Archive for January, 2010

In his book, Authentic Happiness, Martin Seligman defines a hedonist as someone who defines the quality of his or her life on the quantity of good moments minus the quantity of bad moments. According to this theory, if we could only structure our lives so that we could have more happy moments than unhappy moments, then we would be happier. Many of us run our lives based on this goal. We are on a hedonic treadmill seeking one sensual gratification after another – one more piece of chocolate cake, our next vacation, and in my case getting the next electronic gadget. There is nothing inherently wrong with having pleasant sensual experiences as long as they are understood to be just that: they are pleasant but they don’t bring lasting happiness. This is because pleasurable experiences are by their very nature momentary and not lasting. Every pleasant experience must inevitably change and end. Experiences are therefore incapable of being completely satisfying. They are an unreliable basis for true happiness.

According to Seligman, “authentic happiness is rooted in the exercise of personal strengths and virtues rather than from shortcuts. Positive emotion alienated from the exercise of character leads to emptiness, to inauthenticity, to depression and as we age to the gnawing realization that we are fidgeting until we die.”

Seligman goes on to list 6 clusters of strengths that we can all develop with enough patience, practice, persistence and dedication. It is the development of these strengths that are the foundation for a meaningful life. The 6 categories are Wisdom & Knowledge, Courage, Humanity & Love, Justice, Temperance, and Transcendence.

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Rick Foster & Greg Hicks in their wonderful book Happiness & Health, write about the power of intention in shaping our lives – “it’s a powerful message we give ourselves, creating the positive emotions that propel us upward on the spiral staircase to good health. By repeatedly setting positive intentions like looking for joy or appreciating family members rather than being frustrated by them, you set up and strengthen new neural pathways to allow these healthy choices to become automatic or default settings”.

The implication of this exciting and reassuring news is that anyone can train their brains to become healthier and happier through the power of their own thoughts. These new findings tell us that we each have the innate ability and power to be happier by changing our mental habits.

According to Foster & Hicks, first thing in the morning is a good time to create healthy intentions because this is the time when the body is most primed to receive instructions from our mind. The mind is ready to accept new instructions and hold on to them throughout the day.


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In the last 20 years, neuro-scientists have made a remarkable discovery – the adult brain has neuro-plasticity, which means that it has the ability to change its structure and function to our experiences and thoughts. We are literally what we think. This discovery shatters the previously held deterministic view of a fixed program unfolding in the brain set at birth by our genetic inheritance.

The implication of this important discovery is that my own well being and happiness is within my control and that it is based on the choices I make and how I respond to the events unfolding in my life. It puts the responsibility of the kind of human being I choose to be squarely in my lap.

I highly recommend reading Wall Street Journal science writer, Sharon Begley’s book entitled Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain, a fascinating account on how cutting edge science and the ancient wisdom of Buddhism have come together to show how we all have the power to literally change our brains by changing our minds.

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