the pursuit of Happiness...
Familiar topic, new approach.
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The pursuit of happiness
"We hold these truths to be self-evident," reads the Declaration of Independence, "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness..."
But what if our 21st century brains are wired in such a way that an 18th century idea like, "the pursuit of happiness" makes it less likely that modern people will actually become happy?
Mind blown, and that's sort of the point. Because a growing body of research suggests this is exactly how our brains can work, and maybe what we can do to turn things around.
This is a topic I've written about before, but I came recently across an article in the journal Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, in which Aekyoung Kim of Rutgers University and Sam J. Maglio of the University of Toronto, conducted experiments to investigate how the idea of the "pursuit of happiness" influenced people's perception of time.
Their 2018 research found that people who were convinced they were not yet happy—but who were encouraged to pursue happiness, whatever that meant to them, were more likely to report that time seemed to become a scarcer resource as they proceeded.
Ultimately, the sheer pressure of feeling as if they were running out of time to find happiness paradoxically made it even harder for them to achieve happiness in the first place.
"This finding adds depth to the growing body of work suggesting that the pursuit of happiness can ironically undermine well-being," they wrote in the journal article.
So, what do we do? Do we just give up on happiness? Actually, there are at least three key solutions that can turn things around.
1. Remember that your brain was built for an earlier era.
First off, make an effort to remember that you live today; not ancient times.
In earlier ages, people had to make more split-second, life or death decisions about whether to engage with or avoid the unknown. Thus, their brains evolved to pay a lot more natural attention to negative and dangerous stimuli.
Put more bluntly, prehistoric humans had to focus hard on all the shadowy wild animals around them, for fear of predators. But, they could afford to forget exactly what that sweet berry tasted like, because there wasn't much chance that it would attack them.
As a result, "the mind is like Velcro for negative experiences," as psychologist Rick Hanson, author of the book, Buddha's Brain: the practical neuroscience of happiness, love and wisdom, puts it, "and Teflon for positive ones."
2. Train yourself to focus on gratitude
Second on the list is one you've heard elsewhere, but for a new reason: Make a constant and concerted effort to experience gratitude, instead of allowing less happy moments to dominate your perception.
Kim and Maglio use the example of a dinner with friends:
Consciously strive to feel gratitude for the pleasant experience of the dinner,
And, consciously try not to feel stress or pressure about how spending time with friends meant you'll have less time to get other important things done.
Besides creating the positive feelings of appreciation, this technique smooths out the peaks and troughs that naturally occur between happy experiences. Reducing how often you find yourself feeling that you're no longer happy, in turn reduces the stress that results from feeling that you should be.
3. Think about what happiness actually means
Finally, it might be time to consider the definition of happiness itself.
With apologies to Jefferson and the others who had a hand in writing the Declaration of Independence in 1776, we use the single word, "happiness," to describe many different emotions: contentment, euphoria, excitement, etc.
As Morten Kringelbach, a professor of neuroscience at the University of Oxford and Kent C. Berridge of the University of Michigan wrote in a 2010 journal article, The Neuroscience of Happiness and Pleasure, put it:
"Many would agree that happiness has remained difficult to define and challenging to measure—partly due to its subjective nature."
The solution within psychology is to use a multifaceted definition, they explain: one that considers "happiness" to include components like pleasure, meaning, and "feelings of commitment and participation in life."
Or else maybe, just try to stop worrying about it.
7 other things worth knowing today
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Disney CEO: It makes sense to keep ESPN because of legalized betting in the US. "Sports betting is a part of what our younger, say, under-35 sports audience is telling us they want as part of their sports lifestyle." (Bloomberg)
Military experts are gushing over Ukraine’s stunning military advances over the past 72 hours, which broke through Russian lines in the Kharkiv region, reclaimed more than 1,200 square miles of occupied territory, and forced hundreds of humiliated Russian troops to retreat in disarray, abandoning their equipment and running for their lives. (Washington Examiner)
A Blue Origin rocket crashed back to Earth shortly after liftoff Monday in the first launch accident for Jeff Bezos’ space travel company, but the capsule carrying experiments managed to parachute to safety. (AP)
There are five types of bad bosses to avoid—and Mark Zuckerberg fits three of them, says a Harvard Business School expert. (Fortune)
Parents Are posting their Black daughters’ excited reactions to the “Little Mermaid” trailer on TikTok when they realize that Ariel looks like them this time, since she's played by Halle Bailey. (Buzzfeed News)
How the defendant at the center of a giant U.S. Navy bribery case, Leonard Glenn Francis—known by the nickname “Fat Leonard”—escaped from house arrest this month only days before sentencing and is now suspected to have made his way to his native Malaysia. (Mercury News)
Thanks for reading. Photo credit: Library of Congress. I wrote about some of this before at Inc.com. As for the 7 other things discussion, thanks for your thoughts Friday. It was a busy weekend and I haven’t thought it through yet. See you in the comments!