Always?

I have a reminder on my iPhone which pops up every Monday at 8am:

But today not so.

I feel fine. Changing the clocks back must have helped… The sun is shining and despite travelling up and down the motorway for 14 in 36 hours; and a highly unappealing day ahead – I do feel fine!

Why? Here’s a clue…

I just have to go back to this post to find out. In the words of the meerkats: “simples”.

Stop Hoovering

  
I knew this (or at least I kind of did) but a line in a book has recently kept it on my mind… ‘Mood’ is more a matter of biochemistry than anything else.

In the right mood everything is possible: ingenuity, problem-solving, creativity and joy. In the wrong mood, it’s all too much; all too hard and nothing can be done.

Win the lottery, lose your job, whatever happens most people’s underlying ‘mood’ ticks along remarkably unaffected; so long as you let it. Apparently only bereavement really affects mood for extended periods. It seems we can’t short circuit grief.

So ‘mood’ in fact, is not really about how happy, fulfilled, successful, busy or creative we are. It’s about noradrenaline, serotonin, cortisol and melatonin. These operate in an internal chemistry set, controlled by the limbic system – which is pretty much the same as in a bear, a monkey, a cat or a dog.

The limbic system is very resilient, very effective and very old – crocodiles have one. But it needs looking after. Apparently if you stress it to much, it chemically crashes and puts you into a state of hibernation. Literally. 

My book says the physiological symptoms of stress-related depressive illness are best understood, as exactly what happens in a bear’s body when it prepares for hibernation…
  

Why? Because the limbic system interprets the signals from the environment as too ‘hostile’, and that same old system kicks in: which enables a crocodile to lie dormant in mud for months; or a bear to hole up in a cave. We shut down; to wait for better days.

And here’s where the Hoover comes in. Because if you’re working yourself to the point your limbic system is about to blow a fuse – you have to stop; however exhilarating is the sense of achievement of getting more things done, or however great the pressure to do even more.

The test for hard-working diligent people is this; literally and metaphorically can you sometimes ‘leave the Hoover in the middle of the room’..? That is, can you visibly leave half-finished a task, you and people around you expect you to finish? 

Ouch, guilt and fear of humiliation – that hurts…

Because if you can’t – and you don’t listen to your body and look after your mood, there’s only one place you’ll end up…. shattered, flat and feeling like hibernating. 

This much I have learned in the past few weeks – if you want to avoid becoming a very grizzly bear, sometimes you have to leave the Hoover in the middle of the room.

Complex Pleasures

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Talking last night with friends about ‘pleasure’, we recognised it’s a complex beast. One of our party admitted she was happy with her life but generally not happy as she lived it. How could this be?

I listened again to Thomas Hurka on Philosophy Bites today to remind me. Hurka identifies four types of pleasure in two categories: ‘felt’ and ‘thought’.

The two ‘felt’ pleasures are: first, ‘simple pleasures’ i.e. specific immediate sensations: “mmm tasty” or “ahh comfortable.” And second, moods – which are a general and last for a duration.

The two ‘thought’ pleasures are specific: “I’m happy that… my daughter is in the school play” or “my football team won” and general: “overall I’m happy with how my life is going”, aka Aristotle’s flourishing.

Of course they are all intertwined. A life of physical pleasures – pure hedonism – might come up short on achievement. Or get cut short by a heart attack. But a life of too much ‘thought’ might lack passions and pleasures and the achievements of love and family.

Apparently, most parents say that the thing which has given them most pleasure in their lives has been the raising of children.

But also, apparently, if you give parents of young children an electronic ‘clicker’ to register every time they feel a sensation of pleasure during their day, they register fewest clicks of personal pleasure when they are actually with their kids. Probably haven’t got time to click…

So Hurka’s four pleasures explain how our friend can think “I am happy with how my life is going” whilst feeling in a permanent bad mood – they have three kids who run them ragged. Doesn’t sound great. But she’s happy, at least on one level.

Sleep’s the big one for me. Now I’m getting my sleep and enjoying my work – as well as enjoying time with my kids – I’m in a pretty permanent good mood. Feeling good is a great addition to my life. Simple to feel, complex to achieve.