The pursuit of happiness: misconceptions of obtaining happiness in our modern world

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Many people think they know what will bring them happiness, and even more worryingly you will probably meet many people who think they know what it takes to make you happy and what you should do with your life to be happy. The truth is that nobody knows exactly what it takes. It can be a variety of things, both physical and psychology which varies from person to person. In many ways Dictionary.com’s definition of happiness sums it up perfectly. Happiness is “The quality or state of being happy”, which is completely accurate yet sheds very little light on what this entails or how it occurs. Despite its elusive nature, recent research indicates links between what does and doesn’t make us happy.

Before we discuss what might leave us with a lasting smile on our face, it’s important to consider modern misconceptions of obtaining happiness. Have you ever seen a new game, sparkly dress or gigantic flat screen TV and thought “I want that in my life”, followed by fantasies of how amazing it would be to own such a thing? I think it is fair to assume the answer is yes. Don’t worry, you’re only human and there is a good reason for this, it dates back much further than the invention of these modern luxuries. According to Loretta Breuning, author of Meet your happy chemicals, “your brain spurts happy chemicals which reward you with good feelings when you do something it perceives as good for your survival”. Therefore, it is only natural to feel a temporary rush of happiness when we obtain something new and shiny, and if operant conditioning has taught us anything, it’s that the rewarded behavior is likely to be repeated. However, this excitement of owning something new fades overtime because we adapt and our desire to buy something new emerges again

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It probably comes as no surprise that new possessions may not be the key to a happy and fulfilling life. But what about life events such as; a promotion, getting married or moving to a new house? These experiences are likely to provide a marvelous sensation, there is no doubt about it. But is a relationship really going to provide you with a happy ever after ending? The difficult reality is that we are adaptable beings and as we adapt to our life circumstances, so does are level of happiness. A meta study by Luhmann et al (2012) found that life satisfaction rises asanindividual approaches their wedding day and is momentarily higher afterwards compared to immediately before. It then decreases in the following months and after 4 years completely resets to its baseline level. This is known as Adaption and is the greatest difficulty we face when obtaining happiness and striving to hold onto it. 

I know this sounds depressing, and is probably the last thing you want to hear while reading an article on happiness. However, upon acknowledging this fact it makes it easier to understand how we can be happy in our everyday lives. The truth is we can spend hours discussing what is likely to make you happy or unhappy but it will always be based upon your own perception. In a recent interview Mo Gawdat, a Chief Business Officer at Google, explains the algorithm he believes is essential for happiness. He sums it up perfectly and in many ways, I can relate. Before leaving the UK to travel the world as a nomadicfreelance writer, I worked in a high-pressure sales job. The pay was good, I was free of all money issues and my company frequently spoilt us with trips to expensive restaurants and open bars. But the truth is none of it made me as happy as I am now. Today, I live off very little money but I spend my days doing what I love. I don’t have a perfect life, but I look at it with glee and I am grateful for each day andcount my blessings. It is important to recognize that lasting happiness will not be achieved by buying something new, finding your “perfect partner” or when you lose a few pounds. Instead it is important to look at what you have and strive to shape your perception of your life into a more positive outlook.

Source: success.com

 

Sweet Dreams: Sleep in our modern lives

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For as long as I can remember I have almost always had a nightly battle switching my brain off to get a good night of rest. From Progressive Muscle Tension Relaxation to drinking many types of herbal teas, I have tried it all and I can honestly say very little has proven to be affective. With that in mind, my situation is not particularly life crippling. I almost always fall asleep after a while, even if it is after a few hours of my brain running through every imaginable scenario. Whilst dabbling in many possible sleep aids I also found multiple examples of what not to do for a good night sleep. And as our attachment and love for technology grows, so does this list. 

Source: sleep.org

According to the National Sleep Foundation, adolescence who have a TV in their bedroom have later bedtimes, greater difficulty initiating sleep and shorter sleep time in total. It is probably no surprise that

using technology before bed is going to have a negative effect on your sleep. However, why it affects your sleep and just how bad it is for you may come as a surprise. Many screens of smartphones, laptops and TV’s emit blue light which is proven to reduce the level of melatonin that your body produces. Melatonin is a chemical that is naturally produced by the body to control your sleep / wake cycle known as your circadian rhythm. A lack of this chemical can make it harder to fall asleep and remain asleep. 

This next point may seem abundantly clear, however it is a painful truth that many of us don’t consider or perhaps we hope it won’t affect us. Without a doubt, the more active you are on technology the more active your brain is, which only leads to a greater challenge when it comes to putting it to rest. Whether you are messaging with friends or catching up on the latest episode of Game of Thrones,you are keeping your mind stimulated and tricking it into thinking it needs to stay awake. One Hundred years ago this may have not been such an issue, although in our modern world of Netflix and WhatsApp we can keep our minds occupied throughout the night until the break of dawn. Moreover, the mental impact of reading a negative message or seeing a wave of likes on your Instagram picture may make turning your brain off that much harder. Unfortunately, we can’t switch off our thoughts and emotions as simply as a press of a button. 

After all this you may decide to get an early night, set your alarm and place your phone on your bedside table and gingerly avoid engaging with it any further. Problem solved, right? Well, unfortunately it may not be as simple as that. Even a buzz, ring or whistle from your device can be enough to trigger your conditioned response ready to check your latest notification. The fact is we are addicts, almost all of us, myself included and the only way to remedy yourself is to turn it off or leave it out the bedroom. 

The good news is that even though technology may be the reason for many of these problems, it can also provide solutions to help reduce these effects. I am naturally a little bit of a night owl and I find most of my best work is produced in the evening. Therefore, cutting out electronics before bed would also cut out some of my most productive hours. To combat the troublesome blue light emitted by my computer screen I use a programme called f.lux. This removes this harmful light and replaces it with softer colours to help you wind down. It is set to your time zone so it knows exactly when the sun is setting and times it perfectly with your surrounds. I also listen to music when I sleep and choose to switch off my Wi-Fi connection to stop any notifications. 

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We are obsessed with our gadgets, there is no doubt about that. However, just because we can’t live without them does not mean we must choose between our technology and a good night’s rest. With the right schedule, discipline and tools it is possible to enjoy a healthy balance of both. 

Man up: The impact of media on being a “modern man”

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Since the conception of advertising, we have been exposed to a prodigious number of adverts on daily basis with the primary goal being to influence our thoughts, behaviours and above all our purchasing decisions. Naturally with this type of intention many adverts have attracted a large amount of controversy whilst attempting to grab our intention. Potentially one of the key concerns within modern advertising and media in general it’s influence on young women and how women are represented.

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We watch films, TV shows, music videos and adverts often with a consistent theme of young, thin and beautiful women. Indisputably this can have a very negative impact on young women’s self-confidence, body image and behaviour. However, in comparison, very little has been done to consider the influence of the media’s portrayal of “the perfect man” and how it is effecting our modern generation of young boys.  With so much concern for how women are portrayed in modern media it is easy to forget that many magazines such as GQ, Fortune and Men’s Health often portray a very extreme and unrealistic image of rich, thin and muscular men. It is possible there is less concern for men in this industry due to the stereotype that men are less emotional than and therefore are less likely to be negatively influenced by these images. However, research indicates this is simply not true. Rather actually being less sensitive or emotional, studies suggest that men may have stronger emotional reactions to a stimulus but do a better job of hiding it than women. With this considered it is no wonder than men are just as likely to be influenced media stereotypes as women, or potentially more. 

One study found that over 80% of men spoke in ways that promote anxiety about their body image referring to perceived flaws and imperfections which was higher than the percentage found for women (75%). Moreover, 38% of men would go as far as losing a year of their life in exchange for the perfect body image. This indicates that men are just as likely as women to feel the effects of modern media if not more.

This becomes even more worrying when we consider the implications for young men. Using a national sample of adolescent boys, a recent study found that almost one in five boys were highly concerned about their weight and physical appearance. This perception also leads to a higher chance of depression and were more likely to exhibit high risk behaviours such as binge drinking and drug abuse. From this we can see there is are concerns within young men regarding their self-image. Another important factor to consider in this area is the development of the ideal man within our culture over the past few years.

According to scholars there has been a dramatic shift in body image of young boy’s action figures since the 80s. Figures such has Batman, G.I. Joe and Superman have all developed to encompass a more muscular and “ideal” male physic. Understandably, this has proven to have a very negative impact on young men’s self-esteem.

Body image aside, it can be argued that young men are faced with a daunting number of pressures from our modern society, not only on how to look but also on how to behave. Modern music also can have a dramatic impact on young men regard what is normal and socially acceptable behaviour, specifically regarding misogyny and drug abuse. One study by Barongan and Hall conducted in the 90’s found that increased exposure misogynistic messages has led to desensitization of intimate partner violence and fosters greater tolerance of male aggression. Furthermore, a positive correlation has been found between misogynistic thinking and Rap / hip hop consumption.

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With all this considered, it is important to understand that men also suffer from similar pressures as women in modern media. Despite experiencing different stereotypes, it can still be just as damaging and influential. If you are a parent of a young boy it may be worth consider opening up a line of communication regarding these issue to ensure they are not alone when facing these modern pressures.

Plugged In: The impact of constant stimulation in our modern lives

I live and work in a hostel, and environment full of young and active individuals. In many ways hostels are a fantastic location to witness people from all backgrounds socializing and mingling. However, it is also a common occurrence to see the exact opposite. Large groups of people all hunched over their computers and phones silently focused in their own personal bubble. Because of my work as a writer I am frequently a member of this quiet and anti-social crowd. There are always exception and sometimes people just need to get their head down and work. However, in our day and age this introverted group is worryingly common. I see a frightening amount of people prioritizing their attention towards their phone the moment it buzzes. In our modern society, we have eliminated any possibility of boredom assuming we have our phone (which we usually do) and a good internet connection.

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This constant access to mental stimulation can have a damaging side. For generations before us, their only option of entertainment while waiting for the bus may be a book or making conversation with others. Now we have the option to put our headphones in, load up YouTube or Spotify and disconnect completely from boredom and the world around us. Research indicates that our brain craves stimulation to feed our need for dopamine, which explains why some people resort to addictive activities such as drug abuse to kill boredom and to satisfy these urges. Even though Youtube may not be as dangerous as a syringe full of heroin, this behavior can have its downsides.According to Dr Dimitri Christakis, a professor of Paediatrics at The University of Washington, in 2011 the average age at which a child starts watching television was at four months. In the 1970’s the average age was four years old. Since 2011 we have also seen a dramatic rise in Apps and electronic devices increasing a child’s level of engagement and stimulation with technology. 

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Over the past few decades we have also seen a dramatic rise in anxiety among teens. There is also strong evidence to suggest that our constant stream of electronic stimulation may be contributing to this increase. Checking emails, Facebook and other social media sites can be considered a neural addiction. Psychologist Dr Andrew Campbell at the University of Sydney believes this generation’s inability to switch off is likely to lead to increased levels of anxiety, stress and depression along with relationship problems. Even the simplistic of tasks while multitasking such as watching television while texting or playing a game on your phone can lead to higher levels of stress. 

While constantly being plugged in may have a damaging effect on our youth’s psyche, it may be having quite the opposite effect on our elderly population. Many studies have shown that certain applications can help to prevent Alzheimer’s. High levels of intellectual activity such as learning a new language or puzzles on our phones have shown to decrease the chances of Alzheimer’s like symptoms. 

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Overall, modern technology can be a wonderful tool to conquer boredom while in a dentist’s waiting room or on the bus. However, it is important to recognize the difference between filling time and over filling time. If you feel that you are spending too much time on your laptop or phone, take a moment to switch off your Wifi connection and observe your surrounds. There are many great books which focus on helping you to disconnect from constant stimulation and encourage you to become more present. My personal favorite is The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. Just remember that unplugging yourself may seem difficult at first, but if you give it time it is honestly as simple as doing absolutely nothing.