WEIGHTY ISSUES


2014-08-06
Are You Happy?


"We all live with the objective of being happy; our lives are all different, and yet the same." -Anne Frank

Ever wondered what you were thinking when you made a choice you thought will make you happy only to realize later you did not end up being happy about your choice?

When eating out, why would you choose a boring meal you know won't give you much pleasure rather than the amazing combination of prawns fried in batter and rump steak topped with creamy mushroom sauce? And why would you order that decadent toffee desert afterwards?

What is the motivation that drives your decision to decline an invitation to meet some friends for coffee the day before you weigh in your group, but when invited to join them afterwards you are likely to accept?

What reasoning would lead someone who has lost and gained for some time to give up her dream of finding happiness once she has reached her ideal weight? And why do people reach their goal weight only to stop doing what got them to goal in the first place?

Why would someone fall in love, have children, love them dearly and then fall out of love? Why do people work hard for long hours with little time for what they would love to do?  

"In Stumbling Upon Happiness", the author, Daniel Gilbert reveals the brains tendency to forecast the future via our imagination. It is a gift with several "shortcomings" which enables us to plan the future we think will make us happy. The shortcomings are blessings in disguise though as they seem to form a "psychological immune system" that defends the mind against unhappiness in much the same way the immune system defends the body against illness.

Imagining our future while planning the next choice, gives us a feeling of control over the outcome of our decisions even if it does not always give us the outcome we desire.

According to Gilbert, "Realism" the first shortcoming, causes us to fill in all the missing details of our forecast resulting in blind spots which leads us to believe that our imagined reality will be the way we see it. That is why you would choose the boring meal rather than the one you know you will enjoy because you foresee the results a few months from now, only to fall victim to the next shortcoming, "Rationalisation" to explain why the desert would be OK "after you have been so good with your first choice.

"Realism" and "Rationalisation" are also behind your decisions to join your friends before or after your appointment with the scale. Does "O well I had a good loss and I will have a whole week to undo the damage" sound familiar?

"Rationalization" also helps us to deal with pain, loss or even guilt, when we can come up with a reasonable explanation for what seems inevitable. This is why someone who gave up her dream to be a certain weight may proclaim that she is a much happier person since she dropped the program.

Falling in love, getting married, having children, getting divorced, and working hard without stopping to smell the roses are all the result of our fertile imaginations forecasting happiness based on our flawed beliefs that what we feel right now, will produce the perfect future, a shortcoming Gilbert calls "Presentism"

So is finding happiness possible if we have such tricky imaginations? Apparently there is no simple formula to find happiness. Happiness is a subjective experience orchestrated by each person's unique perception of the world, which may mean different things to different people. Some might say happiness is an emotional experience we become aware of when our encounters in the world produce neural activity which makes us feel good or bad, causing us to do what we do to avoid unhappiness and to increase happiness.

Rather than striving to find happiness, we can only rely on our imperfect imaginations to lead us into the future, blindfolded by our present experiences and wizened by our past, hoping to stumble upon happiness when we choose each day what we hope will bring us closer to our desired life goals. It will be wise though, to remember that our greatest unhappiness is often caused by the things we did not do.

"It is not in the pursuit of happiness that we find fulfilment, it is in the happiness of pursuit." - Denis Waitley

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