Live your life the way you want to.
Welcome to the December 29th stop on the blog tour for Intentional by David Amerland with Goddess Fish Promotions. Be sure to follow the rest of the tour for spotlights, reviews, author guest posts, and a giveaway! More on that at the end of this post.
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Author Guest Post
What It Takes To Make Us Happy
Is happiness a journey or a destination? The answer you give will determine whether you are one of those few lucky people who get to enjoy life, achieve more than they expect and, in their wake, leave only happy memories behind.
It’s weird, because we are all conditioned from birth to understand that we need to chase what we want and put effort into everything we want to achieve. Yet research shows that despite ever increasing levels of material wealth, increased knowledge and vastly improved quality of life we fail to feel happy.
There are several distinct reasons for that and they are rooted in our unique neurobiology. Consider how as biological beings we are evolutionarily designed to process environmental stimuli in order to create the mental representations of the world we live in, culture and social signals then, subconsciously affect our expectations. Expectations, in turn, determine the horizon we establish as we plan our actions. In short, what we expect to feel plays a key role in the decisions we make and the actions we take that will get us there.
Cognitive psychologists have known about this top-down process since the early 20th century when the German polymath Hermann von Helmholtz proposed that the problem of generating reliable mental models from ambiguous signals could be solved by a process of ‘unconscious inference’, where observers use tacit knowledge of how the world is structured to come up with an accurate mental representation of the objects being modelled.
It is an approach that can work miracles when we use it, for example, to visualize a difficult process that we need to undertake: an Olympic sprint, a marathon race, a world-class title fight or a public speech. These are all examples of tangible events whose outcomes are extrinsically measurable. When it comes, however, to achieving a mental or an emotional state the outcome relies on self-reporting and that makes it next to impossible to measure.
We Are Really Good At Lying
Self-reporting of emotional or mental states is subject to what I call “The Dr. House Rule” which is to say that everyone lies. The moment you ask someone how tall they are, how often they exercise, if they are good drivers or if they are happy, whatever will say will be filtered through the three components of identity that social scientists call Centrality, Ingroup Affect and Ingroup Ties – or more popularly, how we view our self, how others view us and the absolute zinger: how we behave because of the way we think others view us.
We lie to others and to ourselves because our identity, viewed through its three primary components which, in turn, govern our decision-making process and behavior, is a fluid ever-evolving narrative construct. Its fluid, evolving nature ties our ability to assess risks and rewards to the context of our existence and the prior knowledge, experiences and memories we have.
What does all this have to do with happiness? A heck of a lot actually. The feeling we commonly identify as happiness is the result of the activation of the brain’s reward system. The brain structures that compose the reward system are located primarily within the cortico-basal ganglia-thalamo-cortical loop and they respond to a cocktail of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin and noradrenaline.
These neurotransmitters create a host of physiological responses in our body such as regulating blood flow to the brain and organs, raise the body’s temperature and lower anxiety levels and blood pressure. We associate these feel-good sensations with being relaxed, happy and engaged in the moment.
When we are focused on achieving a tangible end-goal, and have planned our activities to get us there, the reward system makes us feel good when we have achieved it. Winning, the sprint, finishing the race, getting the project completed on time, nailing that public speech are all activities that leave us feeling an inner high. We can and often do interpret that high as being happy.
Paradoxically however when it comes to chasing the neurochemical state that we interpret as happiness the results are often the opposite of what we expect. It doesn’t matter how hard we strive to be happy, study after study shows that we fail badly at it.
The reason for this lies in our expectations. Expectations are projected outcomes that have some roots in our perception of the world and how it works and some roots in our past knowledge, experience and memories. We all know, for instance, what happiness feels like because we have all, at some point in our life experienced it. Yet, when it comes to remembering those moments our brain trips us up.
The eschewed perspective of retrospective recall minimizes the effort it’d required to get to that happy state and maximizes the way it actually felt. Our memories, in this case, work like a photoshop filter that magically airbrushes all the tiny blemishes and produces a near-perfect and completely unrealistic version of us.
Yet, this is what happens when we project past mental states we’ve experienced to future events we have not yet encountered. Thanks to this process, the magnification that takes place (and this works for feelings of fear and failure-anxiety as well) create a completely unrealistic expectation that is at odds in intensity and magnitude to what we actually experience.
If you’ve ever organized a party you know the feeling well. Weeks and weeks of planning, preparation and anticipation devolve into an anti-climax on the night when everything goes pretty much as planned but, somehow, fails to satisfy the image we had of it in our head. The gap between expectation and actual experience is filled by relief (in the case of fear) and disappointment when all we wanted to feel was happiness.
Happiness Is An Experience
Enlightening as all this may be the question remains: what does it really take to make us happy? Harvard psychologist Susan David says we should embrace every emotion we feel equally, even disappointment, fear and unhappiness and then we shall increase our chances of feeling happy. True happiness, then, is not an end-state but an experience.
What she’s pointing out here is that happiness is not just driven by expectations shaped by poor memories and augmented by our current culture’s latest obsession. Happiness is also relative. In the middle of the Sahara a cold glass of water can fill us with happiness. Constantly comparing ourselves with others however can debase that feeling.
To avoid all this and increase our chances of feeling happy with our life and what we achieve we should follow a formula:
- Focus on how you feel always, be present in yourself now not in some distant, undefined point in future time.
- Embrace your emotions as part of feeling alive. Life is a roller-coaster with many unpredictable moments. Live them all, equally.
- Enjoy the process as much as you enjoy the outcome. It is impossible, for instance, to win a race if you don’t like running.
- Stop comparing yourself to others. Only you know the bathe it takes to be you. Be the best you possible.
These are four basic steps that make you more intentional in who you are, how you feel and who you will become. They also make you happier in yourself and your achievements
About the Book
How To Live, Love, Work and Play Meaningfully
by David Amerland
Published 23 June 2021
New Line Books
Genre: Non-Fiction, Self-Help
Page Count: 218
Add it to your Goodreads TBR!
Live your life the way you want to. Manage stress better. Be more resilient and enjoy meaningful relationships and better health. We all want that. Such life leads to better choices, better jobs, loving romantic partners, more rewarding careers and decisions that are fully aligned with our aims.
What stops us from getting all that is the complexity of our brain and the complicated way in which the external world comes together. The misalignment between the internal states we experience and the external circumstances we encounter often leads to confusion, a lack of clarity in our thinking and actions that are not consistent with our professed values.
Intentional is a gameplan. It helps us connect the pieces of our mind to the pieces of our life. It shows us how to map what we feel to what has caused those feelings, understand what affects us and what effects it has on us and determine what we want, why we want it and what we need to do to get it.
When we know what to do, we know how to behave. When we know how to behave we know how to act. When we know how to act, we know how to live. Our actions, each day, become our lives. Drawn from the latest research from the fields of neuroscience, behavioral and social psychology and evolutionary anthropology, Intentional shows you how to add meaning to your actions and lead a meaningful, happier, more fulfilling life on your terms.
From a conceptual perspective history is easy to read. The 19th century was all about industrialization. We harnessed machines to augment manual labor by many degrees of magnitude. The 20th century was about achieving efficiencies of scale so the machines that create our goods could run better and produce more at lower cost. The 21st century is about resilience as the production hubs and supply networks we have created are stress-tested to the limit.
The global pandemic that started in the closing months of 2019 acted as a catalyst that accelerated change everywhere. The additional environmental and psychological pressure it piled up became a scalpel that exposed all our weaknesses. The one attribute that would perhaps have allowed us all to weather the Covid-19 storm better, that would have allowed our systems of governance and systems of trade to weather it better: resilience, appeared to be missing from our arsenal. Interestingly, this is where values come in.
There is a chain of causal attributes we need to work our way through now. For example, we can’t talk about values without tackling personality and we can’t tackle personality without discussing traits.
Traits, in turn, affect goals, motivation and behavior. We need to spell out the difference between personality and character, two qualities that are often used interchangeably, and we also must define the difference between traits and values which are also two qualities that are also misunderstood and are often used interchangeably.
About the Author
David Amerland is a Chemical Engineer with an MSc. in quantum dynamics in laminar flow processes. He converted his knowledge of science and understanding of mathematics into a business writing career that’s helped him demystify, for his readers, the complexity of subjects such as search engine optimization (SEO), search marketing, social media, decision-making, communication and personal development. The diversity of the subjects is held together by the underlying fundamental of human behavior and the way this is expressed online and offline. Intentional: How to Live, Love, Work and Play Meaningfully is the latest addition to a thread that explores what to do in order to thrive. A lifelong martial arts practitioner, David Amerland is found punching and kicking sparring dummies and punch bags when he’s not behind his keyboard.
David Amerland will be awarding a $25 Amazon or B&N gift card to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.a Rafflecopter giveaway
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