Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Lie of Happiness


From SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN MIND (July 2005):

The Lie of Happiness

Lying to ourselves may be one way of maintaining our mental health.Several classic studies indicate that moderately depressed people actually deceive themselves less than so-called normal folks. Lauren B. Alloy of Temple University and Lyn Y. Abramson of the University of Wisconsin-Madison unveiled this trend by clandestinely manipulating the outcome of a series of games. Healthy subjects who participated in the games were inclined to take credit when they won the rigged games and also typically underestimated their contribution to the outcome when they did poorly.

Depressed subjects, however, evaluated their contributions much more accurately. In another study, psychologist Peter M. Lewinsohn, professor emeritus at the University of Oregon, showed that depressives judge other people's attitudes toward them far more accurately than non-depressed subjects. Furthermore, this ability actually degenerates as the psychological symptoms of depression lift in response to treatment.

Perhaps mental health rests on self-deception, and becoming depressed is based on an impairment of the ability to deceive oneself. After all, we are all going to die, and a great deal of the world lives in abject misery. These are hardly reasons to be happy!- D.L.S


I can't help but think of the Dalai Lama when I read this. Is it possible that a spirituality based on feeling happy is basically just a neorological bolstering of self-deception mechanism through reinforcement (brainwashing)? Seems so to me. Demonstrably and obviously so.

7 comments:

Charles said...

psychologist Peter M. Lewinsohn, professor emeritus at the University of Oregon, showed that depressives judge other people's attitudes toward them far more accurately than non-depressed subjects. Furthermore, this ability actually degenerates as the psychological symptoms of depression lift in response to treatment.

How does one evaluate other's attitudes? By analyzing language? reading pantomimes? How do you account for the subjectivity of one person's abrasive personality over another's Can this be a controlled experiment?

Depressed people are just more sensitive because they want to perpetuate their misery. They look for reasons to feel shitty. Folks who are happy (or too busy enjoying the benefits of lying to themselves) simply don't care. Is that it?

charles said...

Aaron, tell me you aren't trying to justify your depression.

You seem to be doing so well too.

Now I feel shitty.

Aaron said...

No, I'm simply not depressed. I'm actually much happier than I have been for years. But I do believe that robust happiness and depression are equally unrelated to reality. They are mood states. I totally reject the Yogic/new age idea that God is joy. Joy is a temporary chemical imbalance in the brain created for positive reinforcement of specific behaviors which benefit your survival value. Depression is negative reinforcement.

Anyways, back to your first point- I have no idea of the specifics of the experiments, but I can guess that one could evaluate people's attitudes by giving simple questionaires to those who know the person- family members, coworkers, friends etc.

Purely from my own point of view, I think it's pretty clear that the human mind is hell bent on feeling good far before it is bent on caring about what is real and true. My experiences with spirituality and Chiropractic are enough to make me closed minded to any conversation on that subject. Exceedingly few people are willing to risk their well-being for an idea that might dismantle their sense of peace.

Depression is a relative word. Frankly, I don't trust people who don't experience bouts of melancholy once in awhile. I think these people have some sort of chemical brain issue on par with depression. But they enjoy it so nobody complains.

Problem with pop spirituality- its all about being happy, and thats just not good enough. Since the 1980's I think the spiritual scene has begun to realize that happiness just isn't enough. Especially when nothing you do can sustain it, and when others are suffering so much for no good reason. I prefer happiness, but my witnessing mind (my zen mind) is completely and entirely unconcerned with moods because these are not *real* to me in an ultimate sense. They convey no information and ultimately nothing substantially meaningful. When I was a kid I stumbled on something profound for the first time when, in all seriousness, I asked my mother why she was angry when she would just be happy again. Why should there ever be an alteration? Its because inherently deep inside, we know that our mood states don't reflect the nature of things. They are darwinian cords meant to sway the puppet left and right.

Charles said...

I think it's pretty clear that the human mind is hell bent on feeling good far before it is bent on caring about what is real and true.

Developmentally? Is this chronologically? What is true for you is true for all? What is reality? Is truth subjective? If so, does any of this matter? These questions require exploration.

There are folks born with the desire to fall. I'm convinced of that.

Anyways, back to your first point- I have no idea of the specifics of the experiments, but I can guess that one could evaluate people's attitudes by giving simple questionaires to those who know the person- family members, coworkers, friends etc.

Sorry, this too is too nebulous to be taken seriously. I'll need to look into the experiment and get back to you. Not that I'm concerned at all about the results, i'm more interested in the control side of this experiment. Having friends and relatives etc..I dunno. Having enough company about a certain perception shouldn't qualify it as truth.

I told some other folks about your blog here. I keep waiting for them to chime in. No luck thus far.

- U - My experiences with spirituality and Chiropractic are enough to make me closed minded to any conversation on that subject.
- /U -

Level with me. Do you value your experiences in Chiro at all, even if it was merely to advance your current quest for Truth?

Charles said...

Spiritually I tend to just enjoy the rapture of being alive. Whether fair or foul...it's a privilege. But I do tend to focus on the NOW. This may change with a child on the way. I expect radical metaphysical shifts.

Aaron said...

"Developmentally? Is this chronologically? What is true for you is true for all? What is reality? Is truth subjective? If so, does any of this matter? These questions require exploration."

Yes, and I mean in the most objective ways possible. I don't pretend that inner states are objective parameters. What I mean is more along the lines of, say, believing that the earth is 6,000 years old despite all contrary evidence because the prospect of the coming end of the world brings a sense of hope. "Faith", in short is the most perfect example. Faith is the perfect chain letter fuel. It's the only place where we are supposedly rewarded for putting stock in things with no evidence, or contrary evidence. It relieves the stress of having to plan, strategize, feel the pain of getting burned for poor decisions or risky decisions we make etc.. The human mind is very very poor at understanding probabilities. Something in our make-up demands there to be a reason for success and failure, even when there really isn't. Thus, it is very stressful making decisions when you know that yourself and others will evaluate your quality based largely on the roulette wheel. In my experience with Chiro, there is simply no room at all for personal life choices which do not provide sex, money and power. Decisions which deter sex money and power are societally unfathomable- which is a phenomenon that literally forced me to break ties with all relations for awhile just to preserve my sanity. To give you an example- first day of my ultrasound class I introduced myself and said I left Chiropractic. Two years later after I got to know everyone in the class I asked them what they thought of me when I introduced myself. The 4 or 5 people I asked each said they thought I had broken some sort of law which forced me out of the profession (ie sexual harrassment). I try my very best not to mention chiropractic around people these days for obvious reasons. Unfortunately its almost unavoidable. I have even seriously thought of inventing a made-up past so I can avoid discussions of Chiropractic, but never figured that the lying part would be a bad cost-benefit ration...but not by much!

"There are folks born with the desire to fall. I'm convinced of that."

There's great freedom in having nothing left to lose. Some weaker minded people equate this sense of freedom with courage and toughness.

(concerning the experiments)
"Sorry, this too is too nebulous to be taken seriously. I'll need to look into the experiment and get back to you. Not that I'm concerned at all about the results, i'm more interested in the control side of this experiment. Having friends and relatives etc..I dunno. Having enough company about a certain perception shouldn't qualify it as truth."

I am interested to know the details of the experiments. Scientific American Mind is online, you may want to start there.

"I told some other folks about your blog here. I keep waiting for them to chime in. No luck thus far."

Well, I'm openly insane aren't I?


"Level with me. Do you value your experiences in Chiro at all, even if it was merely to advance your current quest for Truth?"

I learned a great deal about human nature that I would have otherwise not known. I have always been a rationalist with a spiritual bent. Chiro was my sojourn into magical thinking. I now understand more thoroughly the importance of rationality, and will never allow anyone to ever again make me feel guilty for "thinking too much". After finishing Chiropractic college in 2000, I travelled through California (I think I stopped at your place in sacramento remember?) and I was seriously considering becoming a monk of some sort. I couldn't get past my debts though. I knew right then and there I had no interest in practicing Chiropractic. My goal was to live cheaply as an associate, pay ome of the student loan and go back to school in 2 years. Due to caving into peer pressure and indecision I floundered around for 2 hellish making little money, before finally moving on with my life.

My experience with Chiropractic is one of the key things which led me to materialism. Overall nowadays my attitude towards the occupation is neutral. It's something I could never do knowing what I know, yet I wish I could because of all the $$$$$$$$$$$ and ({}) ({}) ({}) I could get.

Aaron said...

"Spiritually I tend to just enjoy the rapture of being alive. Whether fair or foul...it's a privilege. But I do tend to focus on the NOW. This may change with a child on the way. I expect radical metaphysical shifts."

Last night I visited an old friend. The day I went over to his place for the first day I'd seen him in a year and a half, was the day he was laid off his job. I went with him to pick up his 2 year old son. He was worried not about himself but purely about the kid. I think one of the great stress relievers of having kids is the displacement of attention away from oneself onto another. People try to act stoic as if it's a sacrifice, when in reality it takes the onus off them. It's a self-indulgance disguised as a sacrifice. As someone who may never have children, I have a feeling of alienation amongst that tangible parental attitude that single people cannot possibly account for much without going through parenthood. All the "joys and sacrifices". I don't think it will happen to you, but those with lower self-esteem try to live through their kids and their lives stop. In my profession I can say that there is simply nobody that thinks they're hot shit more than a pregnant woman. You get these well-to-do women with their teased hair and capri pants who've been planning their pregnancy wardrobe since they were 12, who don this look of astonishment that the clinic doesn't stop and take a day of observance the day **their** baby is coming in.