Sunday, May 01, 2011

Happy-Happy, Joy-Joy

The Pursuit Of Happiness is at the core of people's lives in our society. I'll even go one step further and say that it is the only reason for living...after all, life is way too long to be miserable.

But, the purpose of this article is to investigate (not necessarily answer) one question: Are people really Pursuing Happiness? or is it more accurate to say that they are Pursuing Pleasure?

Neuroscientist Paul MacLean proposed back in the 60's that the brain was composed of three brains and that those brains evolved sequentially.

The Lizard Brain
The Animal Brain
The Human Brain

I'd like to propose that our lives are mostly geared to fulfilling the needs of the Lizard Brain…or, anatomically speaking, the Pleasure Centre of your brain.

This is the part of your brain that makes you feel the ecstasy of having sex; the delight of eating really good food; the excitement of gambling; the glee from making money; and the high from smoking crack.

And quite often, the Pleasure Centre of your brain can hijack your Neocortex (Human Brain). Here’s what I mean:

1) Ever watched a suspense movie at a very safe and secure theatre, but still felt scared or tense?

2) Ever gone grocery shopping while hungry and later realized you bought way more than you needed?

3) Ever thrown caution to the wind by having unprotected sex because you didn't have any condoms?

...That’s your Lizard Brain hijacking your Human Brain.

H.L. Mencken defines happiness as "having just a little bit more than your brother-in-law." I agree that it is a very cynical definition, but I can't think of a better way to describe the mentality of most people in Western Society.

I'm reminded of a Pop! Tech presentation ( where Peter Whybrow mentions that Adam Smith once said "Whether a person pays $5 for a watch, or $50 for a doesn't necessarily mean they'll be on time."

And I would wager that if Adam Smith were alive today, he would probably make a similar remark relating to iPad releases.

However, there's a different element of "Westernized Happiness" that concerns me. Ever noticed that the mannerisms of people Pursuing Happiness are very similar to your run-of-the-mill addict?

An addict thinks to themselves “when will I get my next hit/drink/smoke and what do I have to do to make it happen?" Whereas person who's Pursuing Happiness thinks to themselves "what can I buy next and what do I have to do to make it happen?

Here's an example: First, you want a car (need a job); then, you want a nicer car (need a better paying job); then you want an SUV (need a raise); then you want a Luxury SUV (need a promotion); then you want a Yacht (need a Venture Capitalist).

I once heard Clive Hamilton, an Australian professor of Public Ethics, describe the concept of "Affluenza" as:

"...the bloated, sluggish and unfulfilled feeling that results from the efforts of keeping up with the Joneses. An epidemic of stress, overwork, waste and indebtedness caused by the Pursuit of the American Dream. An unsustainable addiction to economic growth."
And this type of thinking goes back to atleast 1924. Why 1924? That’s when Paul Maser, an executive with Lehman Brothers, was quoted as saying:

“We must shift America from a needs to a desires culture. People must be trained to desire and want new things even before the old are entirely consumed. We must shape a new mentality…man’s desire must overshadow his needs.”

One of the biggest indictments for this mentality (aside from cell phones) is when you step into an older house. Isn’t interesting how small the closet space is?

So, next time you think about buying a DVD you’ll never watch…or, think about changing jobs because the grass looks a little greener on the other side of the fence…or find yourself rationalizing any kind of decision just to satisfy your Lizard Brain.

Remember that the very term "PURSUING HAPPINESS" means that you actually never possess it.