Academic listening - psychology - happiness


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0:11This is called Hooked on a Feeling: The Pursuit of Happiness and Human Design. I put up a somewhat dour Darwin, but a very happy chimp up there. My first point is that the pursuit of happiness is obligatory. Man wishes to be happy, only wishes to be happy, and cannot wish not to be so. We are wired to pursue happiness, not only to enjoy it, but to want more and more of it.

0:33So given that that's true, how good are we at increasing our happiness? Well, we certainly try. If you look on the Amazon site, there are over 2,000 titles with advice on the seven habits, the nine choices, the 10 secrets, the 14,000 thoughts that are supposed to bring happiness. Now another way we try to increase our happiness is we medicate ourselves. And so there's over 120 million prescriptions out there for antidepressants. Prozac was really the first absolute blockbuster drug. It was clean, efficient, there was no high, there was really no danger, it had no street value. In 1995, illegal drugs were a $400 billion business, representing eight percent of world trade, roughly the same as gas and oil.

1:18These routes to happiness haven't really increased happiness very much. One problem that's happening now is, although the rates of happiness are about as flat as the surface of the moon,depression and anxiety are rising. Some people say this is because we have better diagnosis,and more people are being found out. It isn't just that. We're seeing it all over the world. In the United States right now there are more suicides than homicides. There is a rash of suicide in China. And the World Health Organization predicts by the year 2020 that depression will be the second largest cause of disability.

1:53Now the good news here is that if you take surveys from around the world, we see that about three quarters of people will say they are at least pretty happy. But this does not follow any of the usual trends. For example, these two show great growth in income, absolutely flat happiness curves.

2:10My field, the field of psychology, hasn't done a whole lot to help us move forward in understanding human happiness. In part, we have the legacy of Freud, who was a pessimist,who said that pursuit of happiness is a doomed quest, is propelled by infantile aspects of the individual that can never be met in reality. He said, "One feels inclined to say that the intention that man should be happy is not included in the plan of creation." So the ultimate goal of psychoanalytic psychotherapy was really what Freud called ordinary misery.

2:43(Laughter)

2:45And Freud in part reflects the anatomy of the human emotion system — which is that we have both a positive and a negative system, and our negative system is extremely sensitive. So for example, we're born loving the taste of something sweet and reacting aversively to the taste of something bitter. We also find that people are more averse to losing than they are happy to gain. The formula for a happy marriage is five positive remarks, or interactions, for every one negative. And that's how powerful the one negative is. Especially expressions of contempt or disgust, well you really need a lot of positives to upset that.

3:29I also put in here the stress response. We're wired for dangers that are immediate, that are physical, that are imminent, and so our body goes into an incredible reaction where endogenous opioids come in. We have a system that is really ancient, and really there for physical danger. And so over time, this becomes a stress response, which has enormous effects on the body. Cortisol floods the brain; it destroys hippocampal cells and memory, and can lead to all kinds of health problems.

3:57But unfortunately, we need this system in part. If we were only governed by pleasure we would not survive. We really have two command posts. Emotions are short-lived intense responses to challenge and to opportunity. And each one of them allows us to click into alternate selves that tune in, turn on, drop out thoughts, perceptions, feelings and memories. We tend to think of emotions as just feelings. But in fact, emotions are an all-systems alert that change what we remember, what kind of decisions we make, and how we perceive things.

4:29So let me go forward to the new science of happiness. We've come away from the Freudian gloom, and people are now actively studying this. And one of the key points in the science of happiness is that happiness and unhappiness are not endpoints of a single continuum. The Freudian model is really one continuum that, as you get less miserable, you get happier. And that isn't true — when you get less miserable, you get less miserable. And that happiness is a whole other end of the equation. And it's been missing. It's been missing from psychotherapy.So when people's symptoms go away, they tend to recur, because there isn't a sense of the other half — of what pleasure, happiness, compassion, gratitude, what are the positive emotions. And of course we know this intuitively, that happiness is not just the absence of misery. But somehow it was not put forward until very recently, seeing these as two parallel systems. So that the body can both look for opportunity and also protect itself from danger, at the same time. And they're sort of two reciprocal and dynamically interacting systems.

5:30People have also wanted to deconstruct. We use this word "happy," and it's this very large umbrella of a term. And then three emotions for which there are no English words: fiero, which is the pride in accomplishment of a challenge; schadenfreude, which is happiness in another's misfortune, a malicious pleasure; and naches, which is a pride and joy in one's children. Absent from this list, and absent from any discussions of happiness, are happiness in another's happiness. We don't seem to have a word for that. We are very sensitive to the negative, but it is in part offset by the fact that we have a positivity.