Welcome to this week’s DRIVE YOURSELF HAPPY Road Ramblings.
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Today’s rambling from the road will include:
* Between Pleasure and Meaning by Rhonda Hull, Ph.D. * Bliss and the Brain A Society for Neuroscience Briefing * Drive-By Quotes To Carry With You on the Journey
**************** Six Strategies for Happiness Step #2 Happiness Lies at the Intersection Between Pleasure and Meaning
Hello Friends and Traveling Companions,
I have just returned from a pleasure-full and meaningful adventure visiting my grandsons, making new professional connections, and culminating with another inspiring time with my grand-nephew, Connor, as he and his family face the challenges of healing his leukemia. Each heart-felt component to my trip offered me great joy and expanded the meaning essential to my life.
We live in such a pleasure oriented society that is live by the demands of others and where we expect immediate gratification. It is understandable how life can feel so hallow. Though there are over 6 billion of us walking the earth, we seem to feel unconnected, isolated, unhappy, and alone. Each morning, burdened by the pressures of life we greet the morning saying, “Good God, morning,” rather than “Good morning, God! Our enthusiasm for life has become weary.
I am certain that happiness lies at the intersection of pleasure and meaning. All of the amenities of life can be wonderful to have, but without meaning, the joy brought by material, monetary and superficial gain is short lived and hallow.
May of you are already aware that over that past several weeks I have been touched by the journey of my grand-nephew, Connor, as he faces the challenges of healing from leukemia, and blessed to be a part of his healing journey. Amidst the heartaches of facing cancer, Connor and his family choose to find the meaning and discover the diamonds honed by this overwhelming experience. They find pleasure in simple moments and deep meaning through being surrounded by love as they walk this relentless path.
What would life be worth without being meaningful? Connor’s situation is not unlike the circumstances faced by Victor Frankl. Frankl, author of the landmark `Man’s Search for Meaning’ and one of the last great psychotherapists of this century survived the Holocaust, even though he was in four Nazi death camps including Auschwitz from 1942-45. His parents and other members of his family did not survive. During — and partly because of — his suffering in concentration camps and the incredible losses he experienced, Frankl developed a revolutionary approach to psychotherapy and invited us all to assume our responsibility for our own happiness.
“Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.” — Victor Frankl Man’s Search for Meaning, p.172
Although for most of us our daily living is not as bleak as what Frankl experienced in Nazi, Germany, there still is a haze of despair and depression over all of us because of economic pressures, social threats, and the heartache of war that touches all of us. It has become so easy to go numb and get caught up in running through life without a clear idea of what brings us joy and feeling like life has been drained of its meaning. From this place of emptiness we fail to even notice the magic in the simple and sweet moments. True happiness need not be expensive. It need not be planned. It need not have frills, bells, buzzers and whistles. Regardless of our circumstances, remembering how to notice meaning even amidst inclement circumstances brings the meaning that makes joy durable.
At the core of Frankl’s theory is the belief that humanity’s primary motivational force is the search for meaning. Life does not have sustainable pleasure without meaning. Deep joy will remain illusive if we continue to believe life owes us something. It is not life’s responsibility to provide us with joy and meaning, but ours to create and embrace joy and meaning by being fully who we are authentically.
Whether at home or professionally, the intention is to engage in activities that hold both personal significance and that are enjoyable in a heart felt way. Show up fully in life and engage rather than waiting for life and meaning to find you. Dare to open your heart and feel the spectrum of emotion hidden there. Laugh often, forgive quickly, celebrate even small victories, trust more, and hold on to life with a looser grip and fewer expectations. Give generously without the expectation of receiving in return. Hug often. Greet the morning willing for it to be wonderful rather than expecting another day of drudgery.
Feeling all the ‘shoulds’ nipping at my toes, I am savoring the last few days of a visit with my grandbabies with no regrets, for the joy they bring me and the guidance and love I bring them are what make my life full of meaning. Watch children. They have not forgotten the how to find joy in a soft breeze, a warm day, feeling sprinklers on their feet, or delighting in a butterfly flying by.
In Joy, Rhonda ***************** Bliss and the Brain A Society for Neuroscience Briefing
While many researchers have tracked the molecular mechanisms of depression, fear and anger, they mostly ignored happiness. In recent years, however, a cadre of scientists has turned their focus to this positive emotion. Studies indicate that pleasant feelings are associated with certain brain responses that appear to vary in intensity between individuals. The research may lead to new ways to pump up happiness in unhappy humans.
A warm breeze enters the window. A jogger trots by with his black lab. Purple and yellow crocuses bloom below.
You are happy.
Scientists are just now finding out how the brain enters into this idyllic picture. One line of research indicates that certain activity in the front part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, is essential for joy. And perennial optimists appear to have pumped up activity in this brain area. The new research is leading to:
A better understanding of how the brain contributes to overall emotion.
Insights into why some people are happier than others.
New methods to boost pleasant feelings in human beings. Brain-damaged patients provided some of the first clues on how the brain handles positive emotion. For example, researchers found that patients who were prone to pathological laughing or bursts of euphoria tend to have damage on the right side of the brain.
In contrast, patients who were prone to pathological crying or depression tend to have damage on the left side of the brain. The studies suggest that normally the left side plays a role in happy feelings, while the right side aids negative feelings.
Research in healthy individuals backs this theory and provides evidence that the prefrontal cortex is key (see illustration below). For example, measures of brain activity indicate that pleasant film clips, pleasant tastes and cash incentives increase left-side brain activity near the forehead. Unpleasant film clips, unpleasant tastes and a threat of cash loss raise right-side brain activity near the forehead.
Furthermore, studies suggest that certain people’s ability to see life through rose-colored glasses links to a heightened left-sided brain function. A scrutiny of brain activity indicates that individuals with natural positive dispositions have trumped up activity in the left prefrontal cortex compared with their more negative counterparts.
Infants even show this difference. For example, babies who tend to cry when separated from their mothers also tend to have lower left and higher right-sided prefrontal activity compared with non-wailers.
Evidence suggests that the left-siders may better handle stressful events on a biological level. For example, studies show that they have a higher function of cells that help defend the body, known as natural killer cells, compared with individuals who have greater right side activity. Left-sided students who face a stressful exam have a smaller drop in their killer cells than right-siders. Other research indicates that generally left-siders may have lower levels of the stress hormone, cortisol.
Scientists currently are investigating how genes may account for the different variables. Some studies that examined general well-being already indicate that genes possibly explain about 40 to 50 percent of people’s differing happiness levels.
A recent evaluation of the happiness levels of over 100 chimps as well as their family history determined that genes play a large role in the emotion. Human twins who share the same genetic makeup are more similar in how happy they are compared with twins who do not share the same genetic makeup, according to another report.
Could this research suggest that you’ll have to settle for a life of mild satisfaction? Do the signs of summer make you happy, but not as happy as that person with different genes and more left-sided brain activation? Will life’s stressors affect you more than left-siders?
Researchers suspect that you have some control. For one, certain techniques may be able to alter your brain circuitry. An ongoing study is testing whether a life of meditation among Buddhist monks affects their prefrontal brain activation. Other research is examining the brain and health effects of an eight-week meditation program on biotechnology employees. Read more about Meditation!
***************** Drive-By Quotes To Carry With You on the Journey
“When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.”
— Helen Keller
“I don’t think God cares where we were graduated or what we did for a living. God wants to know who we are. Discovering this is the work of the soul – it is our true life’s work.”
— Bernie Siegel
“The problem with the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat.”
“But what is happiness except the simple harmony between a man and the life he leads. ”
— Albert Camus
“You can live a lifetime and, at the end of it, know more about other people than you know about yourself.”
— Beryl Markham
If you’re serious about learning some new rules for the road of life that will guide you in creating resilient happiness today instead of years down a very bumpy road, you may want to learn more about my book, Drive Yourself Happy: A Motor-vational Maintenance Manual for Maneuvering Through Life. In it I turn everyday road signs into signs of happiness guideposts that remind you of your wisdom literally at every turn. My book will offer you practical and powerful guidance for having joyful balance in your life regardless of your circumstances.
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The Center of Happiness P.O. Box 1667 Port Townsend, WA 98368 360.385.5850 www.driveyourselfhappy.com www.detourfromstress.com www.centerofhappiness.com www.circleconnections.com (enjoy the early bird special for the Magnificence of Circle Expo in September!) www.offeringsmagazine.com www.connordunham.com (follow his progress and invite a your friends to become a part of his healing process!)