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Lauren Prince

NBC News


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What is happiness?

What is happiness? We all feel it, but what IS it? Is it an experience? A manifestation of hard work? OR is it a state of being?


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  • Mar 2 2012: There are some really great people with really beautiful insight on this thread, and I have to say, if happiness were really to be defined, it wouldn't fit in a book, and that's why everyone has a different take, but everyone has a point.
    To me, happiness is focus.
    You focus your mind on the positive, rather than the negative.
    You focus your attention on the present, rather than the past or the future.
    You focus your energy towards good causes and pure intentions, so that those around you can be infected with that energy and resonate at the same rhythm.
    Every emotion or state of mind we are capable of is accessible at any time. It's a matter of learning which ones you want to embrace, and which ones you should learn to overcome, and discovering the different ways that you, as an individual, can unlock those doors.
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      Mar 2 2012: I totally agree Crystelle, that happiness is focus. What we focus on expands. We can be mindfully aware of everything that is happening in our world, and live a content, happy life by "being" in the moment. I am very aware of things happening on the other side of our world for example, and I know in this moment, there is nothing I can do about some things, so my focus goes to those things I CAN do in the moment. Where our focus goes...energy flows. We can spend our energy on good causes and pure intentions as you insightfully say, Crystelle. I also agree that this state of "being" is infectious:>) When we know our "self", we know how to access various "states" of being at any time, and embrace that which we choose. Life is an opportunity to learn, grow and evolve, and when I am in the moment with this concept firmly planted in my mind and heart, it changes the energy in the moment.

      "Remember that happiness is a way of travel, not a destination"
      (Roy M. Goodman)
      • Mar 2 2012: Beautifully said, Colleen. :) "Where our focus goes...energy flows." That is absolutely true. People are always looking for solutions from a bird's eye view, and it is, of course, important to know what the big picture looks like. But when it comes to action, when it comes to change, it's all in the details. If you focus your energy on the things you can change, the things around you, and trust that sooner or later the chain of events you've taken part in will spread, eventually all the tiny dots in that big picture will change color, pixel by pixel, to reveal a more harmonious world.
        A happy person wishes no harm to those around him/her. Only things like jealousy, resentment, selfishness, and the feeling of oppression foster the negative intentions that we are all so familiar with, from within and without.
        Therefore happiness, as a "way of travel", is easily the change we need in this world, person by person. I hope we all find that journey, one way or another.
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          Mar 2 2012: Yes!!! One thing that has helped me focus energy on things I CAN change is this:

          "Grant me the serenity to accept things I cannot change,
          courage to change the things I can,
          and wisdom to know the difference"

          It's called the "Serenity Prayer" and for me, it is simply a reminder of how, why, when, where and with whom I can be effective in the life journey:>)
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      Mar 4 2012: This is interesting. I like what you said but this is largely dependent on wether one has the ability to dominate ones own mind in such a way to guide ones own thoughts. Many people do not posess this power and are dominated by the world and its pressures. You seem to be a person who managed to take control of his mind and gain a level of contentment via that control. In my experience people in mental distress have no control over their mental state. My son has intrusive thoughts, these are thoughts that just happen over and over and over again. It pains me to thing he cannot gain control of his own mind. the thoughts can drive him mad and ultimately have no happiness at all. Focus I do think is important as a possible way for some people to gain happiness of mind but the more I read this thread the more Im realising that there arre many methods for many people for many reasons.
      • Mar 4 2012: Basil, I know what you're talking about very well, and from first-hand experience. My history with my own mental instability is a long and heavy one. I think that the trick lies in a single moment in which you understand in full clarity that you are not your thoughts, you are the conscious being observing your own thoughts. There is a state of mind in which you can clear your mind, and it can be achieved in many different ways. Repetitive prayer and chanting is one way that has been used by indigenous and ancient cultures. Sometimes music, such as certain types of trance or tribal music, can help take a person to that level. Mostly, of course, things like meditation have remarkable effects. A lot of people are very skeptical about these things, but I think it's very logical. When you meditate you focus on your breathing until all the thoughts in your head drift away, and you are left in a state similar to sleep, but you are awake. Learning how to do this helps a person learn to focus and learn to overcome the challeneges his/her own mind imposes.
        Psychiatrists were no help to me, Basil. If it wasn't for the simple things like yoga and music I would still be a manic depressive drug addict living hand-in-hand with suicidal impulses. I hope you and your son all the best, and I hope that he finds his own way to overcome the instability and discovers his balance in life. Our minds are our own most challenging rivals.
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          Mar 4 2012: Thankyou for this. It provides brand new insight for me. I had no idea that ones mind could become such an enemy. The fact that you have to actualy regard your own thoughts as an unwanted consequence of being you. I applaud your strength and bravery to go on and fight to enjoy this existence despite the struggle you are faced with.
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          Mar 5 2012: Dear Crystelle,

          You are not your thoughts yes, because OFC (Orbitofrontal cortex) of the brain is an explicit structure and you can consciously monitor it but you are your emotions because they are generated in AMYGDALA and the structure is implicit for the brain. and you can not consciously monitor the logic of your emotions.

          It seems that you have used music and Yoga to control the anxiety. they work and they do good but there are severe cases that one really needs medication and cognitive therapy to rewire the brain.

          you currently think this way with your current brain, you would be a totally different thinking person once you change the brain biochemistry that was imbalanced.

          If psychiatrist are of no help, change your psychiatrist, google your problem, hundreds of thousands of people have similar experiences, learn from them, learn how brain works, find out what medication does and just like your case when you succeed in controlling a condition share your methodology with people so that many others can benefit.
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          Mar 6 2012: Dear Collen,

          thank you for your concerns about the public health. Personally I think there is nothing wrong with introducing or talking about a medication in a public forum. you do believe in the intelligence of readers and their ability to fully investigate, think and decide for themselves. don't you ? information like this can save people. I will not advocate self-censorship in a scientific discussion forum.

          I do agree with you that there are many ways to create happiness and the magic word you used BALANCE I also believe is the key. EQUILIBRIUM ... thanks for bringing that into sight.

          I would also love to hear your opinion on what measures balance ! how do we find out the balance point of anything. what is it relative to ?
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          Mar 7 2012: Sina,
          I absolutely DO "believe in the intelligence of readers and their ability to fully investigate, think and decide for themselves"...most of the time. I am also aware that there are vulnerable people reading and commenting on TED...people who may be looking for a "quick fix"...young people...etc. I agree that all information can be of value to some people. I am also aware of the over use of medications, and the belief of some people that medications will "fix" everything.

          I don't percieve this to be a "scientific discussion" Sina, and although science may enter this discussion, it feels like you are advocating the use of medications beyond what is necessary.

          Balance is different for all individuals, which is why it is important for each and every individual to find his/her own balance, either with his/her own exploration, the help of a councelor, various practices, or medications, if that is indicated. The point I'm trying to make, is that it is inappropriate to try to diagnose and recommend medications on a public forum, where vulnerable people may be reading and participating.

          I agree with what you have written in your profile as one of your areas of expertise..."Whole Brain Thinking". "Whole" being the operative word. As you said...people are intelligent and have the ability to fully investigate and decide for themselves and it is beneficial to investigate the "whole" person for that individual to discover his/her balance or equilibrium. It feels like you are pushing medications to the point of disregarding other practices and methods to experience happiness. The discussion topic is "What is happiness".
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        Mar 5 2012: Dear Basil,

        Those intrusive thoughts that happen over and over again is a psychological condition called Obsession or when accompanied by compulsions it is called OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). it has nothing to do with the ones ability to focus or energy. it is caused by imbalance of neuro-transmitters in brain. I would strongly advise you to do something about it. help your son instead of thinking he is having problems with focusing or having a weak personality. there are medications called SSRI that do wonders for such conditions. people are not aware that many of these thoughts and problems are done because of the brain biochemistry. Your son needs your help now. please consult a psychologist. and Google OCD. it does not need to be physical obsessions like washing hands, in many smart people it reveals itself as uncontrollable thoughts.
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          Mar 5 2012: yes thankyou for this input i respect your loving intentions. My son knows full well he has OCD, what is new for me though is that there are drugs to adress the imbalance. This is an area i am interested in learning more about. thankyou for highlighting it.
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        Mar 5 2012: Dear Basil,

        You son is lucky, you are such a caring father.

        The idea of medicine scares people away but they are really effective and has saved many restoring them back to their normal life. OCD is like a big devil you don't dare to fight with and it wins if you do BUT using SSRI family of medication makes the devil smaller in size and there comes a day (in matter of few months ) that you feel you can now fight with it and win. life becomes such a pleasant experience after that. I am not sure this is the right place but I have deeply investigated on how OCD works that I would love to share with you if you like. it may be of help
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          Mar 5 2012: Dear Sina,
          The idea of medicine does not scare me, but the mis-use of medications is not useful, so we need to be careful when promoting a medication on a public forum. There are many ways to create happiness in our lives, and often it is a balance. I remind you of your insightful comment yesterday...

          Sina Elli
          Reply13 hours ago: Dear Daniela,
          "what a joy it is to read your insightful comments.
          I o agree that using SSRIs will simple turn the feelings grey and one will not have the chance to grow through the pain. as pain can sometimes drive people forward and shape the personality creating a patient and mature one. but as you said the person must be resilient and strong. I suppose one may fail many times but keep trying to finally get out of the pain successfully with lessons learned and new horizons in sight"
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      Mar 5 2012: would you please explain in what ways focusing mind and attention are different ? and how does one focus one's energy ?
      what you have provided at best can be a happiness methodology not definition as you suggest to focus on the positive to be happy but what is being happy still remains a mystery from your point of view.
      • Mar 6 2012: Hello Sina, thank you for your insight!
        First of all I am very familiar with the brain and its workings, I studied psychology at university, with a focus on neuroscience, which is one of the fields of study I'm interested in most.
        You definitely have a point! Chemical imbalances often need chemical solutions!
        However, there are a few things that should be kept in mind:
        First of all, there are natural alternatives to SSRI's. SSRI's have the tendency to deplete the body's serotonin, and SSRI's have negative side effects. Studies are showing the importance of nutrition in treating and preventing vast amounts of illnesses, from depression to cancer!
        Here is a link with a brief, simple overview on the matter of SSRI's, depression, and natural alternatives:

        Another thing that I feel should be kept in mind is the fact that the brain is still largely a mystery. Rewiring the brain can be achieved in many different ways, most of which are still unexplored!
        You said "you currently think this way with your current brain, you would be a totally different thinking person once you change the brain biochemistry that was imbalanced." You are right. Of course, I was discussing my own experiences with manic depression and drug addiction, and everyone has different chemistry. This is why it is dangerous to skip right to SSRI's. Nowadays, doctors tend to give out these anti-depressants based on symptoms rather than urine tests, etc. They are assuming that everyone that conveys similar symptoms can be treated with the same medication!
        Anyone experiencing depression, OCD, or any other mental illness needs to look for what works for him/her as an individual with different needs, a different diet, a different brain, and a different perception from every other person in the world! We are each a unique case.
        Your concern and passion for the subject is inspiring, and I encourage it completely!
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          Mar 6 2012: Dear Crystelle,

          Thank you for your adition that made the conversation richer.

          I am glad you are familiar with the neurology of the brain so we can discuss this matter even more. I have already checked for SSRI replacement natural supplements but there is no single study proving existence of such thing. I would really love to see a scientific paper on natural supplements increasing the synaptic serotonin level.

          The link you have provided is not a scientific page, it is of no scientific value. you should never believe the claim of a website with numbers in it. this is mere advertising of a DR. who with deeper investigation you will find out to be a BSc in electrical engineering who took a chiropractic course ! and claims to be a nutrition specialist.

          the claims has no scientific foundation, there are not references to any scientific study. and he claims to cure all sorts of disease from migirines to osteoprosis to asthma to diabetes and depression !!! how do you expect me to believe in a advertisement with a few neurology trms and a photo but with no academic reference.

          when I am talking about papers I mean studies like these ones, (I did a search in medline, pybmed and some other sources for you to see if there are papers supporting that idea)

          Fernstrom JD, Wurtman RJ. Brain serotonin content: increase following ingestion of carbohydrate diet. Science 1971;174:1023–4.

          Sarna GS, Kantamaneni BD, Curzon G. Variables influencing the effect of a meal on brain tryptophan. J Neurochem 1985;44:1575–80.

          Sarna GS, Tricklebank MD, Kantamaneni BD, Hunt A, Patel AJ, Curzon G. Effect of age on variables influencing the supply of tryptophan to the brain. J Neurochem 1982;39:283–7.[Medline]

          I will continue in a second reply as this one does not allow me to type more.
      • Mar 6 2012: Sina! Very well said.
        I found this website on a quick google search, I am sure it is not something to be taken as a medical reference!
        Seeing as the AMA and WHO and virtually every other large medical association are funded by pharmaceutical corporations, I doubt that much funding has been directed towards natural, cheap cures (that cannot be patented) for virtually any disease.
        You probably won't find any decent scientific research on such matters, not now or in the near future.
        But if less credible sources (who also have less to gain from your dependence on their suggestions) are offering things unlikely to have drastic side-effects, such as a change in diet, yoga, or vitamins, I think, personally, that it's worth a try! I am not a doctor and I'm not claiming to be an expert on such matters.
        You are obviously a very skilled, thorough investigator, with a lot of knowledge! I only wish to amicably put another option on the table: There's more to the world than modern science has established! I think it's important to keep an open mind and welcome possibilities regardless of how bizarre they are, regardless of whether an authority figure in a white lab coat agrees, and regardless of whether it conflicts with your miind-set.
        I am not suggesting that you are not open-minded! Only explaining why I chose to suggest things that don't have the scientific method or an association of doctors to back them up.
        :) This is a very interesting conversation, and I will read the articles you suggested as soon as I have the time!

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