Cognitive therapy isn't magic; It's just a methodical approach to building emotional intelligence
Cognitive therapy is ultimately about emotional intelligence. A lack of emotional intelligence, when applied to personal issues, is the real source of depression (outside of chemical-only causes). When an EQ-deficient person gets hit with an episode of dysphoria, they are liable to think their world is crumbling down. But after applying cognitive therapy, they will narrow down their ill-feeling to dissatisfaction with work, then to dissatisfaction with a specific co-worker, to finally dissatisfaction with a particular incident, which will lead to a clear and appropriate response. Without cognitive therapy, they would otherwise just live in a depressed haze for a week until the initial triggering incident somehow becomes a non-issue. With enough therapy sessions, this emotional winnowing process gets faster and more reflexive, and eventually, the patient has something that resembles the intuitive process of someone with a higher EQ.
Discontentment and Nature
Nature’s trick with humans is to turn genetic discontentment into conscious discontentment. Instead of the slow trial-and-error of mutation and recombination, why not create machines that consciously seek to better their condition. When a meadow is overfarmed, humans develop angst and seek greener pastures. When the belly is full and time is abundant, humans dream of conquering neighboring tribes.
The discontentment of the lion is different. They can’t see past the present moment. And if they die before reproduction, it’s just as well. They were just another trial. They were just another error. For humans, this is not the case. Our lives are not just one trial, but rather the only trial. “You have only one life,” so the saying goes. This burden becomes our unhappiness, making us avatars for nature’s quest for self-improvement.
Even if everything is going well, you can justify unhappiness if deep down you believe you're heading in the wrong direction
If we were elementary particles of physics, then happiness would not be about our position, but rather the velocity of where we're going in life. It's not our current state that vexes us, but rather our beliefs about what is happening to our current state. If you're poor, the lack of money doesn't strike you as something negative at the moment; rather it's the thought that that state will persist. The upsetting thing is not that you're poor today, but that you will continue to be tomorrow. If a hungry rich man forgets his wallet when he is on the street, he is technically, at that moment, in the same position as the perpetually impoverished. It is through future-attached activities and emotions, such as hoping, planning, and complaining, that we develop a perception of poorness.
Mindfulness is a better substitute for happiness because it is focused solely on the present. Meditation reduces the load from projecting into the future, which is a subtle, but crucial, perceptual shift. The state of being poor transforms into "unalleviated future poorness," which is a more manageable and less vexing proposition.
Evolution wants us to be happy only 50% of the time
The sad thing about happiness is that we might be evolved to have it half of the time. Studies on workplace and marital satisfaction consistently show that half the people are happy with their careers or marriages.
Happiness is related to flow, which is the state of mind that athletes feel when they're in the zone, or when artisans immerse themselves in their craft. We achieve flow most often when tasks are in the middle of our skill level: Too hard, and we get anxious; Too easy, and we get bored. When we apply flow to games of chance, we are happiest when we have a 50% chance of winning, whether it's a dice roll or the passing of the football into the end zone.
Likewise, our design has a sliding scale of happiness. Fortunes can rise and fall, sometimes for generations, and so if happiness depended on the basics, such as having a full belly, then a bountiful epoch would lead to a bunch of lazy pandas, only to be crushed by hungrier barbarians.
Perhaps the evolution of happiness follows a similar scatter plot to altruism, as if happiness were a negotiation between the generosity of life versus one's motivation. If we are too happy, then we take life for granted, and don't succeed as much as we could. If we're too unhappy, we are defeated by life, becoming too much of a wet blanket to be worth befriending. In other words, happiness is a balance between striving for gain and savoring it.
Free will is determined by the amount of overlap between your effective wants and your actual wants
Nietzsche weighed in on the debate over free will by nullifying it: There is no free will just as there is no unfree will. Unity of agency is what matters most.
The way to understand this is to consider the difference between effective wants and actual wants. An effective want is what you are apparently driven towards. If an alien were to study you from the outside, without asking you what you thought, they would look at how you spend your time to understand what drives you. These would be your effective wants. Your actual wants would be the self-description of your wants. So if you keep saying you want to break up with your lover, but are still spending every waking moment with that person, there is a chasm between your effective and actual wants.
The more overlap that a person has between these two wants, the less likely there is to be discord in their heart.
If "loud, repetitive thoughts" are the hallmark of neurotic minds, then "quiet, organic thoughts" are the hallmark of calm, mindful ones
If "loud, repetitive thoughts" are the hallmark of OCD/anxious temperament, then "quiet, organic thoughts" are the hallmark of a calm, neurotypical mind. Another way of thinking about "quiet, organic thoughts" is to consider it a form of "indirect thinking." Whereas a neurotic, when faced with a life problem, may sit in a chair, and actively analyze and develop solutions, a neurotypical person will wait and let ideas come to them.
There are some devices that aid indirect thinking. Examples include Tarot cards, I-Ching, astrology, etc. A Tarot card reading gives you a chance to access the issues in your life without having to confront them directly, which can be stressful and lead to loud, repetitive thoughts.
It's possible to expand this indirect thinking to the rest of your life. For example, you may find yourself in the shower, lost in thought, on the verge of a nervous breakdown over anxieties about work. But instead of turning inward, wracking your head to find a solution, you could turn outward and notice the shower tiles. You could let your eyes drift, allowing you to notice the grout. Eventually, the symbol of a grid appears in your head, and you realize that it's a metaphor for your problems. You could read into it that you're in prison, which might spur you to quit outright, rather than trying to haggle for a raise.
Roger von Oech's The Creative Whack Pack and Brian Eno's Oblique Strategies are both decks of cards that prompt readers to make metaphors, forcing you to remix your world to come up with novel solutions.
Indirect thinking can also be a good compromise between thought-cessation and over-thinking. When over-thinking floods your mind, a part of you might scream to "stop thinking." Initially, this might work, but it's impractical to do it more than once—in many cases, the thoughts you're trying to quell may get stronger. Because thought-cessation seems impossible, many over-thinkers simply give up and assume they're stuck with their condition. Indirect thinking would allow them to continue living their lives, while still searching for solutions in the background, using their intuition and living serendipitously.
If neuroticism is marked by "load, repetitive thoughts," then mindfulness is marked by "quiet, organic thoughts."
One way of describing a neurotic is by saying that they have minds filled with "loud, repetitive thoughts." Likewise, then, the way of describing a calmer, neurotyical person is to say they have "quiet, organic thoughts."
This label also applies to the typical feeling practitioners feel after meditating. Mindfulness makes it easier to zoom into and out of situations, noticing something as soft a pin drop and as large as your life's purpose. Meditation lets you focus on something, while not being consumed by it. Meditation, by quieting distractions, also lets you move your choice of focus more freely.
If you took a bird's eye view of a meditator's mind, you would notice that the thoughts are quieter, and that they flow more organically. Instead of sticking to one topic and obsessing over it, their mind may stick on one spot, then move to another, but it won't be jumpy. Instead, it'll be smooth like a new stream of water slowly developing into tributaries, like a pleasant wander.
Even without the brain scans or meta-studies that confirm this, just inspecting the nature of meditation alone shows why it's so effective of an anxiety-reducer.
Just the attempt to be happy requires self-love and hope, which puts you already half-way there
The most persuasive thing you can tell a depressed person is that depression is self-perpetuating. Depressed people hold onto beliefs like, "Happiness is not important," "Positive thinking is silly," or "Why should I be happy when not everything is okay?" Depressed people often erroneously think their depressions are justified by external events, without realizing that depression is often the biggest cause of depression. The depressed mind wants further depressing thoughts, whereas the happy mind seeks positive thoughts.
While there are studies that prove this, I noticed this clearly in myself. One day, I decided to apply positive thinking, but I couldn't fathom anything positive at that moment. So I pushed myself to keep trying, to dig deep into the events of the day or details about my life situation, and after a few minutes, I noticed myself feeling better. However, I felt better before I arrived at an actual positive thought. By seeking to deliver positivity to myself, I was already emulating the typical behavior of a happy person.
This result suggests that the key pathway out of depression is to want happiness. To look at yourself and think, "This person needs to be cheered up," already implies a certain self-love which is fundamental to a positive outlook on life.
A parallel pattern happens in meditation. When someone works through their reluctance to meditate, they have already made substantial progress toward mindfulness, without even having begun to meditate.
Miracle cures can't be scientifically invalidated since we all might have one—and only one—good miracle in each of us
There's this story of someone who dramatically lost body weight and cured his depression by following a very specific set of yoga postures every day for a year. Do such miracle cures exist? The skeptic looks at one of these stories and thinks, "If the cure is truly miraculous, why hasn't everybody already done it?" That isn't to say that there are no new miracle cures, but just that the odds that you would be one of the first ones to discover it are low.
There's a fallacy in this way of thinking, though, and that's to assume that miracle cures are universal. Perhaps those yoga postures indeed cured everything for this one man, but just don't work on everybody else. Maybe miracle cures are common but are so personalized we cannot share them with each other.
Perhaps this is the meaning behind "The Seeker" personality type. Seekers are just trying every New Age remedy under the sun so they can find that one elixir that fixes everything for them. Once found, they'll tell the whole world about it, only to then inspire the same quest and cycle in others.
Of course, the happiness of lottery winners is fleeting: The goal isn't permanent happiness but rather a once-in-a-lifetime moment
An often cited study about the nuances of happiness is the one about paraplegics and lottery winners. After six months or so, paraplegics and lottery winners have roughly the same happiness levels, which seems to prove that happiness is not dependent on circumstance.
This conclusion, though, assumes that the point is to permanently raise our happiness levels. Instead, happiness is designed to create credible threats and promise. If you do a dangerous sport without a helmet, you should fear the unhappiness that would ensue. Six months of being unhappy would be harsh, and a significant chunk of your time on Earth would be lost due to physical recklessness. These six months would likely become your "dark days," and you will shudder every time you reflect upon them. Likewise, you should be excited about the prospect of a large financial windfall because the six months after receiving it would be an ecstatic ride.
Gamblers seem to internalize this attitude. Even though it's mostly poor people at the Bingo parlor, their attitude towards money shows a certain understanding of the nature of happiness. At any given time, there will usually be one person who has a crowd gathered around them. They are buying drinks for their friends and handing out bills left and right, quickly losing everything they had just won. While it would be financially better to save that money for a rainy day (or not even be at the Bingo parlor to begin with), it makes more sense to maximize the adrenaline rush in that moment, since the happiness from it will be fleeting anyways.
Positive thinking can become repression when you only use it in response to negative stimuli, as opposed to spontaneously
The "when" of positive thinking is just as important as the "what." When it comes to timing, there are two ways you can apply positive thinking: in reaction or via remote. A reactionary form of positive thinking is to use positive thinking in response to negative stimuli. Let's say someone you respect criticizes you and hurts your feelings. You could, right at that moment, say positive things to yourself to recover your self-esteem.
However, this has potentially dangerous implications. For one, it could dampen a realistic assessment of the situation. If the person criticizing you is someone who is a negative force in your life, you don't want positive thinking to cloud a justified desire to avoid them. At its extreme, doing so could re-enforce a form of Stockholm Syndrome, whereby you become more deeply involved with your captor.
Another dangerous implication is that it can re-enforce your negative feelings. By resisting your negative feelings through the application of positive thinking, it necessarily amplifies the negative feelings because of the way the mind works. By willfully thinking about something in opposition to something else, it puts a spotlight on the opposing thought, which may require more willful thinking. This pattern is similar to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders, whereby trying to rid yourself of the unwanted thought creates a negative feedback loop. The obsession, whether it's washing your hands or positive thinking, gets reinforced because it provides relief, at least for a moment, but then the unwanted thought comes back stronger.
Perhaps the better way to time positive thinking is via remote control. Practice positive thinking when there isn't anything particularly bothering you. For example, some people wake up in bad moods. These morning feelings may have nothing to do with an actual negative stimulus but instead, spring from negative habits or patterns of thinking.
Or one could even set a randomized buzzer to remind them to do positive thinking. Either way, positive thinking via remote control would be a more honest application than reactionary positive thinking.
If there were no cure for headaches, we might not suffer them as much. When we reach for painkillers, the order of events seems like it goes from vexation to question to answer. We feel tense, then we ask, "What can be done about this?" to which the response is, "Use this." But the existence of a possible answer draws the question out of us, and in tandem the knowledge of the vexation.
For example, a mother is driving her son to school and notices he is quiet. She asks, "What's wrong?" to which he replies, "My head hurts." (In the past, he might have said, "My tummy hurts," or "I don't feel good.") Suddenly a Children's Tylenol appears in his mouth, which creates an entry for "headache" in his database of fixable things.
Perhaps even the question, "What's wrong?" wouldn't have been asked a couple of generations earlier because parents didn't have video games and pills in their panacea toolbox.
Self-actualization is somewhat paradoxical because your potential also includes your potential ability to fulfill it
Nebulous goals like "fulfilling your potential" and self-actualization have a way of becoming an obsession for the mid-life seeker. Such goals presume that there is this fixed thing called your "potential" that just needs some extra sauce to turn it into a reality. Perhaps you have a budding music talent. In which case, your potential then is to produce pop hits, if you could only put in something extra, whether it's practice or getting into the right school.
But your meta-potential is also part of your potential. You may have that music talent, but you don't have the discipline to do all the practice. Or you lack free time because you have to work extra jobs to pay your bills. Or you have trouble working with authority, and therefore always have had bad relationships with music coaches. So while, on some level, you do have the potential to be a superstar musician, you don't necessarily have the potential to turn that potential into a reality.
In other words, the word "potential" is a really a synonym for "lack," and obsessing over it is just another way of pushing the goal post further back and adding more conditions on your happiness.
Self-help books just re-enforce the belief that small changes to one's circumstances are all it takes to become happy
Reading a book on productivity or success, while for some people may genuinely solve a problem in their life, for most will just re-enforce the belief that small improvements to one's circumstance will make them happy. Sonja Lyubomirsky's The How of Happiness is then the last self-help book one needs to read because it shows once and for all that circumstances only account for 10% of people's happiness. Those who are happy are scientifically proven to be those who continuously, intentionally make themselves happy, whether it's by meditation, deliberate acts of kindness, prayer, etc., or who already have the wiring for calm temperament.
Since Gladwell and Csikszentmihalyi mainly studied masters, perhaps flow and 10,000 hours aren't meant for everybody
Does Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's Flow propose yet another stretch goal to vex the minds of pop psychology students? Is it meant to be for everybody? A similar stretch goal is the 10,000 hours of "deliberate practice" suggested in Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers or the state of self-actualization as proposed by Maslow's ladder. These pop psych ideas have a way of just creating more conditions for achieving wholeness.
Because these concepts are relatively new and hard to measure, scientists haven't thoroughly examined them. The question with Csikszentmihalyi's book is, Just how often is flow a part of people's lives today? How often do people lose themselves in their work like a passionate master, minding all the little details with tender love and care? Various studies show somewhere between 45 and 65% of Americans are happy with the jobs, so it would be interesting to know how many of them have flow as a major component of their work lives. Is it on the order of 5% or is it more like 50%?
Finding this out would help determine whether flow is a worthy goal or not. If flow isn't something that regularly occurs in a significant number of people, then perhaps it's not natural. Perhaps flow is not for everyone. Since Gladwell and Csikszentmihalyi make their case by studying those at the top of their fields, perhaps flow and 10,000 hours are just meant for masters and master candidates.
Sometimes "act naturally" isn't the best advice when unnatural politeness will suffice
Is there, or isn't there, value in pat advice? A common one is, "be natural," but is this something you should do all the time? Does being natural lead you to the desired life outcomes? One way is to compare the piece of advice to a metaphor from computer science: the greedy algorithm.
A greedy algorithm is a method of searching for a larger solution by finding smaller solutions and adding them up. So, for example, if the overall goal is to be happy, then a "be natural" algorithm would seek happiness at this moment, and the next moment, and so on, with the idea that it would build happiness in the long-run.
In computer science, greedy algorithms are known for being reasonably efficient at getting good solutions, but they have one glaring weakness: it's possible to get stuck. For example, "be natural" could dictate that you act on your anger at this bar at this moment, and so you punch a patron in the face, which lands you in jail. Jail then makes you less happy than if you had just made some long-term assessment of consequences, acted unnaturally polite, and walked away.
So clearly "be in the moment" or "be yourself" aren't rules we should follow at every minute of every day. But how often then? Is this advice applicable 99.99% of the time, 95% of the time, or just something we should say to ourselves every once in awhile when our acting unnatural is getting overboard, and doing us more harm than good?
The 90-10 Rule
The 80-20 rule is a magic rule of business that states that 80% of your business comes from 20% of your customers. After the invention of this rule, it was discovered that it could be applied to all sorts of aspects of business. For example, 80% of the work done in a business gets done by 20% of the employees, or that 80% of procrastination can be eliminated by doing the initial 20% of a task.
In self-improvement, there is a similar rule that isn't as widespread, and it's the 90-10 rule. I first observed it in Sonja Lyubomirsky's The How of Happiness. The book, which is a comprehensive survey of studies on positive psychology, states that 90% of people's happiness is determined by internal factors, like temperament and intentional happiness activities, versus 10% which is based on external factors, like money, good looks, etc.
This makes intuitive sense. We see unhappy millionaires and happy paupers all around, to the point where the money, clothes, good looks, etc. all seem like noise.
I also noticed the 90-10 rule in my cognitive therapy sessions. 90% of the time, my cognitive therapy sessions led me to attitudinal adjustments. For example, I would have a session where I would be upset at my social skills, only to realize at the end of it, that I was harping too frequently on my supposed faux pas. Nine times out of ten, a cognitive therapy session would lead me to correct a distorted thought.
One out of ten times, though, my initial reason for having a cognitive therapy session would bear some truth. I may start a session filled with social anxiety, replaying events from a party the night before. At the end of the session, I may then realize there are specific social skills I should work on, like not prying too much into other people's lives.
Perhaps a recognition of the 90-10 rule, in of itself, is essential to happiness. Some happy people, when quizzed about their philosophy of life, may say, "Happiness is a state of mind." Whereas some unhappy people, when quizzed, might talk about external factors. A common philosophy of happiness states that it's important to have "Something to do, something to hope for, and someone to love."
Believing that your happiness is tied to external factors may lead to a hedonic treadmill, though, where you falsely believe certain goals are supposed to make you happy. You then seek them, possibly achieve them, but then find out that the goal post has now moved further back. And then the cycle repeats itself.
The Momentum Theory of Happiness: Pursuing happiness is half of what it takes to be happy
Pursuing happiness is half of what it takes to be happy. This much has been proven by The How of Happiness and is the result of the self-perpetuating property of depression: depression has a way of inspiring further depressing thoughts.
So to bridge someone from an unhappy way of life to a happy one, a certain amount of persuasion is necessary (a happy person needs no convincing to perpetuate their happiness.)
One strategy is to describe happiness in terms of a means to an end. In Martin Seligman's Authentic Happiness, for example, the author suggests that the evolutionary purpose of happiness is social. Happiness draws people together for mutual enjoyment. So one benefit of happiness is that it'll make you more popular, and connected. Happiness also increases your energy and motivation. Pursuing happiness is therefore expedient.
Another strategy is to describe happiness as a measure of living a good life. When you are doing something that is consistent with your true self you feel better. Therefore the pursuit of happiness is indirectly the pursuit of better ways of living, and thus a worthy goal.
Once the person becomes happy though, such arguments become obviated as happiness becomes intrinsically motivating, and doesn't require rhetorical kickstarts.
The depressed fear that anti-depressants may inhibit their ability to solve their underlying problems, and yet depression is the biggest inhibitor of all
Coping vs. Solving is the central debate when it comes to psychotherapy, anti-depressants, and self-improvement. Do anti-depressants cure disease or do they just mask and postpone it?
We confront issues like this every day. When you have a bad day, what should you do? Should you soak in the hot tub with a bottle of wine? Should you engage in positive thinking? Or should you sit down and figure out why your day was bad and learn how to prevent it from happening again?
Everybody has their own pattern of responses, and they probably do a moderate amount of both. If they have a bad day, they turn on the TV a little to drown out the pain, and then maybe complain a little to a loved one. It makes the rest of the day go by more easily, and by complaining daily, they may eventually accumulate some sort of understanding of what needs to be done to fix their bad days.
There's a simple Roarsarch test for where you stand on coping vs. solving. First, consider the technique known as smile therapy. This espouses that you should, every day, spend some amount of time forcing yourself to smile. The process of doing so releases neurotransmitters in your brain related to the same kind of joy that would make you smile in the first place. Now, after knowing about this, are you going to do it?
Some people will naturally shake their head, objecting that smile therapy fakes happiness. That's a valid complaint, but then again you have to wonder which habitual coping mechanisms fake happiness or provide authentic happiness.
Some people would immediately embrace "smile therapy" thinking it's an all-natural way to find happiness. But then again, what if you're in an oppressive marriage that you need to get out of, you probably shouldn't use smile therapy to keep yourself in it.
The way to get out of this either-or pickle is to use the terms "causative redress" vs. "symptomatic redress." Causative redress is an attempt to handle what is causing the problem. For example, if you failed an exam and became sad, causative redress would come up with a plan on how to do better the next time.
Symptomatic redress is an attempt, as its name suggests, to deal with the symptoms. For example, if you failed an exam and became sad, symptomatic redress would imply exercising to relieve stress.
Some kinds of redress are both causative and symptomatic. For example, therapists argue that taking anti-depressants helps retrain your brain to behave more positively, which in of itself, helps you fix concrete problems in your life.
This then boils the coping vs. solving debate into a simple rule:
You should only apply so much symptomatic redress that it doesn't obscure or mask the opportunity for causative redress.
For example, if your marriage is falling apart, you shouldn't be drinking every night to mask away the pain—that would be escapism. Instead, maybe a nice jog into the wilderness will both relieve stress and help clear up your mind for positive solutions. Or maybe going to a religious service will give you a soft meditative high while also helping you reflect.
The happiness set point isn't necessarily set, since half of it could be caused by behavioral habits, which while genetic in origin, can change
According to twin-separation studies, people have an average set point of happiness that they naturally return to, like an equilibrium. While this implies a genetic factor to happiness, it doesn't necessarily mean we don't have freedom to change our happiness. First, the set point only determines about 50% of happiness levels. Second, genetic factors can be either direct or indirect.
Direct genetic factors affect happiness through biological means, perhaps through a certain balance of neurotransmitters. Changes in neurotransmitters can lead to changes in temperament, which determine how anxious or calm someone is likely to be.
Indirect genetic factors affect happiness through behavior. For example, there is a gene for risk-taking, which in certain contexts, such as being a male entrepreneur in Silicon Valley, could lead to a consecutive string of positive professional outcomes, which would then trickle down to positive circumstances, such as having a stable income and home, which could contribute to happiness.
Conversely, someone could be genetically pre-disposed to make emotional judgments about people, and therefore consistently wind up in abusive relationships. They could have all the genetic ingredients necessary for a stable temperament, but those ingredients wouldn't be enough to overcome persistently troubling circumstances.
This is either a hopeful or hopeless conclusion. It's hopeful in the sense that while there are genetic causes to our happiness set point, many of those genetic causes are through behavioral tendencies, which we can correct by making better choices. But it's hopeless in the sense that happiness can also be conceived of a habit, and habits are difficult to change, potentially harder to change than temperaments, which anti-depressants are becoming increasingly specific at correcting.
The problem with high-functioning depression is that going to work and parties doesn't mean "everything's fine."
Due to complications arising from misinterpreting pathologies in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, it is often easier to describe symptoms by their outward disorder. The hallmark of being clinically depressed, for example, is when one's misery interferes with one's daily life. If someone is so perennially sad that it hampers their ability to show up for work, or with their ability to form and maintain relationships, then there is a clear case for treatment.
People with high-functioning depression then could be defined as having internal experiences similar to the clinically depressed, just without the job loss or lack of relationships. In a way, their situation is more tragic, because their bodies aren't forcing them to withdraw from the site of—or potential cause of—their misery. These people often excuse themselves out of therapy because, ultimately, "everything is fine."
Trying to find the meaning of life is much harder than just doing meaningful things every day
Answering the question, "What is the meaning of life?" is impossible, at the very least, because it's too universal: there's your meaning vs. everybody else's meaning. So the question should instead be transformed into something personal, and maybe more local. Instead of asking yourself, "What is my purpose?" or "What is my meaning?" you could ask yourself, "Is this meaningful?" or, "Is that meaningful?"
A simple syntactic change to the question can make the difference between boggling one's mind with depressing thoughts versus something proactive. Nearly everybody has at their disposal a handful of things that if asked about, they would respond with a deeply affirmative, "Yes, this is meaningful." And if that's the case, then the original question, "What is the meaning of life?" becomes moot.
Tunnel vision is the common element between cognitive therapy and Asperger: One relieves it, the other is fenced in by it
Since cognitive therapy is such a powerful and reliable tool for alleviating depression, its techniques provide insight into the nature of depression.
The basic premise of cognitive therapy is that by iterating through a list of negative biases, one can cultivate a more calm and quieter self-understanding. For example, a common disputation technique is to address whether your thoughts are too black-and-white. For example, if you believe, with 100% certainty that you will get fired, probably the situation is more nuanced and gray.
There's a little over ten common disputation techniques, and they all have a similar pattern: they address the mindset of someone with an Aspergers-like tunnel vision. Aspies often lock onto an idea and rigidly shut out all contrary thoughts. The black-and-white disputation would apply to this, and so would the disputations on over-generalizing ("I'm unemployable"), filtering (ignoring some side jobs you heard about recently), disqualifying the positive (ignoring the compliments you've received at work), jumping to conclusions ("that criticism from my boss means I'm definitely fired"), and magnification (this is all you can think about).
Is depression, then really just about having a narrow, and inflexible mind? Is that perhaps why meditation is so effective at alleviating depression as well because it loosens up the mental muscles that clench onto single, negative thoughts?
Weak happiness simulators work both ways: We overestimate the happiness from childbirth but also underestimate smelling the roses
Humans have poor happiness simulators. Studies frequently show how often people are unhappier after having children despite how happy they think they will be. But having weak happiness simulators also works in the other direction: we often do things that make us unintentionally happy. For example, we often underestimate how much simple pleasures, like a bite of ice cream or the smelling roses, will improve our happiness.
Happiness is only useful as a motivator, not an outcome. The prospect of happiness is what drives us. Once the happiness is received, then whatever carrot was at the end of that stick is no longer relevant. In a way, then, it's almost that having weak happiness simulators is what makes us human, keeping an incentive always mysteriously looming on the horizon, and thus driving the continuance of living.
We aren't virtuous because it feels good, but because we believe it to be good, which is proof happiness isn't everything
Happiness is everything. You wouldn't ever do something that you didn't think would make you happy, right? You might object saying that making other people happy is more important, but then, it could be argued that that virtuous feeling of making others happy ultimately makes you happy. Some people believe that all motives or thought processes can be unified by single personal imperatives like happiness or pleasure. The objectivists believe everything can be ultimately reduced to self-interest. And some psychologists believe everything can be reduced to symptoms in the head.
But to focus solely on one's personal experience is to live life with a mirror constantly in one's face. It's akin to measuring the world only by the feelings it generates in you, and not on the actual content of the world. The philosopher Robert Nozick asked, "Would you rather be a brain in a jar that was stimulated all the time to feel happy?" Most people would answer no, which Nozick ascribes to the reality principle. Being connected to reality is important in of itself. We do things often because of their intrinsic value, not because of their felt qualities. People help others not just because it feels good, but because they believe it to be good. And while it could be argued that following one's righteousness feels good, the helper is not chasing the prospect of the good feeling of righteousness. If the payload of good feeling is removed from the equation, as it is often reduced to a split-second of satisfaction, then pretty soon it starts to look like the virtuous are chasing virtue for its own sake.
We need Maslow's hourglass, not pyramid, since the number of tiny dimensions affecting work-life happiness expands as you go over the top
While people fear life-hacking because they don't want to believe "anything is possible," that fear isn't necessarily irrational
Life-hacking inevitably causes a reaction in many people. Tim Ferris is the leading proponent of life-hacking, selling millions of books with chapter titles like, "How I Learned to Swim Effortlessly in 10 Days" or "Disappearing Act: How to Escape the Office."
But even without in-your-face book titles, some implications from psychology about mastery and work are still troubling. Malcolm Gladwell, with the book Outliers, popularized the notion of 10,000 hours being a common ingredient in the masters of any field, whether it's piano or tennis.
What's troubling to many people about these gurus is the idea that "anything is possible." For example, if you put away the piano twenty years ago, you don't want to be told later that you could have, through certain techniques, have cultivated a very high-level of skill at it. We are attached to our weaknesses.
On the other hand, this resistance and skepticism are healthy in some regards. If you believe that anything is possible (as long as you can find the right secret technique), it could lead you on wild goose chases through sham self-improvement techniques. Ultimately, you could become a burned-out seeker, when you would've been fine if you had just accepted yourself, and stayed within your comfort zone.