One of the Senior Peer Counselors recommended Spontaneous Happiness byAndrew Weil, M.D. because “neuroscientists have demonstrated that helping others activates the same centers i the brain involved in dopamine-mediated pleasure responses to food and sex. One study of more than 3,000 volunteers concluded that regular helpers are ten times more likely to be in good health than people who don’t volunteer.
Much of the book covered things I already knew: eat real food, mostly plants, not too much. Make sure you get plenty of Vitamin D, especially by having fun in the sunshine. Take fish oil, and go fishing. Play with your “animal companions” and spend time in nature. Meditate, don’t medicate (if possible).
Even though I took an 8 week course in Mindfulness Meditation and have listened to Jon Kabat-Zinn tapes till they were bald, I still struggled with what I was supposed to actually DO during meditation. Dr. Weil explained Mindfulness as “self regulation of attention.” Ah! Where your attention goes, your energy flows. I know that one.
He explained meditation as the “ability to maintain one’s experience in the present moment.” Oh, so Blank Mind isn’t the objective, just Beginner’s Mind. I know that one, too!
What was especially fascinating was how he used this to explain addiction. On page 140 he notes that early in his professional career, he studied drugs and addiction and became known as an expert in addiction medicine. He learned that options for the treatment of addiction are few.
Solving addiction at its root is hard because it demands restructuring the mind at its core, where we experience the distinction between conscious awareness and the objects of awareness, between the perceiving self and what is perceived.
This sounds a lot like “addiction is a spiritual disease.” But wait, there’s more. He continues
When people cannot stop reaching for the next snack chip or the next cigarette, it is as if the chips and cigarettes control attention and behavior. in reality, the mind gives its power and control to the objects of addictive behavior. Freedom from addiction comes with awareness of that process and the ability to experience the object as object, without projecting onto it any undue significance. This is the essence of the buddhist teaching that suffering comes from attachment, and to reduce our suffering, we must work to reduce attachment. Furthermore, Eastern psychology insists that thoughts are best experienced as objects of awareness, just like trees or birds in the world around us. We suffer emotional pain because we cannot stop attending to our thoughts, cannot stop seeing them as part of us and habitually giving them great significance. Yoga masters and buddhist teachers recommend a variety of methods to break our attachment to thoughts. Some are practices intended to shift the focus of attention to something else — to the breath, for example, or to images in the mind’s eye, or to sounds. Others aim to develop the power of attention and increase voluntary control of it or to promote awareness of the distinction between the self and thoughts.
He ways that meditation is a long-term solution to the core problel of confusing awareness wit the objects of awareness (including thoughts) and suffering as a result of attachment.
I have read several of Dr. Weil’s books and articles and watched him on TV. What I liked best about this book is when he talked about the dysthymia he suffered for many years, and role of rumination and isolation in the lives of writers. He talked about how he lived far out in the country, down rough roads that made it difficult to visit him, even with an invitation. He thought that keeping others far away protected them from his downcast moods.
In this book he reveals that in his late 60’s, he realized that the social isolation was not separate from his dysthymia and he “uprooted” himself from his long time home, sold his rural property and moved into Tucson. He went out to dinner much more often and invited others over frequently. His mood improved considerably. He noticed that the most searched term on his website was “depression” and resolved to write a book about it — or rather, about its opposite, Happiness.
Happiness is a Skill
He says that happiness is a skill and on page 66 he quotes Matthiew Ricard, a French Ph.D. in molecular genetics turned Buddhist monk
The mind is malleable. Our lives can be greatly transformed by even a minimal change in how we manage our thoughts and how we perceive and interpret the world. Happiness is a skill. It takes effort and time.
He summarized mind-oriented approaches to emotional well-being. Some key points and comments from me:
- Understand that depressive rumination is a hallmark of depression and that thoughts are the major source of sadness, anxiety, and other negative emotions. Learn to “curate” your thoughts, as if one’s mind is a museum where we look at the same images over and over.)
- CBT is the most time- and cost-effective form of psychotherapy for depression and anxiety.
- Learn how to use mantras, chanting, mental imagery, and conscious breathing to break the grip of sadness, anxiety, stress or negative thinking.
- Curate the sounds in your head with silence or music that makes you feel good, or the sounds of nature. Curate what you see. Limit TV and the Internet. Avoid needlessly distressing images like Fox News.
- Make social interaction a priority. It is a powerful safeguard of emotional well-being. As prison wardens know, isolation is death.
I recommend this book.