Surprisingly, this book is a deep guide to happiness.
The basic premise is that we usually mistake pleasure for happiness.
Those activities hijack our dopamine cycle, but mostly feel us worse after:
- Alcohol: hangover
- Eating rich foods: obesity and the accompanying health issues
- Extramarital sex: regret or kids out of wedlock
- Shopping: being broke
- Gossiping: embarrassment when found out
- Self-aggrandising talk: turning people off
But wouldn’t it be great, if you could feel fulfilled and at peace in any circumstance? Anytime, everywhere, in sickness and health, being rich or poor, having physical comforts or none at all…
Part One: The Dopamine Hit
Further, decoupling craving and behavior seemed to be important for preventing cues from becoming stronger or more salient triggers. Each time we lay down a memory linking a cue with a behavior, our brain starts looking for the cue and its friends.
That’s why you must catch yourself and others from indulging in bad habits. Every time you allow it to happen, it gets harder to break.
He then talks about how we are addicted to the usual suspects: booze, smokes, gambling, pain medication.
But he uses the interesting definition of “addiction” as “repeated use despite adverse consequences” and thus includes
- Smartphone use
- Social media use
- Our self-image aka the Ego
- Self-referential thinking aka worrying
- Love (the drama kind)
- In 2012, the term “selfie” was one of Time magazine’s top ten buzzwords. In 2014, the magazine named the “selfie stick” one of its top twenty-five inventions of the year. To me, it’s a sign of the apocalypse.
How does dopamine work:
We get excited when we hear good news, start a new relationship, or ride a roller coaster. Somewhere in human history, we were conditioned to think that the feeling we get when dopamine fires in our brain equals happiness.
Talking about how Social Media works in the brain:
This conversation about relevance seems to point to the existential question, do I matter? Like smoking or posting pithy quotes on Facebook, forming a view of ourselves such as “I’m the smart guy” can be rewarded and reinforced.
And why is that so bad? They did a study, randomly interrupting people during multiple times per day and asking them if they were at the task or conversation at hand. But it turned out that:
They found that almost 50 percent of the time, people reported that they were off task. That is half of waking life! The study concluded, “A human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind.”
What else is bad for you?
One of the greatest addictions, you never read about it in the papers because the people who are addicted to it don’t know it, is the addiction to thinking. — Eckhart Tolle How we relate to our thoughts and feelings makes all the difference. Meditators train themselves to notice these experiences and not get caught up in them — to simply see them for what they are and not take them personally.
This is for me the superpower you train for when learning mindfulness meditation. To take control of how you feel and experience the world instead of being a victim of it.
Part Two: Hitting Up Dopamine
As our stress compass may in fact be telling us (once we learn how to use it), we are actually looking for happiness in all the wrong places.
Happiness is also not relaxing:
Mindlessly watching TV or automatically saying, “I’m fine; how are you?” when someone greets us are examples of responses that are triggered by a stimulus, yet are disengaged. We can feel as if we are on autopilot, almost floating somewhere (but don’t know where), with a daydreamy, spaced-out quality of awareness.
He describes then how avoiding cheap dopamine hits as to the surest way to happiness. Especially if you pair it with helping others.
And it gets really great if we spent as much of our waking time in a state called “Flow”
He described flow as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake.” When that happens, wonderful things occur:
- The ego falls away.
- Time flies.
- Concentration is being focused and grounded in the present moment.
- The merging of action and awareness
- A loss of reflective self-consciousness (for example, self-evaluation)
- A sense that one can deal with whatever arises in a given situation because one’s “practice” has become a form of implicit embodied knowledge
- One’s subjective experience of time becoming altered so that the “present” is continuously unfolding
- An experience of the activity as intrinsically rewarding