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The Neuroscience of Happiness

samzenpus posted about 9 months ago | from the if-you're-happy-and-you-know-it dept.

Medicine 136

Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Julie Beck has an interesting read in the Atlantic about how our brains are naturally wired to focus on the negative because evolution has optimized our brains for survival, but not necessarily happiness, which means that we feel stressed and unhappy even though there are a lot of positive things in our lives. 'The problem is that the brain is very good at building brain structure from negative experiences,' says neuropsychologist Dr. Rick Hanson. 'We learn immediately from pain—you know, "once burned, twice shy." As our ancestors evolved, they needed to pass on their genes. And day-to-day threats like predators or natural hazards had more urgency and impact for survival. On the other hand, positive experiences like food, shelter, or mating opportunities, those are good, but if you fail to have one of those good experiences today, as an animal, you would have a chance at one tomorrow. But the brain is relatively poor at turning positive experiences into emotional learning neural structure. 'Positive thinking by definition is conceptual and generally verbal and most conceptual or verbal material doesn't have a lot of impact on how we actually feel or function over the course of the day. A lot of people have this kind of positive, look on the bright side yappity yap, but deep down they're very frightened, angry, sad, disappointed, hurt, or lonely.' Dr. Hanson proposes several ideas for helping 're-wire' our brains for happiness. One of them is that we need to learn how to move positive experiences from short-term buffers to long-term storage. 'But to move from a short-term buffer to long-term storage, an experience needs to be held in that short-term buffer long enough for it to transfer to long-term storage,' says Hanson. 'When people are having positive thinking or even most positive experiences, the person is not taking the extra 10, 20 seconds to heighten the installation into neural structure. So it's not just positive thinking that's wasted on the brain; it's most positive experiences that are wasted on the brain.'"

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136 comments

Prior research... (1)

Rhacman (1528815) | about 9 months ago | (#45230715)

How to Build a Happier Brain:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y0V4TZAyd8I [youtube.com]

Old technology (2)

Okian Warrior (537106) | about 9 months ago | (#45230903)

How to Build a Happier Brain:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y0V4TZAyd8I [youtube.com]

That's older technology. You can view the new technology here:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sBCy-aY26zs#t=17 [youtube.com] .

Same stuff, different interpretation. Enjoy!

Re:Old technology (1)

50000BTU_barbecue (588132) | about 9 months ago | (#45232445)

I like this one

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jisK5gX8X_g

Ah, but what is the secret to happiness? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45230727)

Is it a first post?

Rx Wine, women and song (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45230745)

Some might add good food, fast cars, sports, a few other things.

"Women" of course could be "men".

That's about all there is to say about this subject.

Re:Rx Wine, women and song (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45230949)

"Women" of course could be "men".

I hate when that happens.

We have a cure (3, Funny)

50000BTU_barbecue (588132) | about 9 months ago | (#45230763)

It's called Scotch Whisky. Just another gift from the Scots. That and logarithms and engineers. (Oh and haggis!)

Re:We have a cure (3, Funny)

PopeRatzo (965947) | about 9 months ago | (#45230925)

And kilts! Don't forget the kilts. I'm Italian, and I love to wear my kilts, though I do tend to get a lot of dandruff on my shoes.

Re:We have a cure (1)

cerberusss (660701) | about 9 months ago | (#45231199)

I love to wear my kilts, though I do tend to get a lot of dandruff on my shoes.

You're taking it to a new level, eh? :)

Re:We have a cure (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45231693)

Jesus. How about a shower once in a while you filthy european.

Re:We have a cure (1)

Opportunist (166417) | about 9 months ago | (#45231783)

Shower? With water?

You're one sick, sick dude.

Re:We have a cure (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45231897)

The kilt (at least, the type most of us are familiar with these days) is English.

Other positive attributes (5, Informative)

turning in circles (2882659) | about 9 months ago | (#45230777)

Research has shown that gratitude, admiration, elevation of others increases people's happiness more than remembering being happy. Not sure how it scores against Scotch whiskey.

Re:Other positive attributes (1)

jaymzter (452402) | about 9 months ago | (#45230913)

So does anyone have an evolutionary explanation for happiness or any of the other stuff you were talking about? I'd like to think my cat admires me, but Churchill is of the opinion she looks down on me. Yet we're both just animals?

Re:Other positive attributes (2)

turning in circles (2882659) | about 9 months ago | (#45231099)

Quoting: Evolutionary theories propose that gratitude is an adaptation for reciprocal altruism (the sequential exchange of costly benefits between nonrelatives) and, perhaps, upstream reciprocity (a pay-it-forward style distribution of an unearned benefit to a third party after one has received a benefit from another benefactor). Gratitude therefore may have played a unique role in human social evolution. --McCullough et al, too lazy to give you a full quote, here's DOI: doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8721.2008.00590.x

Doesn't sound like it applies to cats.

Re:Other positive attributes (1)

khallow (566160) | about 9 months ago | (#45231971)

Yet we're both just animals?

You're the food delivery, door opening, and emergency heat source animal, so you have to be tolerated. But let's not get crazy with this "happiness" thing.

Sometimes it's a matter of pain (5, Insightful)

phantomfive (622387) | about 9 months ago | (#45230797)

Once you've had enough pain in your life, you learn to appreciate the good things you have. If you wake up in the morning and the first thing you think is, "Oh yeah, carpet under my feet! I remember when I didn't have carpet, this is so much better." That sort of thing does wonders for your happiness levels.

Re:Sometimes it's a matter of pain (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45231007)

Carpet and potable water right from the tap. Those things are everyday wonders to those of us that have had to live with next to nothing. Toilets, air conditioning, warm food, cold beer, and electricity are nice, but at the top of the list of comforts is carpet and tap water.

Re:Sometimes it's a matter of pain (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45231401)

Hmm. Having had to live without electricity and running water I would put potable water at the top of the list. Carpet, really? Refrigeration easily beats carpet. Hot water is really nice also. Cold bucket baths suck. Having to cook every single meal with no leftovers is much worse than having to put on flip flops before stepping onto the cold concrete floor.

Re:Sometimes it's a matter of pain (4, Insightful)

TheRaven64 (641858) | about 9 months ago | (#45232637)

Every morning, I turn on my shower and let potable water run down the drain while I wait for the it to heat up. The fact that I have hot running water, and can afford to let potable water go to waste like that without much thought places me not just in the wealthiest 10% of people currently alive, but in the wealthiest 1% of people who have ever lived. Spending a moment pondering that in the morning makes you feel very lucky to be born into a society that can take such things for granted.

Re:Sometimes it's a matter of pain (1)

X0563511 (793323) | about 9 months ago | (#45233689)

... and not long later, that sense of happiness is replaced with pity and woe for the 99% of those who don't have them.

It's called ecstasy (2)

jlb.think (1719718) | about 9 months ago | (#45231017)

Your brain isn't wired for happiness. Case in point, I experienced true happiness twice; once while on ecstasy, and life as a child.

Re:It's called ecstasy (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45231465)

After doing yoga for 10 years, I can provoke ecstacy / bliss by pure will at any time!

It's just relaxation of a "muscle" (I don't know exactly what it is, but it's very simple once you've got familiar with it).

I find people trying to remember "happy times", often seem desperate and full of unreleased negative feelings. To choke it down with "frantic partying", "happy times" and "remember the glories past", only makes it stronger over time.

Feelings need to be felt and recognized. With the right practice, they will release themselves.

Re:It's called ecstasy (1)

phantomfive (622387) | about 9 months ago | (#45231627)

ok, hope your life get better

Re:Sometimes it's a matter of pain (1)

mattie_p (2512046) | about 9 months ago | (#45231095)

Once you've had enough pain in your life, you learn to appreciate the good things you have. If you wake up in the morning and the first thing you think is, "Oh yeah, carpet under my feet! I remember when I didn't have carpet, this is so much better." That sort of thing does wonders for your happiness levels.

I like hardwood floors, you insensitive clod!

Re:Sometimes it's a matter of pain (1)

phantomfive (622387) | about 9 months ago | (#45231625)

I pity the fool

Re:Sometimes it's a matter of pain (1)

X0563511 (793323) | about 9 months ago | (#45233715)

You must live close to the tropics, then.

I certainly don't miss waking up and dancing across the bathroom floor not because I was happy or anything - but because anything longer than 1/4 of a second of contact with the freaking floor was so cold that it hurt!

Re:Sometimes it's a matter of pain (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45231189)

... enough pain in your life ... does wonders for your happiness levels.

Sometimes true and sometimes not: if the pain is likely to come back in a way that you can't control then fear may erode your happiness. If you're bullied or abused on a regular basis by someone in a position of power then the appreciation of not being abused at the moment may be eroded by the fear of what's to come.

Re:Sometimes it's a matter of pain (1)

wmac1 (2478314) | about 9 months ago | (#45233073)

Right now I am in trouble with cold water in the shared bathroom in the hostel university has provided to me. In 40s it is a bit hard to take it. For the past 15 months this has been the story (except the few days in between I went to different conferences and stayed at hotel).

In general yes, I have enjoyed buying household equipment one by one with my ex-wife and building the life (that was eventually ruined after 10 years by a cheating wife). After my father died (I was 18) I left the home and did not have any support. So I have seen lots of difficulties in my life ... lots of them... I guess that's why I can appreciate and enjoy my life even in a piss poor hostel (at the age of 41).

"Neuroscience" (-1, Troll)

oldhack (1037484) | about 9 months ago | (#45230819)

Psychology under a new branding, yeah that pseudo science quackery.

Re:"Neuroscience" (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45230835)

Hey look everybody! Lafayette Ron Hubbard is posting from his volcano!

Re:"Neuroscience" (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45230945)

Psychology under a new branding, yeah that pseudo science quackery.

I love how she explicitly ignores the centuries old knowledge that you can train an animal more successfully in the long run by giving rewards. How do you think a mouse can learn to chase down that Oreo in the maze and prefer it over the bland cracker if they can't make long term memories out of feeling good? How do you train a dog to do tricks?

This "research" is just rubbish.

Re:"Neuroscience" (1)

rubycodez (864176) | about 9 months ago | (#45230973)

nonsense, see trained horses in action? they were trained with pain

Re:"Neuroscience" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45231551)

Not all of them.

I don't train my dogs with pain, either.

Re:"Neuroscience" (1)

stjobe (78285) | about 9 months ago | (#45231865)

Unless I completely misremember my Psychology classes, you get the best results by a combination of punishment (for wrong behaviour) and reward (for right behaviour). Doing just one or the other doesn't get you the result you want as quickly.

Re:"Neuroscience" (1)

justthinkit (954982) | about 9 months ago | (#45233521)

Accentuate the positive,
eliminate the negative,
latch on to the affirmative,
don't mess with Mr. In-Between.

Re:"Neuroscience" (1)

Macchendra (2919537) | about 9 months ago | (#45231009)

Among psychology, all theories are technology. Dismiss it if you must, but it is all technology. In the '70s so much was discovered, but it is not provable...

Mating opportunities? (2)

pipelayerification (1707222) | about 9 months ago | (#45230853)

I saw a donkey show in Tijuana many years ago but I'm still fuzzy on what I emotionally learned from it.

Re:Mating opportunities? (1)

zazenation (1060442) | about 9 months ago | (#45230883)

Was it similar to the donkey show in "Clerks 2"?

Re: Mating opportunities? (1)

pipelayerification (1707222) | about 9 months ago | (#45230975)

Possibly. But I dont remember it being Kinky Kelly. I was a little drunk though.

Maybe it's that way for a reason (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45230861)

We *could* invent soma to make us all happy. But I don't think that's a good idea. I'm more for the pursuit of balance than the pursuit of happiness. TFS itself states the reason why the brain is the way it is. Let's not ruin ours.

"'re-wire' our brains for happiness" (1)

lunacyq (2893005) | about 9 months ago | (#45230863)

"move positive experiences from short-term buffers to long-term storage. 'But to move from a short-term buffer to long-term storage, an experience needs to be held in that short-term buffer long enough for it to transfer to long-term storage." Sounds like addiction formation to me.

Brain Hax (3, Interesting)

srwood (99488) | about 9 months ago | (#45230877)

Therapy based upon this has been available for years. No need for a physiological explanation: http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ804035.pdf

Re:Brain Hax (2)

Bite The Pillow (3087109) | about 9 months ago | (#45231467)

But now that we have an explanation, it is no longer feel good hippy voodoo bullshit. This is how stuff becomes legitimised, insurance covered, not just fooling yourself therapy.
Thanks, science!

Classical conditioning works on humans, too. (2)

ddt (14627) | about 9 months ago | (#45230909)

That's why you want to save meals and sex for when you've been good.

Re:Classical conditioning works on humans, too. (1)

sociocapitalist (2471722) | about 9 months ago | (#45232023)

That's why you want to save meals and sex for when you've been good.

I assume you're talking about the giving of rather than the receiving of :-)

Positive vs negative reinforcement (1)

DeathGrippe (2906227) | about 9 months ago | (#45230933)

Animal trainers have demonstrated repeatedly that positive reinforcement is more effective at eliciting behavior than negative. In other words, the carrot works better than the stick.

To me, this seems contradictory.

Re:Positive vs negative reinforcement (5, Interesting)

xtronics (259660) | about 9 months ago | (#45231019)

Animal trainers have demonstrated repeatedly that positive reinforcement is more effective at eliciting behavior than negative. In other words, the carrot works better than the stick.

To me, this seems contradictory.

There is a lot of papers on the point you bring up. What makes something positive? Eating after not having food is positive or is it the end of a negative experience? If you have plenty to eat, is food still a reward? (animal trainers keep their animals a bit hungry ).

So is a paycheck positive? Or is it preventing a negative. etc etc..

Re:Positive vs negative reinforcement (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45231191)

Animal trainers have demonstrated repeatedly that positive reinforcement is more effective at eliciting behavior than negative. In other words, the carrot works better than the stick.

To me, this seems contradictory.

There is a lot of papers on the point you bring up. What makes something positive? Eating after not having food is positive or is it the end of a negative experience? If you have plenty to eat, is food still a reward? (animal trainers keep their animals a bit hungry ).

So is a paycheck positive? Or is it preventing a negative. etc etc..

To your way of thinking there is no such thing as positive. The point becomes moot. It is no longer possible to have a science of happiness...and so what the researchers claim is also meaningless.

Re: Positive vs negative reinforcement (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45231639)

If I remember correctly I from Psych 1001, "positive" in positive reinforcement simply means adding something to the environment. Taking away a bad thing is negative reinforcement, and what we think of as punishment is usually 'positive punishment' or 'negative punishment' - taking away a good thing.

Re:Positive vs negative reinforcement (3, Insightful)

venicebeach (702856) | about 9 months ago | (#45231151)

Reward is useful for shaping behavior, but it turns out not to be particularly effective at creating happiness. See: drug addiction.

Re:Positive vs negative reinforcement (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45231179)

I'm just reminded of something a teacher once taught me in class.

"For every insult or put-down a person receives, it takes ten positive things to reverse the low self-esteem that as been inflicted."

Re:Positive vs negative reinforcement (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45232789)

Negative reinforcement refers to reinforcing a behavior by removing an aversive stimulus once the desired behavior is observed. The proverbial stick is actually punishment (an aversive stimulus applied after observing an undesired behavior), which is not quite the same thing.

Re:Positive vs negative reinforcement (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45233039)

There are really only two species on the planet that are able to learn effectively via negative reinforcement, humans and dogs. Which I find to be pretty cool.

Irrevelant. (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45230991)

Happiness does not matter to the human race.

The PURSUIT of happiness drives us. But obtaining it... The goal is met. We are done.

So that can't happen very often or we fail as a species.

Re:Irrevelant. (1)

justthinkit (954982) | about 9 months ago | (#45233603)

The PURSUIT of the car drives us. But obtaining it... The goal is met. We are done.

So that can't happen very often or we fail as a species.

- Fido

There shall be no happiness!!! (1)

Macchendra (2919537) | about 9 months ago | (#45230999)

We shall disapprove! This is our purpose!

Stop and Smell the Roses (1)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | about 9 months ago | (#45231073)

n/t

Eliminate the outdated identity (1)

Laxori666 (748529) | about 9 months ago | (#45231085)

The soul too, not just the ego. Then you will be happy.

It is now practicable for any human being to be totally free from malice and sorrow, the two fundamental elements which prevent one from being happy and harmless. Gone now are the days of having to assiduously practice humility and pacifism in an ultimately futile attempt to become free by transcending the opposites ... the traditional and narrow path of denial and fantasy, negation and hallucination. A wide and wondrous path of blitheness and gaiety is now available for one who wishes to live the freedom of the actual.

Actual freedom [actualfreedom.com.au] is a tried and tested way of being happy and harmless in the world as it actually is ... stripped of the veneer of normal reality or Greater Reality which is super-imposed by the psychological and/or psychic entity within the body. This entity is that feeling of identity which inhibits any freedom and sabotages every well-meant endeavour. Thus far one has had only two choices: being normal or being spiritual. Now there is a third alternative ... and it supersedes any humanistic philosophical worldview and/or any mystical Altered State Of Consciousness.

Then Explain Las Vegas (1)

grumling (94709) | about 9 months ago | (#45231169)

This doesn’t make sense. If the brain spent more time dwelling on the negative, why do people gamble? It seems to me that’s the exact opposite: the brain focuses on past good fortune (I put money in this machine and got a little more back), not the bad (I put money in this machine and nothing happened). Clearly the bad result will happen far more often than the good result, yet many otherwise average people waste millions of dolars and hours of their lives in front of slot machines.

Re:Then Explain Las Vegas (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45231407)

The lights and sound of these machines are engineered to produce dopamine and cause addiction in a mammalian brain. Happy, bright colors make us forget the dusty and dull colors of Nevada.

Re:Then Explain Las Vegas (1)

justthinkit (954982) | about 9 months ago | (#45233719)

And baseball? The best fail 70% of the time, yet millions seem to love the game.

Similarly, beating a high score in a video game. We try a hundred, or a thousand, times, to get that one moment. [I still remember getting 10billion on the ST:TNG pinball game [ipdb.org] , and this happened at least 20 years ago. One of the hardest, and most enjoyable, pins I've ever played.]

There must be something different at work with these two examples because they are, I think, the opposite of the "Jackpot!" Vegas thing. They seem "healthier".

If we aren't optimized for happiness (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45231173)

then why do we want it? Wouldn't the desire be gone too?

Idleness (5, Insightful)

Dripdry (1062282) | about 9 months ago | (#45231207)

One thing I'd like to be sure isn't lost here is the clearly stated difficulty: Keeping a positive moment in mind long enough for it to go to long term storage.
If we don't have enough time to stop and appreciate positive moments they are lost, obviously.

There is a body of literature on idleness and over the last few years I've begun to amass a collection of it. The more I follow idleness as an art, as a way of being, the happier I've become. It hasn't gotten rid of too many negatives, per se, but I find myself happier in general (though that might be due to any number of other factors, correlation/causation etc). It has even contributed to a little delinquency, for sure (hooray fun!), but seems on the whole a good habit.

It's been said many times, but this article bears it out: If we don't stop to smell the roses and really appreciate them, appreciate others and the gifts we bring each other every day, we are rushing blindly and headlong toward just physical death, but the death of the spirit too.

So you, yes you, the person with 4 monitors, a tablet, and an iPhone buzzing with facebook while the TV is blaring in the background, who feels all high off gadgetry (and maybe cheetos)... I dare you to try the hardest thing you'll ever do: Stop and do nothing for a day. Just sit, stare out a window, make a pot of tea. Just stop. and. be. idle.

Though if you do get antsy I can recommend reading "How to Be Idle", a fun read and an antidote of sorts.

Re:Idleness (4, Interesting)

Dripdry (1062282) | about 9 months ago | (#45231237)

Have you ever noticed how being idle REALLY pisses off the masters and drivers of our economy? People like Edison HATED idlers (though he himself took naps ALL the time) If we were idle, what then would we consume? Not nearly as much, I wager. We might think, might eventually interact with each other in the real world, and might accomplish more than moving a few pixels about a screen or some metal and plastic from one place to another. Forfend!

And now... I'm going to go take a long, delightful snooze.

Re:Idleness (5, Interesting)

ledow (319597) | about 9 months ago | (#45231397)

It's also, if you are one, one of the best things about being introvert.

Most people associate introversion with shyness / being pathetic / being socially inadequate. Though I'm sure that's true of a lot of people (and probably even myself), it's not the sole cause.

The cause is that sitting quietly and thinking and just enjoying the "idleness" is MORE attractive to the introvert than being thrown into a social situation where they are forced to discuss, at length, things like the weather, or how shit their job is, or what that idiot on reality TV is doing at the moment, etc.

I find that being in a party (even a dinner party situation, as I've gotten older) is really one of the most stressful things I can find. Having to make small-talk (yuck). Having to be nice to people I don't particularly know well. Having to be doing SOMETHING all the time. Not being left alone ("come and dance", "don't sit there, come meet my friend", etc.).

You can spot this by putting an introvert near another. They will get on. They will get on by being able to talk about only things they find interesting (and if there's a common ground, they'll find it) and not have to worry about saying "something" all the time, no matter how inane the conversation. They'll still chat and discuss their lives but only the bits they are interested in, the positive notes of their lives, and strenuously try to find something interesting in the other person.

Put them in a room with a guy who just wants to talk about himself, gets pent up being quiet in a room, etc. and you'll see that both hate the situation.

It's enjoying the peace, the quiet, the lazily wandering around the house that allows people like myself to relax and enjoy life. No, I don't find rushing out to every friend's house relaxing. I'd invite them over, one-to-one, to watch a movie, or play some board games or read a book, or even just sit out in the garden chatting.

The problem comes from people who don't understand this: "How can you just sit there?" Easy. Watch.
"Why don't you get out more and do lots of things?" Because I'm happy here. Doing little.

Is it laziness as in lack-of-effort-when-it's-required? No. It's a choice to NOT do some things when they aren't necessary at all. That feeling that most only get when they get home from a strenuous day at work and get to sit down for five minutes before they then rush off to do other things? I feel that a lot. Because those other things aren't as important as me relaxing and enjoying life.

We are blessed to live in a modern age where you don't have to work from the second you wake to the second you sleep, not get enough sleep anyway, and have to fight through the day against everything from nature to other people. Enjoy life while you have it. Because waiting for retirement to sit down and have even ten minutes to yourself is STUPENDOUSLY unhealthy and dangerous.

My weekend is coming up. I plan to do little. And that which I do plan to do, I've chosen to do, and it's quite non-strenuous (Jupiter is visible tomorrow night if I'm lucky with the weather - I'll go outside in the evening, set up a scope, and sit in the garden looking at stars... a really physically taxing hobby that I've discovered recently to be wonderfully engaging for my brain without being strenuous at all).

I'm sure there are people who would hate the idea of the whole concept and who don't even understand it. But, for some, it's the perfect way to live.

Re:Idleness (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45231977)

Cool, thanks for sharing your point of view, even if it not mine, it is good hear and think about! Well put.

Re:Idleness (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45232231)

Sincerely, thank you for this!

Re:Idleness (1)

awg090 (2936619) | about 9 months ago | (#45232613)

Thank you. I learned something about myself from this; I learned that I already do a lot of it.

Re:Idleness (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45232665)

Good luck making the payments on your wife's new Honda, I imagine the screaming you will hear as the bill collectors come after you will neutralize the peace you had.

Re:Idleness (1)

ledow (319597) | about 9 months ago | (#45232731)

What does that have to do with anything? Can you not read? This isn't about "lazy" people who don't get off their bum and work to earn money (hint: Never been unemployed in nearly 20 years of working life, not even for a second), this is about those who CHOOSE to be lazy when they don't need to do something (i.e. outside work, etc.).

Good luck with your heart attacks, stress-related disorders and working yourself to an early grave for no reward. Because, trust me, your pension won't be adequate whatever you do and on balance of all probability you'll die before you can enjoy retirement (that's what retirement and pensions basically are - a gamble on whether you'll live that long, funded by those of us who didn't but still paid in).

Go stress over your own payments. This is precisely what we're talking about here - living a stress-free life about things that don't matter and not buying into unnecessary "things" (like having more than one car, one of them a new Honda.... every car I've ever owned put together would cost me less than the laptop I'm writing this on - a work laptop - and yet I drive 30,000 miles a year just to work and back).

Stress yourself out worrying how to pay for expensive crap that you don't need and how you'll work to pay it. Or go sit in the garden and listen to the birds while doing without. That's what this post is about. I'm the latter.

Re:Idleness (1)

AthanasiusKircher (1333179) | about 9 months ago | (#45232903)

The more I follow idleness as an art, as a way of being, the happier I've become. It hasn't gotten rid of too many negatives, per se, but I find myself happier in general

This is the most insightful thing I've read here, since it gets at the heart of the many things wrong with TFA.

As I understand TFA, it's trying to blame the high rate of depression, anxiety "disorders," etc. in our modern culture on an evolutionary preference to emphasize bad experiences and memories.

I think that's a load of BS. It's a typical attempt by psychology to connect to evolution, where we don't actually think through the implications and logic of the argument.

If TFA were actually true, think about what would follow. The societies with the most stress caused by things relevant to survival should have the highest depression, highest anxiety disorders, highest numbers of suicides, etc. In other words, if we go find hunter-gatherer societies, where ensuring food sources, etc. can be a daily struggle, we should find loads of them committing suicide randomly or something.

That's, of course, nonsense. And it doesn't make any sense from an evolutionary perspective. It wouldn't make any sense for evolution to cause depression or chronic anxiety that results in continuous unhappiness.

In fact, I can't recall any studies showing that less technologically sophisticated societies have higher rates of these mental disorders. They should if this were really driven by evolution, since chances of food scarcity, disease, etc. are much higher. On the other hand, I can recall a few studies showing how the introduction of a modern commercial culture to global societies would cause depression, anxiety disorders, etc. where they didn't exist before. Also, these disorders begin to appear in parts of the population that don't make sense from an evolutionary perspective. Why should teenagers, for example, have one of the highest rates of depression and suicidal thoughts in developed societies? Evolution shouldn't kill off people before they have a chance to reproduce. It makes no sense. By the logic in TFA, the people who should be most depressed should be people in pain or who live in conditions where fundamental necessities of life are undependable -- instead, we see a lot of depression among healthy young folks in societies where they have all basic needs fulfilled.

Moreover, although TFA points out an evolutionary advantage to learning from negative experiences (like "fire is hot -- don't touch it again or it will cause pain"), there are also significant rewards for positive experiences with evolutionary pressure.

For example, sex and food. Most people have very strong memories about these, particularly when they are first encountered (first kiss, first sexual experience, etc.). How many people get a psychological boost when they encounter something that "tastes like Mom's cooking" again?

Also, particularly for women, there are all sorts of reinforcing and filtering mechanisms that make reproduction seem like a "positive" experience, even though it involves great pain, great sacrifices in time and energy, many sleepless nights, etc. I can't tell you how many fathers I've talked with who have made a comment like: "If women actually remembered how crazy the birth and raising of an infant was, the human race would have died out long ago." Instead, we get loads of hormones that make new mothers remember these as mostly positive experiences (despite the yelling and screaming and stressful days and nights that the dads remember). When the child is a little older, rather than saying, "gosh that was crazy, I can't imagine going through that again!" many people just look at a baby they see somewhere and say, "Isn't that cute? Let's have another!"

In general, in fact, I'd say that TFA is completely wrong when it comes to long-term memories. Yes, we learn from painful and negative experiences. But humans also seem to have a natural tendency to "sugarcoat" their memories in many circumstances. We even have a word for that sort of thing: "nostalgia": "Back when I was younger, everybody was happy -- people were more polite, nicer, bad things didn't happen," etc., etc. Every generation of old people has said these sorts of things, probably back to the beginnings of recorded history.

Yes, we also get the "Back in my day, we walked uphill in snow both ways" kind of crap too, but I'm often amazed at how inaccurate people's memories are when they begin to wax nostalgic. Unless the overall experience was strongly negative, my experience is that many people tend to look back on things that emphasize the positive aspects, even if the experience was relatively unremarkable or even mildly negative overall.

And that sort of thing actually makes evolutionary sense to me. We have pressures that will cause strong memories for very negative experiences that were actually physically harmful (things that actually cause pain, for example) or experiences that we must associate as positive for evolutionary reasons (sex, food, reproduction). But for the rest of our memories, we seem to have tendencies that can emphasize the positive aspects of life, particularly with older memories.

After all, if we only focused on negative experiences, and we only tended to remember negative things, we'd all be suicidal.

Finally, getting back to the post I was responding to, TFA mentions the zebras happily grazing on the plain most of the time, only having their "negative" experiences when they have to run from the lions or whatever. But supposedly humans are in that latter anxious experience category more often.

I don't think that has anything to do with evolution, exactly. We're perfectly capable of emphasizing positive things, and we often do when we think back on supposedly "happier times" long ago. The problem is that modern societies create artificial stressful situations that aren't actually negative -- but we continuously worry about the possibility of future negative experiences or the denial of potential for future positive experiences. Our culture teaches us that we need to have all of these things, do all of these things, because that's what modern "successful" people do or whatever. And we worry because we don't quite have all those things or aren't like the "successful" people.

That's of course a complete cultural construction. It may play on evolutionary psychology in some way, but it's certainly not the way our bodies were designed to interact with the world. If we didn't have this continuous rush of stimulating stuff to worry about all the time, we'd have more opportunities for our brains to naturally experience and emphasize the positive aspects of living.

This is sorta why Learn To Play, Noob! exists... (1)

seebs (15766) | about 9 months ago | (#45231259)

Learn to play, noob! [l2pnoob.org] was written partially to address some of the things that make people gratuitiously unhappy.

Happiness | secret (2)

ElitistWhiner (79961) | about 9 months ago | (#45231309)

Having what you want
over
Wanting what you have

Pile of shit! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45231323)

I'm happy! Author and all who agree need to evolve!

optimize for happiness if you like (4, Interesting)

stenvar (2789879) | about 9 months ago | (#45231395)

If you prefer to optimize for happiness, there are lots of drugs to help you with that.

Unfortunately, optimizing for happiness has serious disadvantages even in modern society. Preferentially learning from painful experiences has its benefits even today.

Re:optimize for happiness if you like (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45231661)

I've been taking Vitamin C tablets before breakfast, 1x 500mg tablet and the neatest trick is that I get all of the housework done, I thought I had depression, at least thats what the doctors have been telling me for the last 15 years.

Then I tried Noopept. now that I'm taking it on a 2-3 times a week basis I feel like I can actually feel comfortable in my own skin again and no longer "sad".

Come to think of it, every single thing that the doctors have been shoving down my throat has been all wrong, I just needed good nutrition and a super little pill like Noopept.

Re:optimize for happiness if you like (4, Insightful)

slew (2918) | about 9 months ago | (#45231885)

As someone who optimizes for happiness and doesn't indulge in mind altering substances (unless you count the occasional good prime NY strip cooked medium rare), I haven't noticed any disadvantages you seem to be alluding to. Would you care to elaborate?

Not saying optimizing for happiness is what everyone should do (to each his own), but I don't even understand what it is like to go through life mostly motivated by attempting to avoid unhappiness (or pain, or whatever the opposite of what I'm doing is).

It's not to say I'm happy all the time (I think people would be delusional if they were), but if I had to figuratively walk across coals to get some literal happiness, I probably would consider it. I'm guessing a person with the opposite temperament would avoid this simply to avoid the temporary unhappiness of the figurative coals. No pain, no gain?

The /. summary doesn't do the article justice (okay that's not a revelation). They didn't say a lot people have some sort of happiness faÃade, the author said "I know a lot of people..." that means something totally different. Maybe (I'm guessing) that person knows a bunch of sad, angry, lonely, hurt or frightened people that could benefit from his advice (or perhaps could sell a self help book to?). He is a therapist after all (and no doubt sees a bunch of folks with serious psychological problems).

As to feigned happiness somehow being a cover up for some feelings of sadness, angry, lonely, hurt, or frightened feelings, I think that might be mostly restricted to people that need external validation. For example, I'm asking myself, if I was angry or lonely, why hide it by attempting to feign happiness to someone who could give a rats ass about what I felt? (since most folks give a rats ass about the affairs of total strangers or even casual acquaintances).

As many people will attest, when you stop caring what other people think about you, your happiness level will increase greatly... Perhaps this is the "clear" (not necessarily happy) thinking the author is alluding to that is necessary to be happy?

Re:optimize for happiness if you like (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45231925)

Absolutely, as someone suffering from anxiety (for example I couldn't go into crowded public places) I have been prescribed Pregabalin (Lyrica) by my doctor.

Pregabalin is a GABA agonist and apart from eliminating anxiety it makes you feel 'fine'. For the first time in my life I feel not happy or sad but 'fine'. Its perfect.

I feel like Pete at the end of James L Halperin's The Truth Machine; I feel slightly dulled and no longer like a magnesium flare burning through my allotment of life, but the reward is so well worth the sacrifice.

   

Re:optimize for happiness if you like (1)

sociocapitalist (2471722) | about 9 months ago | (#45232047)

If you prefer to optimize for happiness, there are lots of drugs to help you with that.

Unfortunately, optimizing for happiness has serious disadvantages even in modern society. Preferentially learning from painful experiences has its benefits even today.

I find, I believe largely due to the way our lives have gone so far, that I am a worrier and my partner is a happy, happy non-worrier. It can be really fucking annoying when I'm focused on serious things and she starts talking about cookies or some shit but overall I guess it balances out - helps me stop focusing only on bad things. Presumably better for the kids too, to have a balance.

"once burned, twice shy." (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45231731)

I'd like to note that the "once burned, twice shy." bit isn't actually true with every individual ;)

Neuroscience? C'mon (1)

Opportunist (166417) | about 9 months ago | (#45231791)

We all know how to get happy. Pump enough SRAs [wikipedia.org] into a person and he IS happy, whether he wants to or not.

Strangely, though, I have that suspicion that our governments don't want us to be happy. That list reads a bit like a schedule 1 who is who...

A terrible idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45231881)

Having too many positive experiences in a "long-term storage" would be a terrible idea. Yeah, it sounds nice to be able to remember clearly the happiest moments in your life, but I doubt they will make you feel happier when compared to the dullness of day-to-day life.

Instead I prefer to be constantly remembered that my life is usually much better than my darkest memories.

Treat happiness like learning (5, Interesting)

Tristan Palmer (3394267) | about 9 months ago | (#45232029)

I struggled with depression for many years and eventually came up with a simple exercise to increase happiness: At the end of the day I write down as many good things that happened that day as I can; they can be as simple as having a nice sandwich or the enjoyment I got from listening to music. I aim to write at least five a day. I then read back over the last couple of weeks entries too. The way I figure it, the problem was that when I felt bad about something I couldn't remember the good things in life clearly enough for those memories to combat the feelings of sadness (ie. my brain hadn't burnt the good memories in clearly enough). I took the simple and proven techniques that I use when learning a new subject (write good notes, read over those notes several times) and applied them to emotional memories instead of facts. Works very well, only takes up 5 minutes a day.

Re:Treat happiness like learning (2)

jones_supa (887896) | about 9 months ago | (#45232679)

How about writing them to Twitter instead? That could be an interesting combination. Those small snippets of enjoyment would make great tweets.

Re:Treat happiness like learning (1)

beaverdownunder (1822050) | about 9 months ago | (#45233437)

Just to note here that we shouldn't confuse emotional depression with physical depression.

People who suffer from so-called 'atypical' physical depression can't 'cure' themselves with happiness -- although granted it sure helps with coping, coping is all people with atypical depression can realistically do.

Being happy won't solve your fatigue, anxiety etc. But it'l make it a bit more tolerable to be sure.

Hang on a minute... (1)

headfirstonly (2526698) | about 9 months ago | (#45232121)

A couple of years ago we were told that the brain was hard wired to be significantly over-optimistic (see this TIME article [time.com] or Google "optimism bias" for more examples). Now we're told that the opposite is true? What gives?

Isn't the answer obvious and given in TFA? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45232129)

Whenever you recognize that you feel happiness, inflict yourself a really painful experience to bookmark it.

Pain is a sort of "Enter" key.

Now we just need something very painful, yet totally harmless. Capsaicin?

Re:Isn't the answer obvious and given in TFA? (1)

jones_supa (887896) | about 9 months ago | (#45232889)

That kind of makes sense, but wouldn't it also teach the body to avoid things that lead to happiness, because it has detected that those moments cause pain?

Happiness & Pleasure (4, Interesting)

eulernet (1132389) | about 9 months ago | (#45232141)

The author is unable to differentiate happiness and pleasure !

Pleasure comes when I have a good experience. Pain comes when I have a bad experience.

Happiness is totally different !
Happiness appears mostly after pleasure.
For example, if I make love with my beloved partner, and I have an orgasm, I'll experience pleasure.
After the orgasm, I feel happy, because I feel at peace with my partner.

Happiness is simply a state of mind: I become happy when I'm in peace.
Pleasure is external (or related to external stimuli), and happiness is internal.
For example, when I meditate (=when I stop all my thoughts), I experience happiness.
Happiness is so easy to reach that in fact nobody really wants happiness, because it's so boring: nothing happens.

Everybody seeks pleasure, and pleasure always comes with pain.

Re:Happiness & Pleasure (2)

Zan Zu from Eridu (165657) | about 9 months ago | (#45232415)

The author is unable to differentiate happiness and pleasure !

No, the author is very well able to differentiate happiness and pleasure. The brain is clearly wired for pleasure, it has an extensive reward system that can even be tricked into working overtime (leading to addiction).

His point is that our brains have a natural bias towards storing and recalling negative experiences over positive experiences. We have evolved to immediately learn from physical and emotional pain because learning to avoid pain is a better survival strategy than learning to seek pleasure.

Re:Happiness & Pleasure (1)

eulernet (1132389) | about 9 months ago | (#45232621)

I totally agree with your point, because we learn a lot more from failure (pain) than from success (pleasure).
I'm still baffled why people avoid failure, when failure provides so much lessons (of course, small failures are preferred to big failures).

But my point was about happiness, not about pain/pleasure.
Why talking about happiness, when in reality the author talks about pleasure ?

From the article:
>And yet on the other hand, many people today would report that they have a fundamental sense of feeling stressed and pressured and disconnected from other people, longing for closeness that they don’t have, frustrated, driven, etc. Why is that? I think one reason is that we’re simply wasting the positive experiences that we’re having, in part due to modernity, because we’re not taking into account that design bug in the Stone Age brain that it doesn’t learn very well.

And this is wrong !
Positive experiences leave less traces than negative experiences in the brain, learning has nothing to do here, it's just memorization (and our brains are so buggy that some event may trigger some new fear or some superstition).

Stress is simply a mental state, where the brain gets very agitated.
Stress is the opposite of happiness.

This is why so much people take drugs or drink, it artificially stops the brain's agitation.
In modern society, we praise mental agitation: you never have to let your brain take a rest.
Do you think that watching TV rests your brain ?

>For me, by repeatedly taking in the good to grow inner strength, you become much more able to deal with the bad. For me, taking in the good is motivated by the recognition that there’s a lot about life is hard.

And this won't work !
Why ? Simply because you are still categorizing "good" and "bad".
What happens when everything is bad, no matter how you see it ?
How can you see some good when your whole family dies before your eyes ?
The psychopath will say: I'll inherit !

Also, the most miserable people are the ones who try to force themselves to be joyful, by smiling.

How could you force yourself to be something that you are not ?

Re:Happiness & Pleasure (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45232465)

I become happy when I conquer fools like you by giving them a big wedgie and try to be all "happy" with their underwear all the way on their heads.

My pleasure, your pain. Hey, now I'm happy! Thanks!!

Re:Happiness & Pleasure (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45233331)

> For example, if I make love with my beloved partner, and I have an orgasm, I'll experience pleasure.
> After the orgasm, I feel happy, because I feel at peace with my partner.

If you only feel 'at peace with your partner' (and I imagine you're not talking about your inferior member) I'm not sure you're the best authority to define 'happiness' in this case, no? Since you apparently don't know what love is?

The Hedonistic Imperative (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45232213)

www.hedweb.com

Probably too scary for most Slashdotters to consider- a world with no more suffering, and no more unhappiness...

Re:The Hedonistic Imperative (1)

wisnoskij (1206448) | about 9 months ago | (#45233709)

Sounds horrible.

Choice (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45232439)

Happiness is a matter of choice, not destiny.

You can chose to be happy if you want to.

Evolutionary advantage (1)

argStyopa (232550) | about 9 months ago | (#45232559)

I suspect that the difference here isn't just something trivial, but in fact something deeper and more hard-wired.

The fact is that we learn far, far more in a basic survival sense from losing than winning. We learn more about what's dangerous, what to avoid, and what can hurt us from negative experiences than from positive....ergo, what are the experiences that need to go into deep-storage? Negative ones.

We're programmed to remember bad stuff.

Pelosi-financed mindmelt PC bullshite (1)

noshellswill (598066) | about 9 months ago | (#45233143)

Earned a crappy feeling? You wanna feel good? Too bad, the 2nd Law fyucks you in the *zzwhole every time.  Persistent , eh? Then **build** something. You wanna feel twice as good? Do **twice** as much no matter how-much bytch Gaia/Pelosi & great-Sat'in H Reid taxes the value away.  Or stock-up on Special-K like Pelosis SanFran nancyboiz voters.

Still hurt? Oh da booboo gonna get Obama.nation care ... next year ,,, or the next ... feckin'-A feel-good bullshite.

Physical Punishment (1)

wisnoskij (1206448) | about 9 months ago | (#45233739)

So basically this author just proved that spanking, caning, and wiping are the best learning techniques, and positive reinforcement is a baseless pseudo-science.

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