Monday, January 24, 2011

298: The Brain and Happiness

In the former lecture I showed you the graphics of a citation index. There was only one conclusion possible: happiness has become a hot issue for science.

But we are dealing here with a special concept of happiness. We do not mean that happiness which is a side - effect of having a good job, a family, a social network, friends. No, we mean happiness as such.

We mean that fleeting and elusive phenomenon, what not only just can become our part. No, happiness is nowadays almost regarded as a right. We HAVE to be happy, haven't we?

While we previously thought that a family, a job and friends would make you happy, content with your life, it is now almost the other way around. Your state of happiness leads to a better health, better social life and so on.

Self-help books make you believe that happiness is the medicine for the individual and the oil for the engine of society. Actually this isn't a new philosophy at all.

Just think of hedonism. Democritus ( 460 - 370 BC) seems to be the earliest Greek philosopher on record to have categorically embraced a hedonistic philosophy; he called the supreme goal of life "contentment" or "cheerfulness"

In the scientific debate about human emotions there has occurred a shift. For years we discussed depressions, but with the new anti-depressiva a pill can bring happiness again.

Now we go to the doctor, not because we suffer of a depression, but because we have a general uneasy feeling about our life, we don't know what is is, but we don't feel happy.

Even when we have a good job, friends , family and good health we are nor happy with our life. In the Netherlands you have counselors for such 'patients', who have studied philosophy. Otherwise there is Prozac….

Traditional psychology focusses mainly on mental defects and the therapy for that. In 2000 Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi published the article named "Positive Psychology" in the American Psychologist.

Psychology should focus on positive experiences, positive attitudes and positive institutions. It should concentrate on the question how to enhance the feeling of happiness of the individual, not on how to reduce the unhappiness of the patient.

Research has shown that focusing on positive things, doing good deeds deliberately and positive altruistic action increase the general level of your feeling of happiness.

What is happening here and what part is the brain playing? It now is generally assumed that every person has his characteristic level of happiness or content..

You certainly recognize the always smiling and cheerful colleague, what ever happens to him and on the other side that person, who is never satisfied, always complains about everything.

The geneticist David Lykken showed in 1996 with a research among 4000 Americans that 50% of our feeling of happiness depends on our genes and only 8% on income, religion, marital status and education. The remainder can be attributed to the hazards and joys of daily life.

So the intention to make people happier, makes hardly any sense, according to Lykken. But is this true? What happens in the brain? Can that be influenced or changed even?

One thing is at least discovered by Richard Davidson. The primary locations in the brain for our feeling of happiness or wellbeing are found in the left prefrontal cortex, so in the left hemisphere.

And the higher the activity there relative to activity in the right prefrontal cortex the higher the feeling of wellbeing, the standard mood or temper of a person is.

Patients with damage in the left prefrontal cortex are much more susceptible for depressions. Targeted action, wanting something to do and being interested in the outer world are directed by the left hemisphere.

Davidson disagrees with Lykken and asserts that the influence of the genes is only a 30%. Research on Tibetan monks has shown that the checkpoint of our standard mood or sense of wellbeing CAN be influenced by meditation.

They are, so to speak, world champions in being happy. That is the reason that meditation enjoys the attention from leading scientists. This is not about buddhism, but about the mental techniques used in meditation.

A result of this research is "mindfulness meditation". It can be described as a calm awareness of one's body functions, feelings, content of consciousness, or consciousness itself. It has a positive influence on the brain.

There is a lot on youTube about this subject, but the presentation "‪Cognitive Neuroscience of Mindfulness Meditation‬" [ ]
is interesting in relation to our project.

The Discussion

[13:23] herman Bergson: May this be a happy ending of this lecture ^_^
[13:23] Paula Dix: :))
[13:23] Gemma Allen (gemma.cleanslate): very good
[13:23] herman Bergson: If you have any questions or remarks...feel free
[13:23] Bejiita Imako: ㋡
[13:23] Gemma Allen (gemma.cleanslate): I will watch it all later
[13:23] herman Bergson: is a 48 minutes movie....
[13:23] Gemma Allen (gemma.cleanslate): ahha
[13:24] Uallas Borgin: Maybe it was addressed at the beginning but I could not he here, but...
[13:24] Paula Dix: I've seen a discovery show about this, they took people photos from college and compared with persons 20 years later, all had "happiness levels" same as expressions in photos
[13:24] herman Bergson: an interesting lecture on neuroscience and mindfuness
[13:24] Gemma Allen (gemma.cleanslate): they also say exercise helps with a feeling of well being
[13:24] Uallas Borgin: aren't we focussing too much on happiness?
[13:24] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): shall we pass the 'soma' around, Huxley may have been right
[13:24] Gemma Allen (gemma.cleanslate): or "happiness"
[13:24] Paula Dix: also, when you have very good or very bad things the level changes, but 2 years later you are back to your level
[13:25] herman Bergson: Yes is exactly what I said in the beginning...
[13:25] Gemma Allen (gemma.cleanslate): very true
[13:25] Uallas Borgin: our grandparents were content to just get by
[13:25] herman Bergson: The present attitude is almost that we have a RIGHT to be happy
[13:25] Uallas Borgin: provide food for the children
[13:25] Paula Dix: or an obligation to be happy...
[13:25] Gemma Allen (gemma.cleanslate): we don't really know how they felt about happiness tho
[13:25] Gemma Allen (gemma.cleanslate): it was not discussed much
[13:25] Uallas Borgin: now we want a fulfilling job and relationship
[13:26] Gemma Allen (gemma.cleanslate): especially with grandchildren!
[13:26] herman Bergson: Yes Paula...that is even more frustrating .
[13:26] Paula Dix: if someone criticize you and you say "but I'm happy this way" its an argument ending
[13:26] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): we can be as happy as we want to be
[13:26] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): some folks donotwantto be happy
[13:26] herman Bergson: Well scientifically ...what is interesting is
[13:26] Maga Randt: but think that even though ppl want to b happy they are afraid of being so :((
[13:27] herman Bergson: that every person has a kind of checkpoint...a default level of happiness...
[13:27] herman Bergson: Your overal general mood....
[13:27] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): religion tells us we should not be happy, we do not deserve to be
[13:27] Paula Dix: oh, same show said in the average, most people are a bit above medium of happiness scale
[13:28] herman Bergson: And what research HAS demonstrated is that you can push that level upward by meditation
[13:28] Paula Dix: lol Ari thats true, christians should fear god
[13:28] Bejiita Imako: hmm I'm mostly jkind of happy, was a bit mad now first cause of sl struggle but now Im happy again ㋡
[13:28] herman Bergson: This means....meditation really changes the brain
[13:28] Bejiita Imako: and all is like it should be
[13:28] Paula Dix: herman how definitive is that change by meditation??
[13:29] herman Bergson: Yes Aristotle....that is a serious social problem
[13:29] Maga Randt: depends on the religion Aristotle
[13:29] Bejiita Imako: hmm meditation is an interesting thing for sure
[13:29] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): does mediatation allow us to push all the preconceived notions of unhappiness out?
[13:29] Ixax Xigalia: I see frequent near miracles with meditation with my students.
[13:29] herman Bergson: Well they did experiments in a company of 200 employees...
[13:30] Gemma Allen (gemma.cleanslate): i think when it is consistant ari
[13:30] Gemma Allen (gemma.cleanslate): it helps a lot
[13:30] herman Bergson: Everybody was busy busy busy and in stress....
[13:30] Zinzi Serevi: mind fulness is just a hype
[13:30] Uallas Borgin: The meditation we are speaking of here is Buddhist or Hindu in nature
[13:30] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): prevention may be the best cure
[13:30] herman Bergson: they took a group and gave them a training in learnt from buddhism...
[13:30] herman Bergson: Just the training...nothing religious etc.
[13:30] Uallas Borgin: it is practiced in the east as a religious practice
[13:31] herman Bergson: And it worked....
[13:31] herman Bergson: it had a lasting effect on the stress level...the general wellbeing...
[13:31] Paula Dix: they told what happened if they stop meditating?
[13:31] Ixax Xigalia: yes, of course it works. Has been working for thousands of years. hehehe
[13:31] Zinzi Serevi: their are many ways to happiness
[13:31] Zinzi Serevi: mind fulness is just one method
[13:32] herman Bergson: Indeed fact it was there in the monastaries here in Euroope....
[13:32] herman Bergson: But lost out of sight..
[13:32] herman Bergson: Yes is just one method...
[13:32] herman Bergson: I think it doesn't matter how you meditate....
[13:32] Ixax Xigalia: yes, lost or killed off during the inquisitions
[13:33] herman Bergson: Hello Kiki !! :-)
[13:33] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): what are you supposed to think about when you meditate?
[13:33] Zinzi Serevi: no its the art to change your thoughts about things
[13:33] Kiki Walpanheim: Hello Professlor
[13:33] Kiki Walpanheim: *professor
[13:33] Anja Tigerfish: huhu..Kiki
[13:33] Kiki Walpanheim: hi all
[13:33] Kiki Walpanheim: hi anja
[13:33] Uallas Borgin: I suppose christian monks in prayer arrive at the same effect
[13:33] Maga Randt: Hi Kiki
[13:33] herman Bergson: What philosophically important here is to note how a mental state....happiness changes by changing a brain state
[13:33] Paula Dix: hi kiki
[13:34] Bejiita Imako: hi iki
[13:34] Bejiita Imako: kiki
[13:34] herman Bergson: We will discuss this issue later in the project, but keep this already in mind....
[13:34] Zinzi Serevi: its not working on the ones who are really depressed
[13:34] Zinzi Serevi: then you cannot without medication
[13:34] herman Bergson: What I am talking about is mainly the material part of the mind - body problem at the moment
[13:34] Paula Dix: "really depressed" then means something more serious in the brain?
[13:35] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): if the left prefontal cortex is damaged, what part of the brain repairs it in meditation?
[13:35] Zinzi Serevi: yes
[13:35] Kiki Walpanheim: hi paula, bejiita
[13:35] Paula Dix: :)
[13:35] Gemma Allen (gemma.cleanslate): hihi
[13:35] Kiki Walpanheim: hi gemma
[13:35] herman Bergson: Yes.....people with defect in the left prefrontal cortex are easily into a depression
[13:36] Uallas Borgin: how about really depressed ppl and meditation?
[13:36] Paula Dix: but meditation will work on them also?
[13:36] Zinzi Serevi: i dont think that will help them
[13:36] Uallas Borgin: are there instances where meditation is not advised?
[13:36] herman Bergson: I have no information on that Uallas
[13:36] Paula Dix: i mean the left prefrontal cortex damaged people
[13:36] Uallas Borgin: oh ok
[13:36] herman Bergson: When there is braindamage.....medication wont help
[13:36] Paula Dix: and meditation?
[13:37] herman Bergson: on the other hand.....
[13:37] Paula Dix: lol that was lag, not me :)))
[13:37] herman Bergson: the placticity of the brain is remarkable...
[13:37] Zinzi Serevi: yes it is !
[13:37] herman Bergson: it still is uncharted territory in neurosciences....
[13:37] Gemma Allen (gemma.cleanslate): yes we are watching the progress of our arizona who was shot in the head a little over a week ago
[13:37] herman Bergson: But the brain can do strange things....
[13:37] Gemma Allen (gemma.cleanslate): amazing
[13:38] Paula Dix: wow Gemma!
[13:38] Gemma Allen (gemma.cleanslate): yes
[13:38] herman Bergson: Oh my.....Yes I have been thinking about her too....
[13:38] bergfrau Apfelbaum: my job needs me :-( .... i am so "happy" that there is this class! see u Thursday
[13:38] Gemma Allen (gemma.cleanslate): yes
[13:38] Gemma Allen (gemma.cleanslate): Bye, Bye ㋡
[13:38] Gemma Allen (gemma.cleanslate): bergie
[13:38] herman Bergson: smiles...
[13:38] Paula Dix: lol berg. bye!
[13:38] herman Bergson: Bye Bergie...
[13:38] Bejiita Imako: cu berg
[13:39] Kiki Walpanheim: cu bergfrau
[13:39] herman Bergson: There are cases that other parts of the brain take over functions of damaged parts
[13:39] Zinzi Serevi: yes
[13:39] Bejiita Imako: also must move on a while, seems some friends have some new place they are starting up and want me to come by a little
[13:39] Ixax Xigalia: or have almost no brain and function nearly normally.... mind is not brain (:
[13:39] Gemma Allen (gemma.cleanslate): Bye, Bye ㋡
[13:40] Bejiita Imako: must check what that can be
[13:40] Bejiita Imako: cu later ㋡
[13:40] Kiki Walpanheim: cu beijiita
[13:40] herman Bergson: Ok Bejiita :-)
[13:40] herman Bergson: As you see even SL offers you a busy life...
[13:40] Gemma Allen (gemma.cleanslate): sure does!!!!!!
[13:40] :: Beertje :: (beertje.beaumont): ofcourse it does:)
[13:40] Zinzi Serevi: no time to be depressed in here..:)
[13:40] Gemma Allen (gemma.cleanslate): ♥ LOL ♥
[13:40] Paula Dix: I dont know Ixax, plasticity can explain that
[13:40] Kiki Walpanheim: yes there are four events of notices i received for this time slot right now
[13:41] herman Bergson: Well Ixax....mind and brain.....that discussion is what we are heading at.....
[13:41] Uallas Borgin: tc everyone
[13:41] Gemma Allen (gemma.cleanslate): Bye, Bye ㋡
[13:41] Uallas Borgin: see you next time
[13:41] Uallas Borgin: . . . . . .
[13:41] Uallas Borgin: /|\ Blessings /|\
[13:41] Ixax Xigalia: (: cool
[13:41] Paula Dix: bye!
[13:41] herman Bergson: Ok....I guess it is time to thank you all for your participation
[13:41] herman Bergson: Class dismissed...:-)
[13:41] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): Thank you, Professor
[13:41] Zinzi Serevi: thank you Herman
[13:41] :: Beertje :: (beertje.beaumont): thank you Ixax for your note:)
[13:41] Gemma Allen (gemma.cleanslate): ♥ Thank Youuuuuuuuuu!! ♥
[13:42] Ixax Xigalia: Thank you for sharing your wisdom.
[13:42] Gemma Allen (gemma.cleanslate): will nto be here tuesday
[13:42] herman Bergson: My pleasue Ixax
[13:42] Kiki Walpanheim: thank you professor
[13:42] Gemma Allen (gemma.cleanslate): i dont think
[13:42] Ixax Xigalia: You're welcome.
[13:42] :: Beertje :: (beertje.beaumont): thank you Herman for this lecture
[13:42] Ixax Xigalia: is there a group for notices?
[13:42] Anja Tigerfish: Very very very thanks professor
[13:42] herman Bergson: Yes the Class has a group Ixax
[13:43] herman Bergson: If you like to join Ixax
[13:43] Ixax Xigalia: Yes, I would
[13:43] herman Bergson: Nice you were here too Zinzi :-)
[13:43] herman Bergson: moment
[13:44] herman Bergson: Did you receive an invitation Ixax?
[13:44] Ixax Xigalia: yes, thank you
[13:44] herman Bergson: great :-)
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