Enjoying happiness

Happiness is not so much about what you have, but the capacity to enjoy what you have.

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Can’t lose

While farmers farmed, the priests prayed and worked out a fantastic calendar so everyone would know when to sow their seeds and when to expect the rain.

This was a great success. If the rains came then the priests said, “We told you we were good!” If the rains didn’t come the priests said, “You people must have been bad – the gods are annoyed – don’t blame us!”

– Horrible Histories: The Angry Aztecs

Hacker

A person who enjoys learning the details of programming systems and how to stretch their capabilities, as opposed to most users who prefer to learn only the minimum necessary.

– The Hacker’s Dictionary

System 1 fast heuristic and System 2 slow reasoning

When we encounter severe difficulties that require fast solutions, such as a complicated traffic situation. We immediately call on a large repertoire of escape strategies that we have learned and practised, and then we choose among them without much reasoning, relying mainly on subconscious heuristics.

In the naive state, one uses conscious control to perform a task. The task is broken down into a series of subtasks that are sequentially executed. This requires attention, takes time, and is effortful. Later, after practice, the performance becomes automatised. Usually, the execution of the skilled behaviour is then accomplished by different brain structures than those involved in the initial learning and execution of the task. Once this shift has occurred, performance becomes automatic, fast, and effortless and no longer requires cognitive control. This type of learning is called procedural learning and requires practice. Such automatised skills often save you in difficult situations because you can access them quickly. They can also often cope with more variables simultaneously due to parallel processing. Conscious processing is more serialised and therefore takes more time.

– Wolf Singer, neuroscientist

Investigative contemplation

What you have to learn then is to adopt a much more subtle approach to your internal emotional theatre, to learn to identify with much higher resolution the various connotations of your feelings.

It is not unlike a scientific endeavour except that the analytical effort is directed toward the inner rather than the outer world. Science also attempts to understand reality by increasing the resolving power of instruments, training the mind to grasp complex relations, and decomposing systems into ever-smaller components.

An analogy for this process of refinement could be the improved differentiation of objects of perception, which is known to depend on learning. With just a little experience, you are able to recognise an animal as a dog. With more experience, you can sharpen your eye and become able to distinguish with greater and greater precision dogs that look similar. Likewise, mental training might allow you to sharpen your inner eye for the distinction of emotional states.

In the naive state, you are able to distinguish good and bad feelings only in a global way. With practice, these distinctions would become increasingly refined until you could distinguish more and more nuances. The taxonomy of mental states should thus become more differentiated. If this is the case, then cultures exploiting mental training as a source of knowledge should have a richer vocabulary for mental states than cultures that are more interested in investigating phenomena of the outer world.

– Wolf Singer (neuroscientist) on meditation