REVIEWING THE 1st KEY: LASTING HAPPINESS ONLY COMES FROM WITHIN!
Let’s discuss in more detail the 1st key to a happy & rewarding life. Remember, this is part of the ‘escape plan’ for our personal transformation.
We have previously discussed the concept of ‘temporary pleasure’ and most of us are familiar with that term. The much better alternative is a ‘permanent’ or lasting happiness. We want our happiness to last! To better understand the term ‘lasting happiness’ let's investigate how we perceive the world.
Our brain provides a mechanism to help interpret the external world. We start this perception with our 5 physical senses. These senses generate chemical & electrical patterns in the brain. We then interpret these patterns in our brain. The interpretation of these senses becomes our experience of the world.
PLEASURE IS A TRANSIENT CHEMICAL IMPRINT.
What then, in terms of science, is the difference between transient pleasure & lasting happiness? We will learn that these are totally different mechanisms. They are produced quite differently in the brain. Let's briefly review the chemistry involved to help clarify this.
Temporary pleasure is signaled by certain chemical neurotransmitters in the brain. This is primarily dopamine. However, the effect can also be mimicked, and even surpassed by external chemicals that we can ingest. These external chemicals trigger short bursts of very intense pleasure and reduce our pain.
NEURO-CHEMICALS CAN BECOME DEPLETED.
This pleasure sensation is not sustained for very long. The neuro-chemical stores in the neurons soon become depleted. This chemical effect is temporary and easily exhausted! The required chemicals need considerable time to be resynthesized.
Each further time, a bigger stimulus is required for the same effect. This effect is called adaptation or tolerance. We need more & more of this triggering behavior and we can even become dependent or ‘addicted’ to it.
…Can you see how seeking more pleasure can become a slippery slope?
LASTING HAPPINESS USES NEURONAL NETWORKS.
The underlying mechanism for lasting happiness or joy is quite different. It is not based on the chemistry of specific neurons. Long lasting happiness utilizes whole neuronal networks instead. So individual neurons are not likely to get depleted.
For example, when we experience joy or loving kindness, certain neural networks in the brain are activated. Simply by continuing to utilize these beneficial networks we feel good, long term. There is no adaptation or tolerance. That’s how we can tell we are using the right system!
PERMANENT HAPPINESS GROWS WITH USE.
Maintaining these favorable neural pathways does require a conscious choice. But this is as simple as regularly choosing to feel good! It can take time & perseverance to establish these beneficial neural pathways in the brain.
Regular use of a neural pathway helps maintain it! The pathway increases in size from regular use. If this neural pathway is beneficial long term, then we term this effect ‘permanent happiness’.
…Do you understand the difference between temporary and lasting happiness?
PERMANENT HAPPINESS IS MILDER BUT IT LASTS.
The positive feeling, we get from ‘lasting happiness’ is not as intense as with temporary pleasure. But it lasts a very long time! Plus, there’s no adaptation to it. On the other hand, because the peak of temporary pleasure is so high, we crave more of it!
Temporary pleasure can become so addictive that we go to extremes to get this sensation again. But the high doesn't last because it is prone to tolerance issues. This means that increasingly more stimulus is required to trigger the same effect.
WE CAN’T BE ADDICTED TO LASTING HAPPINESS!
Remember, temporary pleasure involves individual neurons, which are much more prone to chemical exhaustion or tolerance. On the other hand, the large neuronal pathways involved in lasting happiness are not prone to chemical depletion. The sensation of joy or fulfillment therefore persists for a much longer period of time. That's why we call this ‘long lasting’ happiness!
…Can you see how building positive neuronal pathways is preferable?
LONG-LASTING HAPPINESS CAN ACCUMULATE.
Remember, the peak of temporary pleasure is quite high. But because the duration is so short lived, the overall ‘quantity’ of pleasure is small. Mathematically speaking, the total ‘area under the curve’ is much less than with lasting happiness.
Not only can the joyful experience of lasting happiness be maintained. It can also accumulate or build upon previous levels! This accumulation of joy is like having money in the bank. We can therefore build our store of happiness! And we even gain ‘bank interest’ on our investment. The more we use those permanent happiness neuronal pathways the bigger & stronger they become!
SURVIVAL REQUIRES A RAPID SIGNALLING SYSTEM.
Why do we need a system of rapid but temporary pleasure signaling? The answer relates to our basic need for biological survival. This system rapidly tells us what is not likely to be beneficial in our environment. It might not be perfectly accurate, but it sure works fast and is hard to miss. Then we can quickly avoid what's most harmful. Hopefully we can then work out the grey areas later.
Why would we choose transient pleasure over lasting happiness? Can we not tell the difference? Have we not been properly educated? Is this just laziness & poor impulse control? Let’s now address this question in more detail.
WHY DO WE STILL NEED TRANSIENT PLEASURE?
Remember that for biological survival, organisms need a rapid signaling system. One which very quickly tells us what is potentially good and what is not in our environment. Speed & signaling strength is very important in such a warning system.
Even a primitive organism like an amoeba must find nourishment and avoid negative or noxious stimuli. The organism must be able to seek positive or beneficial environments. So, it must quickly detect the difference!
OUR RAPID RESPONSE SYSTEM IS HARDWIRED.
Even as advanced humans, this signaling system is still hardwired into our brain. To survive & thrive, humans need to rapidly distinguish what’s safe from what’s harmful. We do this by judging what feels pleasant and what does not. That’s why we need a rapid chemically based pleasure system. But this system is meant only for occasional instant testing. It’s not meant for overuse or abuse!
…Can you see the biological reasons for a rapid pleasure system?
WE EVOLVE BY CHOOSING LONG TERM HAPPINESS.
Our system of short-term pleasure seeking is good for basic safety and survival. But we can become trapped in this primal animalistic behavior.
As humans we have the ability to evolve beyond these primal survival systems. We can proactively take on the responsibility for building our own lasting happiness & joy. We can drive our further evolution.
But how do we achieve this in daily life? How do we overcome our suffering? How do we succeed in this quest? This is the ongoing theme of this book.