Sunday, 1 August 2010

Re-view, Re-group, Re-everything

Why, why, why oh why... is life so strange?
Why do we like unhealthy things better than healthy ones? Why do we rather sleep in front of the telly then to go to bed in good time? Why do we understand how it works and still get it wrong? And finally: Why is it that all the good things I do to myself make me feel good and happy and I am still slipping into comfy behaviour for the quick fix which makes me feel unhappy in the long run?

I am in one of those phases again, and it must be boring for you to read it over and over again. Well, this time I at least seem to have caught it at an early stage; just a good month in, so the harm done is minimal. I however know:

It is time to re-group the brain cells!

It is time to become selfish even towards my sloppy self!

It is time to find a solution for once and for all!

I now decided to see this wavelike behaviour as an experiment: Let’s put this woman into her personal laboratory until all the details are known and analysed to then eradicate the cause of this disastrous behaviour.

Experiments always start with a hypothesis. See, and that already is the tricky part:

How to phrase the problem so that it can be re-searched?

Well, let’s just start with:

‘Everybody strives for happiness and too much comfort leads to unhappiness’

The next step is to define the parts of the hypothesis. So, what is ‘happiness’ and what is ‘comfort’? Let us assume that there are three types of happiness.

There is the momentary one; the taste of an ice cream, the visit of a loved one, the success in an exam or a sports event; everything that gives this ‘high’ driven by endorphins and adrenalin. Once the chemicals are gone one is back to square one, and some might even feel it like a black hole until the next project or ‘nice’ occasion comes along.

Then there is imagined happiness. It is the idea of how life would be... ‘IF’. This type of happiness is closely related to the first one, just that it is stretched out a bit. Whenever we reach a milestone we feel a chemical induced high like in case one, but the content stays for a bit longer because previous experience gets projected into the future, the next milestone is not uncertain but possible and happiness sometimes can even stretch from milestone to milestone.

Ahhh, I just said: ‘Content!’ That is more the kind of happiness everybody is after. It is a general state of well being, one is doing things one likes doing on a daily basis, the social and living environment is in place, and little challenges are keeping it interesting but don’t threaten the balance.

Content seems to be a lesser form of happiness, I however believe that it describes best what I mean to express in my hypothesis. This seems to be the more true that somebody who is not happy definitely is not content either, so at the end it might turn out that it is even more than happiness.

So I am herewith re-phrasing and claiming that:

Everybody is striving for content,
A big hindering thing however is comfort,

and in turning it upside down that:

Content equals Effort

Whoops... how did that come about? You may realise that I am making this up as I go along... so these are real thought processes you are observing here... I am keen to see where else this will lead me and if I can bring it to something that makes remotely sense.

So: Content = Effort would mean the less effort one is putting into life, the lesser the chances are that this person will be content.

I guess it is time now to define ‘effort’. It is quite interesting actually that I rather intuitively chose effort as the opposite of comfort. Being German I quite often use a dictionary to translate back and forth in order to find the best word to describe a thought. So I did that just now for ‘comfort’ and my dictionary delivers words like ‘ease’ and convenience’. This hits the nail quite nicely on the head: Those words indicate that one gets something for almost free, there is no achievement associated with it; one may get a good mark or food or even money but basically for no good reason.

Ahhh.... again! Another good word chosen intuitively: ‘Achievement’ seems to be important for content.

Achivement usually is associated with an outburst of joy about the achieved, which goes along the lines of the chemical driven events as depicted in ‘happy-description’ number one a bit further up this article. This description however we found the least suitable for our hypothesis, so why is this argument coming back to it then?

Let’s see what the dictionary throws at us by looking at ‘effort’. It delivers words like ‘exertion’ but ‘achievement’ as well – Ha! So I intuitively got it right! – ‘accomplishment’ and ‘performance’ are other words along the same line.


This is exactly what solves the riddle - but not the problem, though; human kind has given the same word for something that is a ballast as well as a source of joy, and this shows that throughout history, probably even since the beginnings of mankind, this combination has been hard wired into our brains. We love accomplishment, we love to achieve, it makes us feel good, but at the same time there is the ballast of getting there.

It now dawns on me that happiness can be categorised in a different way as well. I chose a definition that refers to the length of time the feeling lasts. The first group however, the momentary, the instant happiness, can be classed again. I already gave the clue myself in naming the ‘taste of an ice cream’ in the same list as the ‘success in an exam’.

See the difference? They both don’t last THAT long, but one comes effortless the other one not. Those are things that DO make us happy short term but while the latter holds the promise of content if driven further, the first one doesn’t.

We are trading long term content all too easily for short term happiness of the wrong kind.

  • Relationships – we like to go for the fling to get the butterfly feel rather then work for it
  • Fitness – we find a thousand reasons not to do it, smugly telling ourselves that a bit of housework will do the trick, trying to catch two flies with one stone rather then developing a lifestyle that actually will solve a lot of our problems
  • Food – we are falling for the fast version and the immediate sugar rush, rather then learning to cook and getting in charge of what we put through out bodies
  • Sleep – we fall for the simple treat of a silly movie or online chat rather than an early sleep

Every single of those miss-behaviours give us a quick kick, but they keep us from achieving. We are like the four year olds in the marshmallow experiment . They were given the decision between one marshmallow now, or waiting a bit and the promise of the second marshmallow. Most of the kids would eat the marshmallow, and well... it seems we are failing similar tests which life is throwing at us at a regular basis.

I at least don’t seem to be able to make this sort of decisions on a subconscious level. So well then: Let’s bring it to the conscious. Developing routines for the things which happen regularly already worked well for me... it is just a matter of once in a while re-minding me why the routine was established. Routines reduces effort as one only has to put in the effort at the beginning until the routine is learned. And for the rest of it: One will have to ask the conscious question over and over again 'Is this quick happy-fix worth jeopardising the prospect of long term content?'

See, we are even in the lucky position that in a lot of the cases we don’t even have to wait for others to fulfil the promise. We are in charge, we make it happen ourselves. You want to become strong, slim, smart you CAN. You want the better job, the independance, the freedom you CAN have that. You CAN do all this by putting in the respective effort. So re-minding myself of the above and asking myself the question 'Is it worth it?' might eventually help train my subconscious to take the right choices blindfolded, and re-lieving you from having to listen to this all over again.

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