By Kay Frazier
Along with light-reading novels, I’ve read a number of interesting non-fiction books lately: Jane Hawking’s book about life with Stephen Hawking, “Drawdown” about not just slowing global warming but actually reversing it (over 100 different ways, some technical, some not), “Power of Eight” by Lynne McTaggart about the power of a group of 6-12 people meeting on a regular basis to create change through mutual positive intention, and “The Hacking of the American Mind” by Robert Lustig, M.D., MSL. I sympathized with Jane Hawking, having been in a marriage with a physically and emotionally challenged husband (although not physically challenged to the extent of Stephen Hawking). I was inspired by “Drawdown” to start casually spreading information about some of the methods the authors mentioned – like no-till agriculture. I was inspired by McTaggart’s book to form a social justice intention group to start moving energy for change for the higher good, and to invite my church’s congregation to join us in our intention at 7 AM and 7 PM for 7 deep breaths and then 7 minutes of focusing on positive aspects of the intention. And I was inspired by Lustig’s book to write this article.
When I was 10 or 11, my grandfather died. At his funeral, I burst into tears – not of grief, (I wasn’t that close to him), but fear of something. I knew something was wrong. In my teens and early 20s, I fled from any knowledge of what this fear was. Then I grew tired of flight and from this, began my search for calm, for peace within.
I went to several therapists, yoga, transcendental meditation, became 3rd Level Reiki. I worked with therapists on PTSD aspects, based on events that my mother related in my 20s or 30s that had happened when I was 4 to 6 years old – and which, to this day, I have no memory of. Going to a workshop on sexual abuse, I found I had 29 of the 32 symptoms of it. I studied Peruvian shamanism and Tibetan esoteric studies and Akashic records for a bit, went to several healers – Braco, Amma, and others, less well-known. I took neuro-modulation technique sessions, more yoga. Most recently, I took several courses and seminars with Landmark. There was book after book. Everything helped some. Finally, I think I’m getting a handle on the calm, facing the fear full-on, not expecting instant transformation or release from the internal drama, and instead willing to truly do the work I need to do to find inner calm more. I smile and laugh more and am entranced by so many everyday beauties and miracles – a tall tree, a smile or hug from a friend. No longer do I need to feel that I need to parcel myself out to different areas of my life – this part to church, that part to family, that part to friends. I want and work to be whole. I want and work to be open to the possibilities of the universe. The social justice intention group helps ground me in this and increase my calm. (I invite you to read McTaggart’s book and to check her out online and consider starting your own group. This is scientifically backed.)
And then came “The Hacking of the American Mind”. I had noticed through the years that sometimes there was an immediate high when I got something I desired and generally, not too much later, a letdown of “No, that didn’t bring me peace or calm.” Dr. Lustig points out that there is actually a physical difference between pleasure and happiness. Pleasure is the way of dopamine; you want something, you get it and savor the reward of that. Happiness or contentment is the way of serotonin; nothing outside of you is needed for this. As Don Miguel Ruiz has noted “Just to breathe is enough for us to always be happy.” I don’t need that Big Mac, or the fancy new car. I just need me and my breath.
Now, not to say pleasure is wrong. I do enjoy dark chocolates, the bling of jewelry, a good romance or mystery novel and I have no intention to relinquish those pleasures. There is a reason we have dopamine with its desire-reward-pleasure pathway – survival, to make sure we eat and procreate, to give us incentive to act. I respect that. Where the problem comes, I believe, is when we confuse pleasure with happiness and begin to strive only for pleasure and thus reduce the possibility for serotonin-happiness. Checking out the ads on TV, I am humored by the car ad where the whole family jumps in ecstasy at the new car at the dealership. I am saddened by the social-friends promotion of McDonald’s Big Mac and supersized meal with its mega calories and addictive sugar in a society where so many are now suffering from the consequences of this. I am concerned about the fact that our government subsidizes corn (often genetically altered), wheat (not the same wheat as your grandparents ate), soy (?) – and sugar , which is not a food, but a food additive.
Recently, buying organic almond milk I found that the almond milk without sugar cost more than that with it. Succumbing temporarily, I bought the cheaper almond milk with the added sugar. I won’t make that mistake again. Several sources have noted sugar as more addictive than cocaine. Dr. Lustig notes that of all the addictive substances, sugar is the most costly to our society, both in terms of health and monetarily. He notes that even taking out the obvious products with sugar (cake, candy, pies), there still remains a lot of added sugar, like that found in my almond milk, and suggests shopping mainly in the aisles without processed foods and, when we do buy processed foods, checking to see that sugar is not one of the first three ingredients.
If Big Macs or new cars don’t bring happiness, what does? Dr. Lustig suggests 4 Cs for happiness: Connect (religion, social support, conversation), Contribute (altruism, volunteerism, philanthropy), Cope (sleep, mindfulness, exercise), and Cook (for yourself, your friends, your family). He has even written a cookbook with simple, fast, cost-effective, healthy meals to prepare to make cooking easier.
We might even consider expanding this viewpoint and distinction to a national level. Dr. Lustig noted that social scientists have created 3 separate scales of well-being. On the Prosperity Index, the United States ranks 11th out of 142 countries. On the World Happiness Report, we rank 17 out of 85. Finally, on the Happy Planet Index, we rank 105 out of 111. Gross Domestic Product does not bring happiness; it’s on the dopamine path of desire-reward-pleasure. We’re prosperous, but not happy. Dr. Lustig notes the country of Bhutan that has instead embraced the Gross National Happiness Index to determine how it’s faring as a society. Looking at the Prosperity website or the U.N. Sustainable Development Solutions Network, Dr. Lustig notes the five happiest countries are Norway, Switzerland, Iceland, Finland and Denmark. They “may not have bulging pocketbooks to purchase the extras of life, but they have just what they need to live… There is much less economic dichotomy between rich and poor. Lastly, the costs of basic necessities don’t increase faster than their salaries.” He goes on to note some of the other positives of these countries, including increased life expectancy (versus the U.S., which is now decreasing).
Let’s think about bringing pleasure and happiness into a healthy balance. I now have significantly less income than I did a few years ago and yet, I am so much happier – and still find my pleasures. GNH for the U.S.?