Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Lobotomy Time!

I'm only 40 or so pages into "Stumbling on Happiness" by Daniel Gilbert, but so far the message is clear. Destroy your frontal lobe. It's the part of your brain responsible for planning and imagining the future. They used to prescribe this (with great success) for people with anxiety and unhappiness. Of course objectively, it sounds pretty barbaric doesn't it?

Apparently this is the newest part of our brains, evolving, so it would seem, so that we can revel in unhappiness. It's what separates us from the animals. Well, except monkeys.

I've talked about this "living in the present" before (minus the frontal lobe and the monkeys part). And clearly, I'm no expert. But that doesn't mean I can't still tell everyone else what to do! :-) Actually, in truth I'm doing pretty well with this at the moment, even though I'm not trying to do it. Perhaps it's just a defense mechanism that kicks in when you're getting paid based on commission?!?

Want to see what other people have to say about living in the present?

1 comment:

Matt said...

Um, keep reading. If, as Gilbert notes, what makes humans distinctive is their ability to think about the future (thank you, frontal lobe), then getting rid of that bit of our brain would not make human happiness possible.

If you keep reading you'll see that his point is that because we are prone to so many different kinds of cognitive biases, we need to be careful in our predictions about what future states will increase our happiness (or decrease it) - one obvious example of this is that we tend to overrate certain things that don't end up increasing our happiness (e.g. a small raise).

You might be interested in Tal Ben-Shahar's new book Happier (which I briefly reviewed on my blog here). He explores this issue about happiness in the present versus happiness in the future, and argues that genuine (or lasting) happiness has both features. To sacrifice present happiness is to become a "rat-racer" (who is always pursuing happiness, but never actually gets there). To abandon future happiness is to become a "hedonist" (who cares only about the present moment - but again, given our concern with the future, and our interest in things going well over time, this seems incompatible with our nature). Check it out.