Divine Calm: Hard-wired Happiness

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11.02.2005

Hard-wired Happiness

I found a very interesting British article discussing how biology and happiness are intertwined. The following is just a small portion of the article, but I highly suggest reading it in its entirety.


In essence, what the biology lesson tells us is that negative emotions are fundamental to the human condition, and it's no wonder they are difficult to eradicate. At the same time, by a trick of nature, our brains are designed to crave but never really achieve lasting happiness.

Psychologists such as Seligman are convinced you can train yourself to be happier. His teams are developing new positive interventions (treatments) to counteract the brain's nagging insistence on seeking out bad news. The treatments work by boosting positive emotion about the past, by teaching people to savour the present, and by increasing the amount of engagement and meaning in their lives.

Since the days of Freud, the emphasis in consulting rooms has been on talk about negative effects of the past and how they damage people in the present. Seligman names this approach "victimology" and says research shows it to be worthless: "It is difficult to find even small effects of childhood events on adult personality, and there is no evidence at all of large effects."

The tragic legacy of Freud is that many are "unduly embittered about their past, and unduly passive about their future", says Seligman. His colleague Aaron Beck developed cognitive therapy after becoming disillusioned with his Freudian training in the 1950s. Beck found that as depressed patients talked "carthartically" about past wounds and losses, some people began to unravel. Occasionally this led to suicide attempts, some of which were fatal. There was very little evidence that psychoanalysis worked.

Cognitive therapy places less emphasis on the past. It works by challenging a person's thinking about the present and setting goals for the future. Another newcomer, brief solution-focused therapy, discourages talk about "problems" and helps clients identify strengths and resources to make positive changes in their lives.

The focus of most psychotherapy is on decreasing negative emotion. The aim of Seligman's therapy is to increase positive emotion (positive and negative emotions are not polar opposites and can co-exist: women have more of both than men). From the time of Buddha to the self-improvement industry of today, more than 100 "interventions" have been tried in the attempt to build

Now I ask you, do you find yourself always looking for the negative in life? I know I do, but I am trying to lengthen my enjoyment of achievements and new events. Fascinating.

Here is another portion of the article that intrigued me (What do you think?):

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MEN AND WOMEN

Men often complain about their wives' volatility. Now research confirms that women really are both happier and sadder. Positive and negative emotions are not polar opposites — you can have both in your life. Women experience more of all emotions except anger. First it was found that women experience twice as much depression as men. Next, researchers found that women report more positive emotion than men, more frequently and more intensely. It all points to men and women having a different emotional make-up. Cognitive psychologists say that men and women have different skills related to sending and receiving emotion. Women are expressive; men conceal or control their emotions. Women convey emotion through facial expression and communication; men express emotion through aggressive or distracting behaviour. Does the difference lie in biology, social roles or just women's willingness to report emotion? That's up for debate.