February 23, 2018

Pleasure Vs. Happiness

I don't quite remember how I fell on this book (the joys of happenstance) by Robert H. Lustig, but The Hacking of the American Mind is turning out to be quite an interesting read (although it should change its title, because it certainly doesn't just apply to Americans)!

In it, he states that there are two clear definitions of the terms Pleasure and Happiness:

Pleasure, which comes from the French word plaisir, is a concept of reward:

  1. It's immediate
  2. It provides some level of excitement/amusement
  3. It's dependent on circumstance
Happiness, on the other hand, is about being content, about well-being and human flourishing (aka physical and/or spiritual growth:
  1. It's about life
  2. It's not prone to acute changes in one's life (so no roller-coaster of emotions)
  3. It's unrelated to circumstances--anyone can be happy!
These two states can certainly happen concurrently, but they also can affect one another in negative ways that I certainly hadn't always suspected (going all the way down to the molecular level of our brain!). In fact, "chronic excessive reward eventually leads to both addiction and depression," what Robert Lustig calls the twin epidemics, and therefore too much pleasure can actually prevent us from being happy.

For your (and my) ease, I've created a quick table of the 7 differences between reward (pleasure) and contentment (happiness) as expressed in The Hacking of the American Mind:

Note here that it's important to have some level of dopamine (it would actually be really bad not to), but it is addictive, whereas serotonin...isn't. On top of that, in terms of evolution, dopamine is
"stronger" than serotonin, or we'd still be cavemen (if still around at all) since dopamine is a hormone that keeps us motivated. But this also means that, if we're constantly releasing dopamine into our brains, we're effectively destroying our dopamine receptors...and our ability to feel happiness.*

Knowing this, it only makes the following fact all that scarier:

In his research and analysis, Robert Lustig has come to realize that "in the last half century, America and most of the Western world have become more and more unhappy, sicker, and broke as well. Marketing, media, and technology have capitalized on subverting our brain physiology to their advantage in order to veer us away from the pursuit of happiness to the pursuit of pleasure, which for them, of course equals the pursuit of profit."

"In fact, [these corporations'] recipes are continuing to improve: as the science of reward is elaborated and becomes more precise, new techniques in neuromarketing are now becoming mainstream. And as corporations have profited big from increased consumption of virtually everything with a price tag promising happiness, we have lost big-time. America has devolved from the aspirational, achievement-oriented "city on a hill" we once were, into the addicted and depressed society that we've now become.
Because we abdicated happiness for pleasure. 
Because we got cheap."

And you thought the world in Game of Thrones was bad**! 

In any case, after this intense intro, I'm very much looking forward to reading the rest of his book, including how indeed we did get hacked, and how we can claim our brains back (OK, this definitely sounds like a weird zombie movie now). I'll probably share a couple more nuggets as I go along :)

*OK, so this is highly simplified, and we have loads more hormones, but this doesn't make the above facts wrong either.

**I'm still crying that the last season won't come out till 2019, yes, yes, I too fall prey to this society of consumption, especially when it comes to stories...and sweets...and tea... Gah!

February 10, 2018

The Suckitudiness Of Self-Doubt

I suck at writing. My book sucks. My story blows.

Three tiny sentences I've repeated to myself on and off over the last couple of years. Something every writer experiences (at least from what I can tell from countless interviews, but perhaps there are a few lucky ones out there). Over and over again. And I assume it's the same no matter which art or profession on follows, or project one wishes to accomplish.

The key to winning this battle is to acknowledge this fear, take a deep breath, and then stick your butt in your chair (or wherever it needs to be to do what needs to be done) and just force yourself to work through that mental cement wall. It's not easy. I keep falling down because of it (this is one of the three main reasons why the third book in the Morgana Trilogy is taking so long to finally get into your hands), but the trick is to keep getting back up, right?

So no matter what your inner demons are telling you, keep faith in yourself, in what you're trying to accomplish. Get back up, and fight for yourself and your dreams! I will do the same.

Art by Narya Blackfyre

February 4, 2018

Unwritten Romance Storytelling Rule

I recently came across this quote by Hayao Miyazaki (yes, I'm a total fan of his) about how he likes to portray relationships in his stories(1):

I feel that in our day and age, when there's a huge backlash against typical fairy tales and a strong push to have girls and women take a bigger role in all storytelling (which I highly approve of), it's important not to forget either that the best relationships (in my opinion) are those based on mutuality: Mutual respect, mutual inspiration, mutual love...

(1) If you haven't seen any of his movies, I highly recommend them--not only are they beautiful, but the stories are heart-warming in the best of ways! And if you wish to know which you'd like to see first...well all the ones portrayed here are a good place to start, without forgetting My Neighbor Totoro, and my personal favorite, Whispers of the Heart :)

January 1, 2018


Those who are already wise no longer love wisdom - whether they are gods or men.
Similarly, those whose own ignorance as made them bad, rotten, evil, 
do not strive for wisdom either. For no evil or ignorant person ever strives
for wisdom.

What remains are those who suffer from ignorance but still retain some sense
and understanding. They are conscious of knowing what they don't know.

~Socrates, in Plato's Lysis, 4th c. BC

February 15, 2017

True Love

Reread a while back Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo (such a great writer, by the way), and in it I found this passage which I found touching. So I know it’s not Valentine’s day anymore or whatever, but there’s no time like the present for a little romance…

Shall I tell you the secret of true love? [Inej’s] father once asked her. A friend of mine liked to tell me that women love flowers. He had many flirtations, but he never found a wife. Do you know why? Because women may love flowers, but only one woman loves the scent of gardenias in late summer that remind her of her grandmother’s porch. Only one woman loves apple blossoms in a blue cap. Only one woman loves wild geraniums.
That’s Mama! Inej had cried.
Yes, Mama loves wild geraniums because she claims that when she snaps the stem and puts a sprig behind her ear, the whole world smells like summer. Many boys will bring you flowers. But someday you’ll meet a boy who will learn your favorite flower, your favorite song, your favorite sweet. And even if he is too poor to give you any of them, it won’t matter because he will have taken the time to know you as no one else does. Only that boy earns your heart.

Pretty, isn’t it?  Anyway, I definitely recommend this book (actually, the whole duology!) to anyone who likes great, visual fiction, with a dash of romance, wit, adventure, and magic.

The Princess Bride
Great movie. Check it out if you haven't already!

February 14, 2017

Young Love

At the age of four I fell in love. It was a shattering and wonderful experience. The object of my passion was one of the Dartmouth cadets, a friend of my brother's. Golden-haired and blue-eyed, he appealed to all my romantic instincts. He himself could have had no idea of the emotions he aroused! Gloriously uninterested in the "kid sister" of his friend Monty, he would probably have said, if asked, that I disliked him. An excess of emotion caused me to go in the opposite direction if I saw him coming, and when seated at the dining table, to keep my head resolutely turned away. My mother took me gently to task.
"I know you're shy, dear, but you must be polite. It's so rude to turn your head away from Philip all the time, and if he speaks to you, you only mutter. Even if you dislike him, you must be polite."
Dislike him! How little anyone knew! When I think of it now, how supremely satisfying early love can be. It demands nothing--not a look or a word. It is pure adoration. Sustained by it, one walks on air, creating in one's own mind heroic occasions on which one will be of service to the beloved one. Going into a plague camp to nurse him! Saving him from fire! Shielding him from a fatal bullet! Anything, indeed, that had caught the imagination in a story. In these imaginings there is never a happy ending. You yourself are burned to death, shot, or succumb to the plague. The hero does not even know of the supreme sacrifice you have made. I sat on the nursery floor and played with Tony [the dog], looking solemn and priggish, while inside my head a glorious exultation swirled in extravagant fancies. The months passed. Philip became a midshipman and left the Britannia. For a short while his image persisted and then dwindled. Love vanished, to return three years later, when I adored hopelessly a tall dark young army captain who was courting my sister.
~Agatha Christie, An autobiography

January 22, 2017

Intellectual Snobbery

On the whole I think the snobbery of my childhood, the snobbery of birth, that is, is more palatable than the other snobberies: the snobbery of wealth, and today's intellectual snobbery.
Intellectual snobbery seems today to breed a particular form of envy and venom. Parents are determined that their offspring shall shine. "We've made great sacrifices for you to have a good education," they say. The child is burdened with guilt if he does not fulfill their hopes. Everyone is so sure that it is all a matter of opportunity--not of natural aptitude.
I think late Victorian parents were more realistic and had really more consideration for their children and for what would make a happy and successful life for them. There was much less keeping up with the Joneses. Nowadays I often feel that it is for one's own prestige that one wants one's children to succeed. The Victorians looked dispassionately at their offspring and made up their minds about their capacities. A. was obviously going to be "the pretty one." B. was "the clever one." C. was going to be plain and was definitely not intellectual. Good works would be C.'s best chance. And so on. Sometimes, of course, they were wrong, but on the whole it worked. There is an enormous relief in not being expected to produce something that you haven't got.
The general standpoint in my young days had a certain humility. You accepted what you were. You had assets and you had liabilities. Like a hand at cards, having been dealt it, you sorted your cards and decided how best to play them. There was, I am almost sure, less envy and resentment of those more gifted or better off. If some young friends had expensive or exciting toys one did not expect or demand to have them oneself. I might say to my mother, "Freda has a wonderful doll's house. I wish I had one like that," and my mother would reply placidly, "Yes, it's nice for Freda. Of course her parents are much richer than we are." Nowadays it seems to be "Marylyn has got a bicycle, why can't I have one?" as though it were one's right.
~Agatha Christie, An Autobiography

Sadly enough, it doesn't seem like things have reversed since then...