Thursday, June 19, 2008
Prescription for Happiness
A few weeks go KQED had a late night program on Deepak Chopra who talked about his recent work The Happiness Prescription and also about his book "Buddha: A Story of Enlightenment". For those of you who are not familiar with him, Deepak is one of the most well known physicians in the world for his mind body medicine programs. He has written numerous books, released hundreds of audio, video, CD-ROMs on spiritualism and health. He is best known for his approach to combining conventional western medicine concepts with natural Indian healing techniques for promoting spiritual health and well being. More information on the Chopra Center and his programs can be found on his website .
As K and I sat listening to his talk late into the night, I found myself taking notes of his speech(for those who don't know me, I am so into taking notes, a habit that started in college and continues into work and home life, making me too organized at times). I needed more than a piece of paper to keep track of the contents of his speech and so here I am blogging away.
Deepak's talks are often very clear infused with subtle humor here and there to spice up the content. According to him, a prescription to achieve happiness amongst humans depends on 3 factors- 1.Biological set point, 2. Meditation and 3. Cognitive therapy. After all, happiness is a more than a sense of feeling or a state of the mind that all of us want to achieve and remain at.
1. Biological set point- This is dependent on whether you see the situations in your life as problems or opportunities. It is genetically determined and results show that you can take medication/drugs which will improve your seratonin uptake in the brain and make you feel happy. But, this lasts only for a while and once the medication wears off, the happy feeling goes away.
2. Meditation- While there is a common misconception that meditation is for those who are into spiritualism, etc. it is proved that by meditating for a few minutes daily, the pre-frontal cortex of the brain gets activated and releases dophamine, oxytocin and seratonin like hormones that changes the set point for happiness.
3. Cognitive therapy- When we get rid of a firm belief that is making us depressed, we will become happy. He quotes Buddha as the original cognitive therapist.
Corollary 1- Life situations determines our state of happiness. For example, if we buy a home, win a lottery etc. these are all factors that will make us happy. On the other hand, life tragedies such as loss of a loved one, divorce, etc. make us unhappy. It is remarkable to note how life situations determine our state of happiness.
Corollary 2- Voluntary actions determines our state of happiness. The choices that we make give us gratification but last only for a short time. These are transient and fulfilment occurs when we have a sense of accomplishment and gives us long standing happiness. The golden rule is to make others happy if you want to be happy. This comes from recognizing that we are part of a greater being/world.
He refers to Buddha's Four Noble Truths namely Suffering, The Cause of Suffering, Cessation of Suffering and the Path to attain Happiness to understand this concept better. According to him, like a physician, it helps to follow these steps to determine why a person is unhappy.
1. Diagnosis- Humans go through suffering. Life contains suffering amongst other things, it is important to diagnose this.
2. Causes of this condition- People are unhappy because they grasp and cling on to impermanent things etc. Identify the causes of suffering in our lives.
3. Prognosis- This is ending the condition that has been caused/created by us.
4. Prescription- This is the fun part where the doctor gets to prescribe solutions/medicines to get rid of the condition to make the person well.
This was the essence of Deepak Chopra's talk on his prescription for happiness. While many concepts here are hard to understand at first and even more difficult to practise on a daily basis, it seemed like he had all the right solutions.