For this blog my ambition was to give some proper scientific advice of what makes a person happy. But soon I had to discover that what science actually knows about happiness is little.Now that I think about it, it was quite stupid to assume that science has come so far to give us some proper advice on how to stay happy. Otherwise insurances wouldn't spend that much money on psycho-therapy and antidepressants. After some literature research I think that everything science can tell us is, why people get unhappy and, in the next step, reduce this unhappiness to a minimum. And as we all know, not being unhappy does not equal being happy. But at least, there is a silver lining! One thing that science can tell is, why we make the bad decisions that lead us to feeling unhappy. That is at least something!Many of our bad decisions are a result of
coping mechanisms that our brains developed over the centuries in order to deal with the complex environment around us. These coping mechanisms helped us to survive but they sometimes lead to errors that make us see the world differently than it actually is. Sounds complicated, right?
One popular example of how the brain can fool us are optical illusions. Take the Herman grid:
At first sight you will probably see dark spots where the white lines cross but when you take a closer look they are gone? That is due to one mechanisms in your brain that is actually designed to help us see sharper edged between light and dark. This concept, called lateral inhibition, is caused by light receptor cells that are able to inhibit their surrounding cells. When on cell detects light, it inhibits the surrounding receptors that might still detect tiny bits of light. This way the edges between light and dark appears sharper. But in case of the Herman grid we see a dark spot where there is actually a light cross. This is because the receptors that detect the light lines inhibit their surrounding cells so the receptors in the middle of the cross get inhibition from four sides. That is why the center of the cross appears darker.
These kinds of errors, that are caused by mechanism which were actually designed to help us in our everyday lives, can also affect our psyche. In this post I can't get too much into detail about the psychological errors of our brains... but before you run away, saying that I don't tell you anything concrete, I will give you an example ;)
So, here is the answer to the question, why we have prejudice: Prejudice where actually very useful for survival. Back in stone age, those people who were suspicious and stayed inside the cave rather than petting the unknown animal (that turned out to be a saber-tooth tiger) were usually those who survived. So on the long term, they were much more likely to give their genetic information (and hence their characteristics) to the next generation. In contrast to those who decided to meet the tiger with an open mind who probably died a violent death. So this is why the human being evolved to a suspicious animal. Now you might argue that human beings evolved a little further, we have reason and can reflect our thought. So why has this stone age reaction still an effect on us? There are two answers. The first one is quite obvious. This sort of backing away mechanism evolved earlier than the ability to reflect our deeds. So it literally sits deeper in the brain. The second one is that it is much more important for survival that we withdraw ourselves from dangerous situations. So it was more important to identify something or someone as dangerous than to wonder if this tiger would actually make a nice pet. To transport this scenario into the present time, we'd rather stay away from the creepy guy with the intense stare than to wonder, if he might have all the qualities that we were ever searching for in a man. So our prejudice might actually keep us from finding the love of your life or at least from having a fun night with good company.
At this point I would like to add a personal note: Only because these mechanisms exist, they will not release us from the responsibility for our deeds. So, it is not a justification for bullying, racism or any sort of disrespect towards other people. The ability to reflect our deeds is one of the things that distinguishes us from monkeys ;)
So, this is one example of how a pretty smart and elegant mechanism of our brain has flaws that might keep us from happiness by e.g. finding the love of your life ;). If you now say that the advice to get ride of prejudice it quite obvious, then you are right! For more advice that go more into detail, stay tuned! This article was only meant to give you a taste ;)
I wish you a happy day!
All the best,
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