More notes. Comments very welcome. Please and thank you
As I have mentioned before, emotions come and go. They are in no way a permanent state of mind. They last from a few seconds, to a few minutes. They are natural internal cues that something feels good or something feels bad, depending on outside triggers. They are there for us to keep us on track. To tell us to take a decision, take action.
Of course there's all sort of theories and classifications of emotions: basic, complex, [...] I won't go into that too much as I don't think it will bring more clarity for this purpose. But in research, there are some constant that have been brought about from studies in neuroscience, and evolutionary theories, and lots of other funky experiments.... So I'll stick to the essentials. All I'll state, for the sake of clarity, is that some emotions have been there since, well, let's just say, when my veryyyy distant grand mom had a beard Some other emotions have also developed with culture, language and the evolution of societies... On the more, say, 'basic' level, these emotions that are still there for us and are extremely useful. They are:
- happiness [you could say joy...]
Anyway, we'll leave surprise aside [and some others that I didn't even mention as there's some ambiguities about them...] as they are less important to us for this discussion.
Mood versus Emotion.
So, we all kind of know what emotions or 'feelings' are. But, sometimes we equate an emotion, or a feeling to a mood. A mood is there lonnnnnng after an emotion has run its course. And this is one of the things I wan to get to because this is where we can do something. We, to a certain extent, cannot alter our 'basic' emotions. They happen. Instantly. Almost hardwired. But moods we can do something about.
Moods are brought about by retriggering ourselves, thinking about our emotions, or 'ruminating', and they can be altered intentionally.
The thing is, we all want to be in a 'good' mood. Of course. But we actually don't really know what that means, for the most part. Usually, when we are in a good mood, we associate it with good events. Clearly, when you are 'in love' for instance, a good mood can last for weeks! But, if you are anything like me, when you feel this way, there the mood is also accompanied by fear that it will go away. Doom is pending. Right? Why are we in a good mood? Well, we think about our love, about this lovely event, this lovely person, etc... In a sense, we are retriggering the good, initial feeling brought on by specific events.
But, there is something that is quite wonderful but we don't really think about as being 'good'. And it's a persistent "content" mood. In today's society, we have been told that we should be in a 'good' mood, where nothing really matters, where we are not sad... And how to get to that is to constantly make sure that we get pleasure. We look for this mood and try to make it last by filling our days with good food, lovely people, gratifying events, gifts, you name it. This isn't bad, in a way, but when these things aren't there, we panic. And we are in a 'bad' mood.
The difference between a good mood and a content mood is that, being content has less to do with getting what you want and retriggering the 'good' feelings, than being conscious of our basic feelings, in the present, deciding what to do with the feelings, and constantly trying to evaluate if we are in reality, or if we are in Lala land.
Being content is not being free of bad feelings. Or bad events. But it's being able to discern between the present, past, and fantasy [or future]. I don't want to go to much into Eastern philosophies here, but I got to say, if one thing that we can take from those, is the mastery of contentment. The Buddhist philosophy is essentially about learning to master this mood. And there are many techniques that can help us to just do this. They are somewhat unpleasant, unexciting, but they do help. I certainly don't think that one has to go all out and become a Buddhist monk in order to feel content, most of the time. You can be a monk, and pretend that you are 'content' and still be obsessed...
The point is to know that contentment is possible. You may have woken up some days and wonder... Mmmm, I do I feel? I am not sad, I am not happy so to speak... What the heck. But I don't...feel...bad, not lonely, not in love, not bored, not excited...What is this? I do my little things, and it's A-OK. To me, it was disappointing to feel like that, until I knew what it was. Now I know it is what I want to aim for every single day. Harder to do than say, but you know.
I don't know if you ever read about 'flow', yet another theory of happiness proposed by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi. Well, in my personal quest for 'happiness', I was interested in the many definitions of it, and I came upon some studies about flow. Which is, a form of contentment, in movement. Other ways to describe it would be 'in the zone', or in the 'groove'.
Flow is understood as doing an activity in which your attention or focus is fully required, where your skills pretty much are equal to the difficulty of the task, and you feel successful, every step of the way.
Why is this important? Well, first of all, you may have been there before. Probably. But you may not have payed any attention to it, because as I have mentioned before, we are so focused on 'being in a good mood' as opposed to a content mood, that we often fail to see how beneficial some things we do are!
Knowing what flow feels like is extremely important to us as it can project us into a state of contentment, if we know what to look for in an activity. It can teach us, very methodically how to attain contentment. And most importantly, in can help us rewire our brain to come back to how we should be all the time, which is 'content'. Once you know you are able to do this once in a while, and know you can recreate this state of mind. Man, you are way ahead of where you started!
The characteristics of the flow experience.
The following are components accompanying 'flow' that were described by the many participants of this study:
a] the challenge and skills [or ability of the person] are of comparable levels [neither too easy or to difficult].
b] the goals, or expectations of the activity are clearly defined, and they are attainable. For example: skiing down a slope.
c] there is a high degree of concentration demanded by the activity, or, the person is able to concentrate on the activity with a high degree of focus. The person is fully immersed in taking actions and reacting to cues to perform the task accurately. Which could also be understood as not having time, or not needing to 'think' but just doing.
d] the person doesn't feel self-conscious, or has absolutely no time to be self-conscious. There is no room for thinking about how you look, how people may think of you, what you're going to eat for dinner, or how you are sad about this or that, there is no fear about not being able to complete the task, etc. The focus is only on the activity itself, and the action taken.
e] There is no sense of time for that person. Meaning, the activity may last an hour but felt like a minute, or vise-versa. After the flow experience, usually, the person can remember clearly each movement that was taken, each sensations, etc.
f] there is clear and immediate feedback from the environment about success or failure of the actions the person's taking as they do the task, so that behaviors or actions can be readjusted as needed.
g] there is a sense of personal control over the situation. Meaning that the person clearly recognize that his/her actions have an impact.
h] The activity feel rewarding, and there's a sense of effortlessness. Meaning, you can still sweat your balls of, but the action you take come to you effortlessly. You don't have to think about it. Like breathing almost.
The range of activity you can do is endless. Heck, It can be doing the dishes... or, some have experienced it in a car accident averted! It can be any activity.
The point of this is that, in the experience of flow, there are things that can be incorporated in a self growth program. There are components in there that reek with 'healthy behavior', and are worth doing. Clearly:
- a sense of personal control, and knowing your actions are important and actually have an impact into the course of the activity.
- not feeling self-conscious, being unable to ruminate for the time being.
- a sense of accomplishment and mastery.
Of course, it is not possible to feel all these components all the time, but just knowing that you can access this state of mind, partially or completely is very beneficial. And you can learn to recognize when you are in that mode, and also put a situation in place, so that you can experience it on a regular basis. Because being out of your head and into the present, does feel good. By practicing this kind of activity, you can rewire your brain to feel content. Not stressed, not anxious, not sad. Just content.