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Achieve True Happiness Scientifically

 

Pradeep B. Deshpande 

Source: Unknown Artist

Professor Emeritus of Chemical Engineering, University of Louisville and President and CEO, Six Sigma & Advanced Controls, Inc., Louisville, KY

We are ambitious, we work really hard, sleep deprived, burn midnight oil night after night. May be we want to land a great job, get a promotion, earn a lot of money, build a big house, buy a luxury car, solve the renewable energy problem, decipher the desalination riddle, achieve fame, etc., etc. Why are we doing all this, what are we looking for? If you ask different people what they are really looking for, you will get different answers but lift the veil and the myriad of responses boil down to only one answer: happiness! Everyone is looking for the same thing, happiness. What makes us unhappy are the unfulfilled desires. When we say everyone is looking for happiness we really mean something slightly different. This is because virtually every emotion you can think of comes packed as a pair of opposites. For example, if there is happiness, sadness and despair are also possibilities. When we say we want to be happy, we are really referring to a subtler form of happiness; bliss, peace, and contentment, the terms which by definition are devoid of the opposite. So, what everyone is searching for is blissfulness. Now, let us see how good a job we are doing to achieve that we truly desire. Courtesy of my friend, Prof. Babu Nahata, I offered a seminar on this topic in a class mandatory for seniors in the Economics Department in the School of Business at the University of Louisville. The students were aware of the Easterlin Paradox: that the rising levels of income do not necessarily produce more happiness. So, what are we missing?

The first author worked at research and development organization in Princeton, New Jersey in the summer of 1977. He remembers having lunch in their cafeteria and in the remaining time he would going for a stroll in the beautiful garden on their campus. In the early part of the first decade of the new century he was invited back to Princeton to make a presentation on the importance of six sigma in the process industries. This time, the author was shocked to find that the staff barely had time for the seminar. Everyone appeared to be stressed out. Recently, a yogi in India said this: when I return to a village after a gap of five years, people look about the same but when I visit a metropolis, people appear to have grown much older. So serious is the problem that the 2009 Nobel Prize recipient in Physiology and Medicine, Prof. Elizabeth Blackburn, issued an urgent call in Nature (2012) to the world Governments to heed the warning on stress. She discovered that high levels of stress causes our telomeres to dwindle and telomerase enzyme levels to go down causing accelerated aging leading to all sorts of diseases including serious ones such as cancer. It is possible to go one step further; stress is the root cause of global unrest, health & wellness issues, and suboptimal performance in all walks of life including business performance.

Stress in humans appears to have an ancient origin. We might be able to explain this on the basis of our common ancestry having evolved from lower life forms. In animals, the ‘fight or flight’ response is preprogrammed. We humans apparently continue to share that trait only now we are expected to live by acceptable social norms and so we may not resort outright to physical fighting or fleeing for our lives. Suppression of the fight or flight instincts might be the trigger for a stronger response of the sympathetic nervous system and a spike in stress hormones. It is clear if we could tackle stress there would be a dramatic improvement. But before we learn how to do that we have to get to the bottom of what is true happiness.

Each of the 6 ½ billion of us humans have three components of the mindset S, R, and T that defines who we are. The two emotions, positive emotions and negative emotions, are in turn related to the three components. Positive emotions strongly and positively correlate with the S component while negative emotions strongly and positively correlate with the R and T components. The specific proportion of these components determines the level of internal excellence of an individual. These ideas are depicted in Figure 1. The noble ones among us are towards the top of the scale while the wicked ones are towards the bottom and the rest of us somewhere in between.  The level of internal excellence is not static. It varies with time and the lower the level of internal excellence, the bigger the fluctuations. In the seminars the first author has presented in several countries, no one has raised their hand wanting to go in the downward direction. So, how does one know where an individual is on the scale of internal excellence? If an individual possesses the capacity to remain centered in the face of the most challenging situations that are part of life, then he or she is doing well. If on the other hand, the internal condition goes haywire and remains disturbed for a long time, then that is not good. For example, if you stub your toe, what words come out of your mouth instantly? Or, someone cuts into your lane nearly causing an accident, what is your instant response? Or, a student asks you a question and you had already answered umpteenth times, what is your response? Figure 2 is a pictorial explains these ideas.

Figure 1. Level of Internal Excellence Explained

Figure 2 Influence of External Conditions on Internal Conditions

Individuals who have mastered the art and science of how to remain centered in the presence of extremely unfavorable or pleasantly intoxicating external conditions are endowed with abundant positive emotions but the good news is that we all have the same capacity to achieve this state. There are two approaches to move in this direction. A conscious approach wherein we track our emotions literally on a minute by minute basis to cultivate positive emotions and to avoid negative emotions and the second, is a process which brings about a rise in the positive emotions autonomically. Meditation is one such process. The science of how exactly meditation brings about the positive changes within us is not well understood although scientists have made progress in recent years. By now, prestigious publications such as Nature, Science, and PNAS-US, medical journals, and business publications such as Forbes have all carried full-length articles on the benefits of mediation in a myriad of areas, from health & wellness, to improvement in many walks of life including business performance, to less discord and violence. Prof. Blackburn and her colleague Elissa Epel found that while exercises, eating healthy, social support, etc., were all restorative, meditation was the most effective intervention capable of slowing the erosion of telomeres. The book, The Nature of Ultimate Reality and How It Can Transform Our World: Evidence from Modern Physics; Wisdom of YODA by Pradeep B. Deshpande, PhD Dr. James P. Kowall, MD (Neurology, Internal Medicine), PhD (Theoretical Physics), Six Sigma and advanced Controls, Inc., 2015 (available on amazon) presents a scientific framework for world transformation which sheds additional light on the topic. Jim Kowall is board-certified in Internal Medicine, Neurology, and Sleep Disorder Medicine and also holds a doctorate in Theoretical Physics.