2 perspectives on happiness

A friend loaned me an audiobook of Eric Weiner’s The Geography of Happiness, in which he travels to different cultures and talks with different people, especially some scientists, and explores how we define happiness.  I have a hard time listening for long so it is going slowly, but so far it is a good read, witty and of broad perspective, if you get my drift. I have one quibble so far and it is this:  he cites research early on showing that the prefrontal cortex lights up when subjects viewed happy pictures and then concludes that because the prefrontal cortex is a recent evolutionary development, our happiness is at the forefront of our evolution.  Ohhh, that is so bad, so miseducational.  Our pfc lights up all the time when we think and plan.  While not an ethical experiment, I will bet it lights up when someone plans a hateful murder.  That it lights up with happiness is due to its place in the emotional processing system that is actually focused on midbrain structures, i.e., amygdala.  Mr. Weiner’s enchantment with the pfc (prefrontal cortex) is what I call cortical chauvinism–we think that our cortex must be so important because of its disctinctiveness (and it is special) but it has evolved from lower centers and is dependent upon them for much of our mentality.  Okay.

Here is a link to a NYT article about the science behind the movie, Inside Out:  http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/05/opinion/sunday/the-science-of-inside-out.html

The moviemakers talked with a number of scientists before making the movie.  One of them was Paul Edman, one of my heroes and a champion of research into emotions.  The article is excellent and one thing struck me in particular.  They decided on an 11 year old girl for the movie because research shows that we experience less happiness after that age, that we transition from our youthful outlook to the drearier one of adolescence and then adulthood.  The reason given is the mourning at the loss of childhood but why is that happiness not replaced or sustained by the possibilities of adult life?  I suspect that the neurological changes worked hormonally during adolescence has something to do with the shift.  And of course, there are great individual differences.  More later, but you know, travel on.

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