OCW 1, Compassion Happiness Technique
In order to be happy, that is to have sustained states of desirable moods, you have to be crazy. Well, just picture people going around smiling all the time, we generally assume they must be retarded. There is good reason for this. We evolved to have good and bad mood states in order to act appropriately in an evolutionary environment of scarce food resources and dangerous people, animals, and mostly, microbes that go about parasitizing our bodies.
There’s a reason I mentioned microbes that has naught to do with my tendency to slip into confused and paranoid psychotic states a few times a year, usually after sustained sleep deprivation. The reason is because of a theory recently expounded by noted psychologist Dr. Nicholas Humphrey here http://edge.org/conversation/the-evolved-self-management-system, but also in a tour de force collection of papers called Subordination and Defeat (edited by Sloman and Gilbert). When microbes attack our bodies, we go into sickness behavior, generally characterized by a bias to conserve energy by displaying symptoms roughly equal to temporary psychological depression. However, this system which evolved to help us conserve resources through tough periods of sickness has also been hijacked by other systems that indicate to us the need to lay back in the cut, such as being dominated by a dangerous individual, society, or beset by other worries.
There are good enough reasons for this. If you are dominated by a dangerous person in evolutionary times, you need to be meek and reserved to avoid being killed, rather than happy and motivated. In modern times, here in America, there is generally enough food, healthcare, and safety that you don’t need to be depressed to survive; it’s in outdated system, the problem is that it’s mostly involuntary. There are, to be certain, still such situations in American life; for example if you fail to display what has been called The Involuntary Defeat Strategy (by evolutionary psychologists) to a dominating boss, and rather are happy and motivated and assertive, you stand a good chance of being fired; however, those of us with mood disorders are more concerned with being happy than maintaining a miserable job so how do we get ourselves out of this catch 22 that fate has us in?
I wouldn’t claim to know but I have some things I have tried and the one I would like to talk about today is the most basic. It’s an idea that I synthesized from a few directions that I’ll explain later but now, I just want to expound the very simple technique. It’s a twist on a meditation taken from the Buddhist tradition. It may be very useful to practice Lojong meditation before trying the technique, but not necessary. You simply breathe compassion and love to every human being and situation that causes you any hint of stress and dissatisfaction, and you savor any improved moods you encounter throughout the day. And you start now, without any further reason and you continue indefinitely. For example, if you make a trip to the grocery store, you wish love and compassion with every face you see (you may find as I did, that you are normally defensive against every face that you see). You might even imagine light coming out of you and going out to everyone you meet. Also, when you encounter worries that impinge on your self, you breathe compassion to yourself, and others you worry about. When the barking dog annoys you, you breathe love and compassion to the dog, wishing her wellness, happiness, and many warm meals. Do this even more when you encounter people and situations that are aversive to you. In formal Lojong meditation, you would also take in anything bad while giving only what is good; however, I would caution you not to try this unless you have mastered the formal meditation and found that this part of the meditation works well for you less you become too focused on the negative.
There are many reasons to do this and the most basic and convincing for me at least is that there is no short cut to happiness. You can’t be happy by being miserable. Many of us think that by enduring miseries now, we may be happy in the future. If you are very achievement oriented like me, you will get well into your thirties and notice that all you every do is take on ever greater miseries in a futile attempt that it will one day make you happy. You simply can’t be happy by being miserable. Those who are invested in causing you misery will tell you things like, ‘no pain, no gain’, and they are entirely wrong. Pain does not exist to tell you that you are doing something right. It’s there to tell you that you are doing something wrong, and as advanced humans, we do not care for pain for pain’s sake. We are capable of monitoring our safety without unnecessary pain. We must break free from our Darwinian constraints or we will be drug through life like any other animal, a slave to involuntary reactions to commands coming from our environments, genes, other people’s genes, the genes of parasites that live in our bodies, and even noise from our genes and environment, without even noticing it.
What techniques do you use to improve your mood? Feel free to comment. Thanks, peace, love, and good fortune to you.