Notes on The Last Psychiatrist

I love few things more than a great blog. My latest find: The Last Psychiatrist, an archived blog, mostly about narcissism.

I was so excited to learn his insights… I made notes.

What follows are his finest insights about narcissism and my comments.

Imagine a crowded subway, and a beautiful woman gets on. Hyper-beautiful, the kind of woman who can wear no makeup, a parka, earmuffs and a bulky scarf and that somehow makes her look even prettier. A handsome man about her age in an expensive suit gets up and says, “please, take my seat.” She smiles, and hastily sits down.

TLP (The Last Psychiatrist), as the author refers to himself, gives us two options as to how the woman should think about this:

  1. This was a sexually motivated act as far as the man was concerned
  2. He was just being nice

If you think of narcissism as grandiosity you miss the nuances, e.g. in her case the problem is narcissism without any grandiosity:

she is so consumed with her identity (as not pretty) that she is not able to read, to empathise with, other people’s feelings. Source

In another post, TLP explains why narcissism isn’t necessarily about grandiosity. This is a blatantly obvious point that escapes most people, unfortunately.

Being the main character of your own film isn’t necessarily grandiose. It is narcissistic though because all the other characters are only important because they help the viewer to understand the main story line.

Here are some less obvious traits of narcissism TLP outlined:

Shame over guilt (I think this is because shame is an emotion directed at the self, whereas guilt is an emotion directed at your victim)

envy over greed (greed would be a primary reason to look for something, whereas envy is only a desire to catch up because otherwise otherwise it’s a bad reflection on you. I liked how this was called “existential agency” here.)

He [the narcissist] thinks the problem is people don’t like him, or not enough, so he exerts massive energy into the creation and maintenance of an identity: if they think of me as X… (and that’s one of the reasons why we love brands)

The narcissist feels unhappy because he thinks his life isn’t as it should be, or things are going wrong;  but all of those feelings find origin in frustration, a specific frustration: the inability to love the other person.

And this really brings it back to the original myth that TLP broke down beautifully here:

Narcissus mother took him to a clairvoyant who said, “He’ll have a long life as long as he never knows himself.

Narcissus kept rejecting people who fell in love with him because they weren’t good enough.

One rejected lover was furious and begged Nemesis, the goddess of vengeance, for retribution.  “If Narcissus ever falls in love, don’t let the love be returned!”

Nemesis  heard the prayer and caused Narcissus to fall in love with himself: he was lead to a  pool of water, and when he looked into it, he fell in love with what he saw.  And what he saw wasn’t real, so of course it couldn’t love him back.  But Narcissus sat patiently, forever, hoping that one day that beautiful person in the bottom of the pool was going to come out and love him.

Because he never loved anyone, he fell in love with himself. That was Narcissus’s punishment.

This brings up an interesting point: how are you meant to feel about yourself?

Let’s first look at what we want. What we pay for. A huge portion of marketing directly helps us to be in love with ourselves, because we’re worth it. They’re not even trying to hide that the feeling of being in love with yourself is what they’re selling. And it’s not punishment as we see it – otherwise we wouldn’t buy it. I suppose it’s a psychic equivalent of putting a person on heroin. You mightn’t feel it’s a punishment, but it is.

Then there are the more subtle “intellectual” publications that help you love yourself (see the distinction from being in love with yourself? Cause that would be shallow.) I wonder how many pages were dedicated to helping people see Narcissus’ infatuation as Buddhist acceptance or some other high and mighty concept.

There isn’t really anywhere that would tell you that you’re meant to not love yourself.

What happened to Narcissus doesn’t really sound so horrible in today’s culture. Maybe he wouldn’t have even retaken a selfie if he lived today and been happy with the first shot? That level of self-acceptance is just enviable! He’s winning at life by millennial standards!… Indeed, TPL calls narcissism “a generational pathology”.

TLP goes on to discuss Narcissus’ parents’ role, which I thought was priceless:

He will have a long life, if he never knows himself.

Forget about whether the prophecy is true.  Ask instead, “what would the parents have done once they heard it?”…

Next time I feel insignificant and weak, maybe I need to hold on to that feeling, because my culture will obviously infuse me with my own grandiosity without me ever trying.

TLP has another explanation for why Narcissus stayed looking at the primordial selfie lake though.

He didn’t stay there for years because the reflection had pretty hair.  He stayed because daydreaming takes a lot of time.

In other words, Narcissus didn’t recognise himself and spent all that time conjuring up images of how wonderful life would be with that person in the reflection…

And the DSM says exactly that, only it adds a grandiose twist: “preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love”.

I am confused now.

Narcissus fell in love with himself, only he didn’t know if was himself.

So, as far as Narcissus was concerned, he was genuinely in love with another human being – only they were unreachable. Their personality was entirely a figment of his imagination…

Wait, that’s not Narcissus, that’s Gatsby! (Who also dies in a body of water, fair dues to FitzGerald).

Narcissus’ crime wasn’t being in love with himself at all. Phew, it’s ok to let L’Oreal and #positivethinking to get money and likes.

Narcissus’ crime was not knowing himself.

Actually, no, again.

TLP puts it better:

The moral of the story of Narcissus, told as a warning for the very people who refuse to hear it as such, is that how Narcissus came to be is irrelevant.  What was important was what he did, and what he did – was nothing.

And that’s his main crime: he never cared about anyone real. To me that’s all one ever needs to know to understand narcissism.

TLPs advice on how to not be a narcissist is to fake it. I think what TLP’s getting at is that your behaviour is much more important than your identity.

The ROI of beauty

Empirically, the most accomplished, intelligent people I know couldn’t give two fks about beauty standards.

All the same, it is super popular and desired. Being beautiful seems to serve a purpose beyond health and attraction. I am wondering what that is.

I followed Jessi Kneeland a few years ago after seeing a recommendation on Greatist. Obsessed with HIIT, the fitness-junkie in me rejoiced at finding her, fit as a tennis ball.

 

So many women- clients, friends, and strangers- off handedly apologize to me or feel shame for not "having their shit together" like I do. Which always strikes me as strange, because I don't have my shit together either. We all have gifts. I just found a way to pursue and teach mine. But trust me, I have just as many "issues" as anyone else. I like to think I deal with them compassionately and patiently, but that doesn't mean they're not there. I don't see any particular reason to spend time lamenting stuff I suck at, because focusing on my gifts is so much more fulfilling! So I guess what I'm saying is this: stop giving all your power to the stuff you suck at. Stop comparing your gifts and weaknesses to other people's gifts and weaknesses. Just find some shit you're amazing at, and do more of it. Focus on your gifts, and enjoy the absolute shit out of sharing them. #mindset #selfesteem #confidence #dharmayogawheel #yoga #bodyimage #remodelfitness #gifts

A post shared by Jessi Kneeland (@jessikneeland) on

In the last year, she switched from being a fitness guru to a body image coach:

“Here are some of the boxes which a modern woman must check in order to be hot. (You’ll notice that many of these are actually “achieved” through effort, skill, time, and money, rather than inborn):
➡️A thin/toned hourglass body
➡️Big perky breasts
➡️Long femme smooth hair
➡️Youthful appearance
➡️Big doe eyes
➡️Kardashian level makeup
➡️Smooth and hairless skin
➡️Well-fitted clothing and high heels
➡️A particular way of moving, speaking and posture.” Source

I think this is a really interesting point: hotness is down to the amount of energy you put into it. My personal experience would be congruent with her ideas.

“Women were taught that our purpose in life was to be desirable enough to “snag” a good partner.”

That is certainly the idea being thrown around by “empowering” publications. I think any woman who was told this and bought it already had issues with her self-respect.

I went through a rebellious phase when I was around 12. Sporting short hair with a touch of pink, I was asked to stay behind after class. The teacher didn’t bring up anything academic. She told me that she does not approve of my image and that women ought to have lovely long hair.

I told her that I don’t subscribe to her standards of what women “ought” and could she please refrain from biting into my after school time unless absolutely necessary.

Being a rebellious teenager seems to be like chicken pox. It’s better to get over it when you are a teenager.

I’m not immune from societal expectations. I do admit to feeling a little ill when seeing some of the casual modelling that goes on on Instagram.

But if I were to feel bad when watching the Oscars for not being a movie star or feel bad when going to a gallery for not being an artist, that would be silly.

It’s best not to confuse societal expectations and your own. But this is where it gets interesting:

“Beauty standards got invented to help women be more competitive in the man-snagging market, and the whole thing escalated endlessly until we all have to look like airbrushed celebrities in order to be “good enough”.

Indeed, what is the point of beauty standards if not to attract a partner?

“I wondered if women who aren’t attracted to men might worry less about looking “hot,” since the whole women-as-beautiful-sex-objects thing was made by and for men, right?”

Basically, she asked LGBT women. As an experiment, this didn’t control for the “looking for a partner” aspect, only for “looking for a male partner”.

“The feedback I got proved this shit has nothing to do with men at all: being gay does *not* seem to offer ANY freedom from the pressures of the male gaze, beauty standards, or insecurities…

It’s not for men. So then what are doing this all for?”

What if we tried to control for “looking for a partner”? Ask married people? Well, they still have to “maintain a parter”, so that’s out.

So why do women do it?

A lot of men do the male equivalent, but it seems that that’s not quite as common.

Is it literally being gullible? These standards are floating out there, so we adapt them with the idea that… That what? It will make us better people? Plug holes in our self-esteem?

Or is it literally just down to being a more attractive partner? But that doesn’t add up because (from what I can tell) a lot of men don’t like women who fulfil the “hotness standards” outlined above.

So, either the purpose of looking hot is to find/maintain a partner, only the method is miscalculated, or there is some other reason. Let’s consider proving your worth as a reason.

Traditionally, men had other ways of proving their worth, e.g. their work. That’s increasingly popular with women. In that case, looks should be less important in today’s society than they were 200 years ago. I have no way whatsoever of testing that.

It’s well known that beautiful people are assumed to be more persuasive, trustworthyintelligent and generally better.

The question then arises: is it worth it?… Cause it is hard work – as Jessi has shown us above.

Curious as to what you think!

UPD: This is a really interesting perspective on gender issues.

I am not Atlas, nor was meant to be

The New Year forces us to do a reality check. Accomplishments. Failures. Expectations. Sage books. Bad politics. Mistletoe. The CO2 from sparkling wine hitting you in the nose. Deep breaths and realisations. Shy wishes for the future.

The light and exciting feeling of starting something big pushes me on.

Coming to conclusions reminds me of herding cats. In a big dark room.

Conclusions lead to learning. I want to learn. Learning means order and understanding. Sometimes, stormy randomness prevents linear learning. What was it all for then I wonder? Just to be lived?

A sarky friend of mine calls this “the syndrome of searching for deeper meaning”, a disorder more prevalent in women. One step away from calling me a conspiracy theorist, the sneaky fk!

Why do I want to learn? To feel less pain by stepping on the same rake, as the Russians would say? I prefer the more subtle term, adaptation.

I resolve this by looking for ways to tame uncertainty. Work around it. Turn anxiety into excitement. Think probabilistically. Find people who have the same thoughts and dreams. Remember that I can always rely on myself.

My temptation to justify, to over-explain, to over-plan and catch that finer insight comes from a heightened, unhealthy sense of personal responsibility.

Aged 5, I fell and hurt myself during play. Nothing major. My grandmother came over. I expected her to help me up and console me. Hold me and tell me it’s all ok. She lifted me alright, but then gave out to me for not looking where I was going.

I think I am still running on that software. I always look for ways in which I caused what happened to me.

In some ways, it’s helpful. In others, I am Atlas with the weight of the world on my shoulders. Why haven’t I given up that horrible mentality?

Personal responsibility motivates like nothing else. It’s the fuel of making dreams come true, so it’s hard to give it up.

My learning from this is that feeling like Atlas is frighteningly egocentric. I am not Atlas, nor was meant to be. The world will keep on turning without my help.

What makes me want to bang my head against the wall is the obviousness of it all. Again and again, I arrive at these thoughts. However, it seems that understanding what is within my control is a daily exercise. Thinking about it every day is vital to being productive and at peace.

Meanwhile, I am building up my progress report from September to the end of November. Be ready with yours for 1 December 😉

Mood: T.S. Eliot

And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

Why Christ was a carpenter

The wonderful Pink Agendist recently introduced Jordan Peterson by quoting this:

“Haven’t heard of Jordan Peterson?

Take one part Carl Jung, one part Solzhenitsyn, one part Kermit the Frog, and one part St. Augustine. Put all this in a conceptual blender”.

While I don’t particularly like any of those ingredients, just like a Negroni, Peterson turned out to be more than the sum of his parts and just fabulous in small quantities.

He is quite right-wing compared to what I am used to. He explains the plight of young women and why they don’t “move up the corporate ladder” extremely well here. He made an interesting point: that status is more important for men compared to women because it’s the main criterion on which women judge men. This almost certainly applies in many animal societies where the winner takes all, but I am not so sure it applies with us. I think that when it comes to forming serious relationships, men require a woman to have a CV comparable to theirs, a family background comparable to theirs, etc. A man’s infatuation is unlikely to override these more prosaic factors. Herein probably also lies the real answer to “why he lost interest”: his interest was in a woman’s superficial qualities and burnt out pretty quickly as it should, while her underlying “status” wasn’t attractive enough to sustain more long-term interest. It’s less psychopathic than it sounds as it is simply based on common interests.

His advice for hyper-intellectual people is refreshing. He explains how you can be utterly unwise and even useless with an IQ of 160. It’s good for the ubereducated millenial to listen to this in a world where intelligence is pretty glorified. Peterson’s ideas are very reminiscent of Taleb’s “intellectual yet idiot”, “skin in the game” stuff.

Peterson takes a literary critic type approach to the Bible. He says that Jesus Christ was a carpenter because there is a certain honesty in a carpenter’s work: it falls down if it isn’t made well, so there is less BS-vending and more doing. Furthermore, Jesus has moral superiority without having a Ph.D. and a New York Times best-seller, so the lesson is that you don’t have to be “intelligent” to be effective.

His book, Maps of Meaning, seems to be of interest. Here is the PDF available free via his website (nice touch). Any reviews? To me, he sounds like a dilettante, albeit with a professor title. I suppose if you are popularising stuff, it’s hard to sound any different.

Some of Peterson’s videos though reek of the usual quasi-scientific verging on self-helpy aspects of psychology (one of his books is called 12 Rules for Life. Hmm.) Some of his political views seems to be sensationalist. He’s even been featured on Oprah, but still, interesting presence.

I found his list of recommended books pretty good though:

1. Brave New World – Aldous Huxley

2. 1984 – George Orwell

3. Road To Wigan Pier – George Orwell

4. Crime And Punishment – Fyodor Dostoevsky

5. Demons – Fyodor Dostoevsky

6. Beyond Good And Evil – Friedrich Nietzsche

7. Ordinary Men – Christopher Browning

8. The Painted Bird – Jerzy Kosinski

9. The Rape of Nanking – Iris Chang

10. Gulag Archipelago (Vol. 1Vol. 2, & Vol. 3) – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

11. Man’s Search for Meaning – Viktor Frankl

12. Modern Man in Search of A Soul – Carl Jung

13. Maps Of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief – Jordan B. Peterson

14. A History of Religious Ideas (Vol. 1Vol. 2Vol. 3) – Mircea Eliade

15. Affective Neuroscience – Jaak Panksepp

Hear vs listen

I noticed new Samaritans posters today at a train station:
hear vs listen samaritans campaign
samaritans campaign hear vs listen

A general stickler and former editor, I immediately caught on to the peculiar language.

To me, listening just means perceiving sound, albeit attentively. Hearing means taking it in. And, hearing = listening + understanding.

I don’t think the dictionaries (Oxford) agree with me:

hear

hɪə/
verb
perceive with the ear the sound made by (someone or something)

 

listen

ˈlɪs(ə)n/
verb

give one’s attention to a sound

My one argument is that the verb listen can be used in the continuous, whereas hear is more perfect:

“I hear you”

means I understand the emotion you are trying to convey – in millennial English.

 

“I am listening to you”

means I will take in all these sounds you make, but there is no guarantee it will make sense to me.

Thoughts?
You may listen to Linkin Park, but then you hear the news…
I guess the reason it registered on my radar was the poor Chester Bennington. Another high profile suicide, another wave of suicides that will follow. Take care of yourself.

Emotions as the meaning of life

And so we continue our search for the meaning of life. Robert Solomon’s The Passions offered an interesting take on this question. He proposed the idea that emotions are the meaning of life: as in they add the meaning in a life; emotions add meaning to our experience the world.

When I first came across this idea, I thought it was strange, but really it does make sense. Emotions have a strong effect of perception. Perception heavily influences our understanding of reality and thus has an impact on the meaning we attribute to things, life itself being one of those things.

Emotions are probably the strongest mental phenomena, built of thoughts and feelings – and very importantly, ultimately resulting in action, as the name suggests. Emotions are the driver of behaviour. My entrepreneurial soul was quite impressed when I heard that every sale is a promise of a future state. Emotions rule us, so we may try to be a little bit more aware – and perhaps less disrespectful to them.

Solomon argues that emotions are judgements rather than plain feelings arising from bodily reactions. Emotions tells us whether something matters – or is meaningful. Solomon also argues that emotions are in a sense chosen, sort of along the lines of stoic philosophy. As with beliefs, emotional judgements are often unintentional and unconscious, but we are still responsible for evaluating and changing them if that’s warranted.

 

According to Matthew Ratcliffe, Solomon sees emotions as the ‘meaning of life’, in the sense that they are a precondition for the intelligibility of all our goal-directed activities. If no actual or possible states of affairs were ever judged by us to be preferable to any other, we would have no grounds for action. Without emotions, we could have no projects, nothing to strive for, no sense of anything as worth doing:

“I suggest that emotions are the meaning of life. It is because we are moved, because we feel, that life has a meaning. The passionate life, not the dispassionate life of pure reason, is the meaningful life.”

emotions are the meaning of life robert solomon
Everything looks better in the sun

As someone who has spent some time studying emotions, I occasionally hold out hope that one day science succeeds in transcending the prism of bias and emotion and we are able to see the world without the emotional projections. Being that little bit pragmatic though – and seeing people like N. Taleb do it, I realise that we have to give up on overintellectualising and accept our limitations – or rather break up with our illusion that we are so above our lowly emotions.

The interesting thing about Solomon’s writing is that he emphasises the existential aspect of emotions: this our experience of being present.

The other interesting aspect is how neuroplasticity affects our perception: any time we experience an emotion a certain pathway gets potentiated and the next time we perceive similar inputs, the fact that we experienced an emotion relating to it previously will have changed the way we see the world. There is positive feedback here.

Neuroplasticity affects everything, but a lot of it is mediated through emotion. My personal working theory is that the meaning of life is the impact that you have (appreciating that that’s very vague, but the point here is that it’s different to the en vogue “the meaning of life is happiness”). But how do I decide what is full of impact? I need to feel that it has meaning. The exact values I consider to be full of impact may in theory be independent of emotion, but in reality they are completely affected by emotion. That warm feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment has to flow through me to know that what I am doing is meaningful. I usually only arrive there through what would look to an outside person as a silent CBT session with myself, so it isn’t entirely detached from intellectualising, but it has to feel right in order for me to know that it is right.

What if I do find something meaningful? It is going to invoke strong emotions. The common denominator of meaning does seem to be emotion.

Solomon drew a lot of Martin Heidegger’s concepts of mood. Mood is probably a more more precise word for what Solomon was talking about. The weather (emotion) matters less than the climate (mood) when we decide on the meaning of things around us. Our moods probably invoke the exact brands of biases and focuses of those biases that will allow us then to form our ideas on the meaning of what we see. Heidegger has an interesting definition for mood: it is a background sense of belonging to a meaningful world. That’s kind of like saying that I, as an object, have a relationship with all these other objects and I am trying to evaluate the condition of that relationship. “Sun’s out, so everything is good” or “Nobody is replying to my emails, so I feel like sh*t”. This certainly describes my mood a lot of the time, but then I slap myself and go back to a more Stoic/Nietzschean attitude to evaluating my own actions rather than the world’s response to me.

Reality is real no matter how we perceive it, but meaning is pretty personal.

P. S. I wrote a Haiku while sitting on a beach in Dublin:

An old dog,
once black, now wiser,
at sunset.

Here is the culprit:

robert solomon the passions emotions as meaning of life

P. P. S. I also drew something mighty odd. Feel free to indulge in the madness mindfulness and colour it in.

mindfulness-colouring-for-adults-psychedelic-seagull-snail-hand-drawn

Download PDF: psychedelic seagull with snail beak

Ok, very last thing. If you liked this, you may also like Footnotes to Plato, specifically a post on the why one would develop a philosophy in life.

Happiness research: everything useful we’ve managed to gather so far

“Those who live under the self-imposed pressure to be optimal in their enjoyment of things suffer a measure of distress” – Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Is that because those who put try to optimise for happiness are miserable to begin with – or because optimising is a curse?

Happiness seems to be on everyone’s mind.

Yes, we’re on a quest to be happier and we’re trying to game the system.

No, it may not actually be helpful to overall happiness, who knows.

I decided that I will start this post as my one stop shop for all the quality neuroscience on happiness. I am sure it will be elaborated on, but so far, here is what we all have to know.

Lottery winners aren’t happier right now

Back in 1978, Philip Brickman published a study that has since been replicated many times. Its finding are so significant that if I had my way, it would be on the school curriculum. It’s a deeply unsettling study on many levels, yet it is so fundamental for anyone who has an interest in understand how human beings function.

They had three types of people:

  • those who recently won a lottery
  • those who recently lost the ability to move their legs
  • those who haven’t had any major life events recently

The researchers gathered the happiness ratings for the above groups. The main lesson is that there was no statistically significant difference between the the lottery winners and the control groups in terms of their present happiness.

The accident victims were less presently happy than the controls, but their ideas of their future happiness weren’t significantly different.

Daniel Kahneman described further insights into “What proportion of the day do paraplegics spend in a bad mood?” His answer appears to be that over time, people’s attention is drawn away from the negative change. Exceptions include exposure to loud noise, pain and severe depression.

It seems that the strongest emotions of the winners were also quite short-lived:

“Both contrast and habituation will operate to prevent the winning of a fortune from elevating happiness as much as might be expected. Contrast with the peak experience of winning should lessen the impact of ordinary pleasures, while habituation should eventually reduce the value of new pleasures made possible by winning.”

We spoke about happiness being affected by expectations as well as reality. This research shows that the brain is quite adaptable in terms of expectations.

The scary thing about this research is that it attacks the fundamentals of our culture. When the prince rescues us from the tower or the princess breaks the curse by kissing us (underline as required), after a while, we won’t feel much different than we did before. In general, things may be different, but they probably won’t feel different unless you actively pay attention.

So what’s the point of chasing after achievements if they won’t make you happy? Well, I wouldn’t put it quite like that. They will make you happy every time you think of them: which for most of us isn’t that often. They are meaningful (well, I assume they are meaningful) regardless of how much dopamine they fill you with. So don’t give up just yet.

This brings me to my next point, that happiness is less dependent on reality than it is on constant, internal factors.

Long-term happiness is on a thermostat

There is beautiful symmetry in the brain as it relates to happiness – or at least I ill simplify things to look this way for our purposes today.

The right prefrontal cortex is associated with anxiety, anger and unhappiness.

The left prefrontal cortex, it seems, is active among people who report high levels of happiness.

Measuring the ratio of right to left prefrontal cortex activity is predictive of a person’s happiness level. That’t it. That’s your level of happiness.

So are we doomed? Is this it? Our happiness level is set and that’s it? Thankfully, no. The most effective answer is… drumroll… mindfulness training.

Daniel Goleman has written about Richard Davidson’s research for The New York Times if you want more detail.

how-do-i-feel-happier-in-life

Money is somewhat related to happiness still

So does this mean money has no bearing on happiness? Not quite. There was a clear positive relation between income and happiness. Importantly, it is subject to diminishing returns – and earlier than you might think.

According to our good friend Daniel Kahneman, by the time you get up to an annual household income of around $50K, the increases become very small. At $81K, the scores peak (2016 USD). By the way, happiness is cheaper in Alabama and more expensive in New York – just like the cost of living.

Think about – and value – time

There is something relieving about Stoic philosophy. Just like Christianity, it was popular among all social classes. Seneca basically sees death as a relief.

I always thought valuing death is nihilistic, but sometimes I just can’t quite resist the pleasure of acknowledging that death is part of life. Perhaps my happiness doesn’t stem from some strangely happy passive death wish. It seems that focusing on time makes people happier. Here is a HBR interview with the researcher.

Experience nature

Going outside, leaving the urban landscape and spending time in a natural environment makes people happy. Peter Aspinall spent time evading urban Scots here. A more comprehensive meta-analysis of these studies suggests there are strong links between nature and happiness.

I am always so happy when there is research to prove the obvious.

Also, hospital patients who get to look out the window do better.

Apparently, if you can’t escape the urban jungle, viewing natural settings can still help. Nat Geo Wild, here I come.

what-affects-how-happy-you-feel
My personal research shows that ice-cream causes happiness, even if you’re just after spending 40 minutes running in the rain

Body language

Body language signals things to the brain, it’s not just the brain signalling things to the body. One of the slickest experiments was designed in way that the subjects didn’t know they were being investigated to assess happiness.

In 1988, Fritz Strack found that people who held a pen between their teeth, which induces a smile, rated cartoons as funnier than did those who held a pen between their lips, which induced a pout, or frown.

It seems, however, that there were questions raised when someone tried to replicate it recently.

Good relationships

Harvard/MassGen psychiatristRobert Waldinger draws an interesting conclusion to one of the longest studies on happiness, carried out at Harvard: “Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”

Under this heading, I will very briefly go over the highlights of the neuroscience of good relationships: avoiding negative things is more important than having overwhelmingly positive experiences, no dismissive behaviours and seeking new experiences together.

Gratitude

You’ve heard all about this before.

Exercise

I won’t bore you.

Oxytocin

Imagining being happy

I guess we become what we pretend to be. Nakia Gordon studied what happens to participants who pretend to laugh or pretend to cry.

The results were predictable: thinking about laughing made people happy and thinking about crying made people sad.

Happiness begets happiness

Happy people are more productive, have better memories and better immune function.