the mudpond

It's good to let things breathe in your imagination because often your initial response to it is not the best thought-through response. I savour little glimpses of life. Mine and those of people who turn me sideways and around. Friend or stranger. Even a child. (the world looks different from down there) Sometimes an author, photographer, artist. I let things saturate and incubate here. Hopefully, deeper meanings can percolate up and flower.

Location: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

A stray cat.


Set Point for Happiness

HAPPINESS IS SOMETHING we all want. After all, those of us who agree with Aristotle consider it the supreme good. And most practical people judge the morality of actions by the 'Greatest Happiness' principle.

Unhappiness laments: “
Why, oh why, am I cursed with bad skin, a wide arse, fat arms and knock-knees?”

Alas, what and who we are is largely determined by genetic makeup.

People are born upbeat or melancholy. As much as 50 percent of a person's tendency to be happy is inherited. This is from
David Lykken’s article "The Heritability of Happiness” (1996).

Each individual brain has a set point for happiness, just as the body has a set point for weight.

We have an acquired comfort zone of bliss. If you are more likely to be sad than happy much of the time, then your set point for happiness is lower than average. And after unusual ups, or devastating downs, we automatically and quickly return to this familiar state.

Likewise, your set point for weight may be higher than average if you tend to be fat. You can exercise or go on a diet, but the moment you stop, you find that you will regain the weight you have lost very quickly.

We cannot help being the way we are.

Wait, despair not.

It is possible to raise our set-point. We can move above and below our natural level, by conscious effort. We can change our sense of well-being. Just as we can change our metabolism through exercise, we can shape our emotional state by taking full responsibility for our own happiness. As Lykken exhorts, "you can let the genetic steersman have his head or try to change it.''

We can also become happier with who we are. If we want to, that is.

People also always do what they know how to do. The set point principle applies to our emotional defaults as well. Most of us will go to our default setting when faced with any given challenge. Your emotional default position grows out of who you are and how you think. If your default position on having your views questioned - even in the mildest manner - is to resort to sarcasm and rudeness, you'll likely go to default bitchiness even if you merely perceive someone ventured a slightly less than complimentary opinion of you.

People can change, and the changes within them can produce new default settings. [Needless to say, there’s no need to change if they’re perfectly happy with themselves] Understanding the genetic roots of your personality can help you "find yourself" and relate better to others. This is from molecular biologist, Dr
Dean Hammer’s Living With Our Genes (1998).

Character can moderate temperament, to allow us to take advantage of the useful part of temperament and downplay the less desirous biological tendencies or instincts. So if your set point for weight is higher than average, you can still maintain your weight below that level by regular exercise and eating less. But you cannot hope to look like Mary Donaldson, unless you want to be a surgically-altered cyborg like Michael Jackson.

All you melancholic folks (and I am sometimes one), heed Lykken’s advice:

"Be an experiential epicure. A steady diet of simple pleasures will keep you above the set point. Find the small things that you know give you a little high -- a good meal, working in the garden, time with friends -- and sprinkle your life with them… In the long run, that will leave you happier than some grand achievement that gives you a big lift for a while."

One last word from Dr Hamel:

"Those who accomplish the most --
measured in money, intelligence, skill, happiness, or love --
are the ones who make the most of their genetic inheritance".

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