Pursuit of Happiness – Mindful Happiness
Gilbert, a professor of Psychology at Harvard University and the author of Stumbling on Happiness, implies that we make mind-errors in our search for happiness. Happiness is a core human emotion, most often activated into consciousness via the midbrain reward centers and dopamine activation. Perhaps our hardwired brains are made to ensure that we at least make ongoing efforts to attain pleasure over pain, contentment over dissatisfaction, and joy over suffering. Happiness may well be an essential human experience, but not one we can make happen.
Our human errors in the pursuit of happiness involves the use of memory – memory about experiences that result in suffering or happiness. The problem here is that memory, itself, is not like a repeating video show; each time we go back to a happy memory, the memory changes in subtle ways. We want pleasure NOT pain, so our modifying memories come with a human bias – attaching, desiring, clinging to happiness and avoiding pain. Therefore, we can make errors in judging the true sources of what makes us feel happy. As far back into history as Adam Smith, we have known that pure consumption of goods does not make for lasting happiness. Although many researchers in the field of happiness studies have proven this fact, today most Americans really do think that simply having more money, greater fame, and lots of things/toys – valued by others – ALL do lead to greater personal happiness.
The ultimate reality is that the strong pursuit of happiness is quite futile. No matter what we achieve, and no matter how wealthy we may become, these factors alone do not result in a long-term state of feeling happy. We just keep thinking: only if I had…., then I would be happier. We get “it” only to find that getting it did not make up happy. Human adaptation and habituation to repeated experiences are the core problems. All of us do not wish to suffer, and all of us do wish to be happy. The problem is in the way our brain and mind make sense of it all. Once we achieve what we thought would bring happiness, we find it falls short. So we try harder and do more of the same but with the same result. Short-term joy may occur, but long-term happiness probably not.
Happiness, in fact, is an inside job. Memory, intuition, imagination and consciousness are all involved in human learning and experience; the problem is that each one of these mental processes cannot operate simultaneously with the others. It is like the neuroscience logic that we have far too many thoughts, but only ONE thought can become conscious at one time. That time may be very quick (milliseconds), but it still only one thougtht at one time. Happiness is not an executive brain function, but most Americans think it is. Happiness is an emotional function. Stronger, longer-lasting happiness is more complex and not purely related to mental-behavioral constructs of consumption. The actual conscious pursuit of it may the problem.
My interpretation of the implications here suggests that it is our mindfulness and attention in the present moment of an experience that produce clarity about the happiness that is experienced internally. Simply allow it. Be willing to radically accept suffering, and be willing to radically accept happiness. Do not over-attach to the possible sources of being happy; just be with it when it occurs – always in the present moment. The past has happened; we cannot change it. The future has not yet happened; we cannot control it. We have emotional power to decide how to experience the present moment only while we are present for it. Allow happiness to present itself. When it does, savor it!
For more information refer to Daniel Gilbert, The Pleasure Paradox…at www.tricyle.com on June 5, 2015.
By Anthony R. Quintiliani, PhD., LADC
From the Eleanor R. Liebman Center for Secular Meditation in Monkton, Vermont
Author of Mindful Happiness
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