.  "Most of the futures you're contemplating are someone else's memory," he says.  While it helps to have a lot in common with a "surrogate," even a randomly chosen person can probably give you a better estimate of how much you would enjoy an experience than would your own impulses.

Yet few people are willing to use this technique. To his dismay, Gilbert's research shows that people would rather close their eyes and imagine a vacation spot, or a new job, than ask someone what that holiday or that career was like for them.  This is because although we are remarkably similar in our emotional reactions to events, we like to think of ourselves as unique, Gilbert says.  We can correct our forecasting errors, but at a high cost to our self-image - we would rather be original than happy.

Psychologist Daniel Kahneman grew up near the Bois de Bologne in Paris, and from time to time, his parents would take him on a trip to the woods.  Young Danny, engrossed in some other activity, would scream bloody murder at the prospect of being interrupted.  Yet once he got to the woods, he'd get so involved in his play that when it was time to go home, he'd cry again.  For Kahneman, those fits of tears are proof that he was a happy child.  "When you don't want to stop what you're doing, that's a happy condition," he says.  "There is something sad about people who live their lives wanting to be elsewhere."

Kahneman won the Nobel Prize in economics in 2002 for his insights in irrationality and decision-making, but has since turned his attention to well-being.  That has led him to study the value of time, "the ultimate finite resource."  He's examining the difference between immediate and remembered experience and has zeroed in on the fact that our actual experience and our memories of life operate on separate tracks, and affect our happiness in completely distinct ways.  Most psychologists who study happiness have focused on how we think of our lives in retrospect, but Kahneman believes that there's a lot to be learned from looking at "online" happiness - or how we feel in the moment.  Because our memories are all we keep of our experiences, we have a built-in bias that favors memory over immediate experience.  Our experiencing self, the part of us that registers events as they happen without anticipation or reflection, doesn't have much of a voice in influencing how happy we are with our lives, he says. Instead, memory dominates.  Imagine you've thrown a marvelous party.  You've spent hours reveling, but just as the night is winding down, two drunk guests get into a vicious argument.  Even though your pleasure during the preceding hours was real, you will remember the event as a total disaster.

That spoiled night is a clear example of the "evaluating self" at work, explains Kahneman.  To create a narrative out of life's thousands of disconnected moments, our evaluating self focuses on the most intense moments and the final moments of an experience.  That's the way we're built, but our tendency to rely mostly on memory to judge our well-being can lead us to make counterproductive decisions that undermine our own happiness.  For instance, many parents believe they'd be happier if they spent more time with their children.  But because spending more time together might not raise the intensity or change the concluding moments of the experience, it won't be reflected in rosier memories.  "If you double the time that you spend with your children, it may have very little effect on what you will remember about that time," Kahneman says.  If memory is all that matters, spending additional time with your children accomplishes nothing.  Another example: You had a great time on summer vacation in Italy last year, so you consider going back.  But since returning to the same place wouldn't give you many new memories to savour, your evaluating self might decide against it - even though your experiencing self would clearly enjoy the trip.

"The point is that we shouldn't measure our lives on the quality of our memories alone," says Kahneman.  He doesn't simply mean we should be more spontaneous - in fact, he points out that since time is our most valuable resource, we should pay careful attention to how we spend it.  We need to vigilantly protect our time from the biases of our evaluating self by not relying on memory alone.  Otherwise, we risk wasting it in ways that contradict our values and don't bring us happiness.

Well-being is also a product of "focal time," or how we direct our attention.  This is the key idea behind the different roles that pleasures and comforts have in creating happiness, a distinction originally posited by the late Stanford economist Tibor Scitovsky.  Comforts are objects or experiences we tend to take for granted: a computer that doesn't crash, boots that don't leak or even a spouse who is supportive and warm.  Pleasures, on the other hand, are stimuli that you focus your attention on: a good meal, a silky shirt, a boisterous evening with friends.  The difference isn't intrinsic to the thing itself but rather lies in our attitude toward it: whether it captures our attention or recedes into the background.

Our evaluating self misleads us by giving more weight to comforts, those things that make life easier, but that we become accustomed to.  Our experiencing self, meanwhile, prefers pleasures - absorbing events or interactions that hold us captive.  If you ask someone with a Lexus if she likes it, she'll probably say yes, since its high quality really does bring happiness.  But that's only while she's thinking about it - and she probably doesn't think about it very often.  "Suppose you are driving in your car with your spouse and you are quarreling," Kahneman posits.  "Are you better off if you're driving an Escort or a Lexus?"  You're much too busy arguing to pay attention to the Lexus' smooth ride, so at that moment the quality of the car hardly matters.  At the same time, something trivial that grabs your focus and interest, like getting flowers, will bring you happiness.  If you got flowers every day, though, it would become routine, and neither garner your attention nor bring you much pleasure.  Kahneman's point: Nothing is as important as it is when you're thinking about it.

As he's explored the role of attention and moment-by-moment experiences in happiness, Kahneman has identified factors that have a powerful effect in determining immediate mood.  When asked how they feel "in the moment," he's found that people report being happier when they are with friends than when they're with a spouse or child.  It sounds counterintuitive, but it makes sense: when we're with friends, we're intensely engaged, whereas we don't pay as much focused attention to family - they recede into the background, since we see them all the time.  Similarly, getting enough sleep is crucial, probably because it is difficult to be engaged with the things you enjoy when you are tired.  And people under time pressure at work don't report much happiness, as they are unable to pay attention to anything other than their impending deadlines.

Kahneman acknowledges the power of the well-being "setpoint," but he still thinks that we can influence our own happiness in small ways - by attending to the moment, and by choosing activities that engage rather than numb our minds.  If we heed what does give us immediate pleasure, and if we are skeptical of our error-riddled memories and predictions, we can learn to spend our money, time and attention in ways that make us happier.  If it's simply our nature to root for a cursed team or to chase a dream that, when realized, will never be as sweet as it is in our mind's eye, then we can try to appreciate the joy that comes in the striving.

Source: cms.psychologytoday.com Psychology Today MagazineJan/Feb 2005 Document ID: 3638 © 1991-2005 Sussex Publishers 115 East 23rd Street, 9th Floor, New York, NY 10010

Study: Stress Causes Immune Cells to Age

by Randolph E Schmid

Washington - The immune cells of women under extreme mental stress age faster than those in women not facing such pressure, a new study reports.  While previous reports have linked physical effects with stress, the new analysis helps pinpoint an important focus for these problems.  The study focused on the telomeres in the chromosomes of particular immune cells of 58 women between the ages of 20 and 50.  Telomeres cap the ends of chromosomes and shorten as cells reproduce, a measure of age.  When they reach a minimum level the cells can no longer reproduce.  The report, published in Monday's issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that the telomeres in the cells of women under stress had undergone the equivalent of 10 years of additional ageing, compared to women living more normal lives.

"Chronic stress appears to have the potential to shorten the life of cells, at least immune cells,'' lead author Elissa Epel of the University of California at San Francisco said in a statement.  "The results were striking," added co-author Elizabeth Blackburn, also of UCSF.  The researchers studied 58 women, 19 of whom were mothers of healthy children and 39 who were tending chronically ill children.  They reported that "the exact mechanism that connect the mind and the cell are unknown."  The researchers said they will now begin work to see if other types of cells are affected by stress.

Robert M Sapolsky of Stanford University, who was not part of the research team, called the report "a provocative finding in the best sense of the word."  In a commentary accompanying the report, Sapolsky said the goal now will be to determine how stress is experienced at the physical level.

The research was funded by the John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation, the Hellman Family Fund, the University of California at San Francisco, National Institute of Mental Health, National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression, Steven and Michele Kirsch Foundation, National Institutes of Health, Burroughs Wellcome Fund and the Dana Foundation.

On the Net: Proceedings of the National Institutes of Health: www.pnas.org

Source: cnn.netscape.cnn.com

See also:

bulletTechnology and the Pursuit of Happiness (in the Science section) - What if there were a way to achieve the same "high" sensation as one can get from illegal drugs, anytime, anywhere, and without the chemical side effects and criminal motivation?  Such a technology does exist, and has seen limited use in humans for several decades.  The practice is known as evoking pleasure by Electrical Stimulation of the Brain (ESB)...
bulletEnhancing Human Traits (in the section on drugs) - is whether or not to use steroids, hormone replacement, plastic surgery, or Prozac a personal decision?  A moral one?  A legal one?
bulletThe Power of Negative Thinking (in the section on oddities) - physical activity accounts for about half of the difference in immunity between depressed and normal women...  exercise represents the first clear behavioural link between depression and a dysfunctional immune system...  encouraging depressed people to exercise should help to protect them from illness...

Let Me Assist You...

Source: somewhere on the web

Indulging in Angst

You have no idea how dreadful life is as you get older.
The cafard of the country, the boredom of London, the vanity of society, the falseness of friendship, the squalor of sex,
the meaningless repetitiveness of everything, the longing for faith, the reinforcement of scepticism and disillusion instead.

Happiness is in the imagination.
What we perform is always inferior to what we imagine: yet daydreaming brings guilt;
there is no happiness except through freedom from Angst, and only creative work, communion with nature and helping others are angst-free.

- Cyril Connolly

Some would have you believe that anything is possible, that if you work hard and follow the rules and keep your eyes on your goals,
you'll achieve them, in life as well as in sports.  Sorry, it's not like that.

Life is working hard and playing by the rules and keeping your eye on goals and getting knocked on your fanny.
Then it involves getting up and trying again and becoming exhausted and wanting to quit but sucking it up and pressing on,
not because your goals are still attainable but because that's what you do and who you are.  That's life.

- Donald Kaul

Source: Anderson Valley Advertiser

Pessimists blame themselves when things go wrong.  They also believe one bad event can ruin the rest of their lives.  They expect bad outcomes and feel they have little ability to influence situations.

I will avoid pessimism if I can, because I don't believe that.

However, some people make a decent living writing about their pessimistic attitudes...

The Great Lie

by Kenneth Rexroth

Can you remember when you first started to read?  Doubtless you thought that some day you would find in books the truth, the answer to the very puzzling life you were discovering around you.  But you never did.  If you were alert, you discovered that books were conventions, as iunlike life as a game of chess.  The written word is a sieve.  Only so much of reality gets through as fits the size and shape of the screen, and in some ways that is never enough.  Most of the real difficulty of communication comes from social convention, from a vast conspiracy to agree to accept the world as something it really isn't at all.

Literature is a social defense mechanism.  Remember again when you were a child.  You thought that some day you would grow up and find a world of real adults - the people who really made things run - and understood how and why things ran.  Then, as the years went on, you learned, though more or less bitter experience, that there aren't, and never have been, any such people, anywhere.  Life is just a mess, full of tall children, grown stupider, less alert and resilient, and nobody knows what makes it go - as a whole, or any part of it.  But nobody ever tells.

Source: Anderson Valley Advertiser 3 May 2000

The Rhymes with Orange Checklist to Feeling Pathetic

by Hilary B Price hprice@aol.com

Source: Funny Times November 2000

Go with the Flow

by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

If the rules of a game flex too much, you can't concentrate; it's harder to attain a flow experience.  Commitment to a goal and to the rules that must be followed in order to achieve success is made much easier when choices are few and clear.

...it is necessary to invest energy in goals that are so persuasive that they justify effort even when our resources are exhausted and when fate is merciless in refusing us a chance to have a comfortable life...

I go back and re-read this very interesting book from time to time when I need to feel inspired...

Source: Flow: the Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Source: The Eye of the Angelus (stereoscopic work, unfinished), Salvador Dali 1978

Reason to Be Cheerful

by David Jones

The ultimate goal of civilisation is, perhaps, maximising the sum of human happiness.  Most governments interpret this as raising the standard of living.  In fact, happiness correlates fairly weakly with economic affluence.  For most of us, it is pretty much set by our inherent temperament, sunny or gloomy, modified by the triumphs or disasters of the past six months or so.  Even lottery winners and bankrupts relax back to their normal mental state in under a year.

So Daedalus wants to lift our spirits directly.  "Cosmetic psychopharmacology" - the use of anti-depressant or narcotic drugs - has serious social side-effects.  But Daedalus recalls the story of a patient with a fairly non-invasive pancreatic tumour.

Despite his unenviable plight, the man was permanently cheerful.  It turned out that the tumour generated a steady stream of endorphins, the hormones that mediate our feelings of satisfaction.  This suggests that our inherent personality differences merely reflect the different endorphin levels maintained by our bodies.

Few people would want to boost their happiness by means of an implanted tumour, however non-invasive.  Gene therapy seems more promising.  Some of the subject's own cells would be extracted, loaded with the genes for his own endorphins, and then re-implanted into him.  Dermal cells would be a good choice.  They are easy to get at, and can be reimplanted by simple tattoo technology.  If the subject remained gloomy, more cells could be inserted; if he developed a dangerously manic optimism, some could be removed.

Gene therapy, of course, is in its infancy.  It is tricky to insert the right genes into the chosen cells, and trickier still to switch them on.  But resources put into developing Daedalus' scheme should bring far greater returns of happiness than any amount of economic growth.  Governments should rush to fund the project and offer its benisons to the people, starting with the most disgruntled and resentful citizens: criminals and the underclass.  Infused with calm self-satisfaction, they would cease to be so troublesome.  Later, the long-term unemployed and the more clamorous political activists would be added; later still, the rest of us.  As contentment spread through society, the drive and restless ambition that fuel, not only crime, but innovation and economic growth, would falter and fade.  But that, of course, would no longer matter.

Source: Daedalus column Nature Vol 400 15 July 1999

Is the ultimate goal of civilisation really to maximise happiness?  Welcome to a Brave New World?

See also:

bulletScientists' Short-Cut to Happiness (in the section on Drugs) - ...[the patient] was in no doubt that if he was offered not just the chance to get rid of his pain but actually to make himself feel positively happy he would turn his switch up to the happy level.  "Oh definitely.  Most definitely all the way.  Take it all the way, yes.  That would be a happy day, wouldn't it?"...
bulletBordeaux Mixture (in the Intellectual and Entertaining section) - (below the photo) genetic modifications included producing human pheromones so people desire the changes passionately...
bulletRegarding Civility (in the section on Society and Culture) - studies of animals who groom each other - from fish to primates (and including humans) show that stroking one another causes measurable changes in the amygdala.  I suspect this is one of the major reasons for the hair styling industry as well as the massage industry (I mean the authentic one, but possibly the other kind as well).  My conclusion?  Try hugging someone today - or comb a family member's hair (gently!).  See if it doesn't put you both in a better mood...

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