By Bruce Barbour
Part 2 - Happiness
Happiness and Thought
As stated at the start of this Part 2, Thought, as words and pictures, does not directly give rise to an emotional response on the happiness continuum. The thoughts have to be processed by the emotion part of our consciousness to become an emotional response. In order to achieve happiness through a thought based process we need to be able to reliably maximise thoughts that provide happiness causing potential and minimise the impact of other thought processes that would provide emotional response that is lower down on the happiness continuum, towards the unhappy end of the continuum. So the question is: what types of thoughts are likely to have the most happiness causing potential and least unhappiness causing potential?
As indicated at in Part 1, Consciousness, the different types of thought are naming, language, Self Thought, intellect and creative imagination.
Naming and Language
Naming and language are basic thought based skills that are neutral in terms of happiness causing potential. They are used by the other thought processes.
Self Thoughts can have happiness or unhappiness causing potential, or can be neutral.
In terms of happiness causing potential the main problem with Self Thought is that it is difficult to control. To understand this all you need to do is listen to the flow of chatter that is occurring in your mind. It is likely that over time you will hear mainly neutral Self Thoughts but also self critical, that is negative, thoughts as you compare yourself to what you perceive as the norm or look out for what may be perceived as social danger, as discussed earlier. There may also be a scattering of positive Self Thoughts, but perhaps not as many as would be liked. In this section I will look at ways of generating more positive Self Thoughts and lessening or dealing with negative Self Thoughts.
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I don't believe it is possible to will ourselves to think solely "happy thoughts", or even just happy thoughts and neutral thoughts in the long term. And if it were possible it would take a lot of our effort and concentration that may be better spent elsewhere.
Some neutral Self Thoughts are necessary for every day life but excessive neutral Self Thought is a distraction from the happiness of Conscious Awareness of sense information and the happiness potential of other thought processes.
Negative Self Thoughts have two negative effects on our lives. Firstly they have unhappiness causing potential directly. Secondly they can stop you from doing what you really want to do and this has further impacts on your long-term happiness.
The direct unhappiness causing potential of negative Self Thoughts is pretty clear. If we have angry thoughts or fearful thoughts, these will be interpreted by emotion into anxiety and unhappiness. Do you know any angry or fearful people that are happy? No, because they don't exist. Similarly if you are thinking "Gee I really stuffed up that last job" are you likely to be happy? Pretty simple really, the answer is No.
The second bad effect of negative Self Thoughts is that they may stop us from doing what we really want to do. This process is called "experiential avoidance" under Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, which I will go into in more detail later. A simple example of experiential avoidance is say if you have a fear of sharks you may avoid ever going swimming in the ocean or even to visit an aquarium, even though you know that the probability of getting attacked by a shark is extremely low at the beach and zero at the aquarium. Even though you know that you would probably very much enjoy swimming in the sea the very thought of sharks makes you avoid this experience. As a consequence your life is a little bit less enjoyable. You may not think that this is really important as there are a lot of other very enjoyable activities that you could undertake which would take you nowhere near a shark - a bit of bush walking or even sky diving! However consider this example: You are provided with a job opportunity in an area of work that you real want. This is your dream job - except for one little aspect. If you took the job you would be required at regular intervals to get up and give a speech to a large roomful of strangers. Public speaking scares you intensely - but you really love all other aspects of the job. So what do you do? If you don't accept the job you have missed an opportunity to move your life in a desired and worthwhile direction. Another opportunity may not come along for a long while. Your life's potential has been limited. However if you accept the job, your life is moving in a desired direction - all you need to do is find a way of dealing with the anxiety caused by public speaking.
In life negative Self Thoughts are going to occur regardless of what you do. This is due to many millennia of evolutionary development behind Self Thought. It helped us to survive in the past. So prior to working toward how to generate positive Self Thoughts which have happiness causing potential it is necessary to work out how to best handle negative Self Thoughts so there will be less Thoughts which have unhappiness causing potential and less barriers to doing what you really want to do. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) offers a useful approach here and this will be looked at in the next section.
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