Happiness Part 4: The Remedies

Happines way of life Happiness Part 4: The Remedies

In part 3 of these Hap­pi­ness blogs, we saw some of the processes that mod­ern Pos­i­tive Psy­chol­ogy has found to increase Hap­pi­ness. There are three things that have been shown to change the way the ‘Ele­phant’ relates to the ‘Rider’ (Hap­pi­ness 1 – 3). They are med­i­ta­tion, cog­ni­tive ther­apy, and Prozac. We added in two ther­a­pies from a Herbalist’s point of view: Med­i­c­i­nal Mush­rooms and Flower Essences.


Many reli­gions and tra­di­tions through­out his­tory have incor­po­rated med­i­ta­tion into a person’s daily prac­tice. I have used it as a fun­da­men­tal part of my per­sonal rou­tine since I was 15 years old. There are many types of med­i­ta­tion, but at their core they strive to have a per­son focus atten­tion in a non-analytical way. This is done either through sit­ting still, or some pre-prescribed form of exer­cise. Aware­ness is focused on breath­ing, or a word (mantra), image, or move­ment. This on the sur­face seems quite easy, but it often takes weeks, if not months, before a per­son can get into the ‘flow’ of the med­i­ta­tion. The goal is to change the auto­matic thought process, thereby tam­ing (train­ing) the ele­phant. The proof of the tam­ing is the break­ing of attach­ments. This brings us to one of the state­ment from the Dali Lama in our first blog on Happiness:

“I believe com­pas­sion to be one of the few things we can prac­tice that will bring imme­di­ate and long-term hap­pi­ness to our lives.”

For Bud­dhists, attach­ments are like a game of roulette in which some­one else spins the wheel and the game is rigged: The more you play, the more you lose. The only way to win is to step away from the table. And the only way to step away, to make you not react to the ups and downs of life, is to med­i­tate and tame the mind. Although you give up the plea­sure of win­ning, you also give up the larger pain of losing.

Med­i­ta­tion tames and calms the ele­phant. Med­i­ta­tion done every day for sev­eral months can sub­stan­tially reduces fear­ful, neg­a­tive and grasp­ing thoughts. This in turn improves the one’s affec­tive style, or the way you approach life.

Bud­dha said: When a man knows the soli­tude of silence and feels the joy of quiet­ness, he is then free from fear and sin.”

After a per­son has med­i­tated reg­u­larly for sev­eral months it can be seen on brain scans, light­ing up the same cen­tre for hap­pi­ness in the brain. It is sus­tain­ably increas­ing in bright­ness, and the more a per­son med­i­tates it becomes eas­ier to get into that state, because the ele­phant is trained.

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Cog­ni­tive Therapy

Med­i­ta­tion has been tra­di­tion­ally an East­ern way of approach­ing this state of Hap­pi­ness, but has now been employed by many in the West since the 60’s.  Dur­ing that same era, Aaron Beck started devel­op­ing cog­ni­tive ther­apy. Beck was a psy­chi­a­trist at the Uni­ver­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia, who was trained in the Freudian psy­cho­an­a­lyt­i­cal approach. He found that it was not as effec­tive for his patients as he would like. So he took a new approach; instead of re-hashing old thoughts and behav­iors from child­hood, he got his patients to catch and chal­lenge neg­a­tive thoughts. This did not sit well with many of his Freudian col­leagues who though he was treat­ing symp­toms instead of the real cause of the prob­lem. But it didn’t take long before he could prove his form of cog­ni­tive ther­apy was very effec­tive for treat­ing depres­sion, anx­i­ety and many other problems.

As we saw in ear­lier blogs, the con­scious mind (the rider) often uses rea­son not to find the truth, but to invent argu­ments to sup­port our deep and intu­itive beliefs (resid­ing in the ele­phant). From depressed peo­ple Beck describes a ‘cog­ni­tive triad’.

  1. I’m no good
  2. My world is bleak
  3. My future is hopeless

A depressed person’s mind is auto­mat­i­cally filled with thoughts sup­port­ing these dys­func­tional beliefs, espe­cially when things appear to be going wrong. These dis­torted thoughts are sim­i­lar across patients. Beck called these cog­ni­tive processes ‘per­son­al­iza­tion’, ‘over­gen­er­al­iza­tion’, ‘mag­ni­fi­ca­tion’ and ‘arbi­trary infer­ence’.  These make a depressed per­son get caught in a feed­back loop of dis­torted thoughts caus­ing neg­a­tive feel­ings, which of course dis­tort think­ing fur­ther. Beck’s break-through was to stop the cycle by chang­ing the thoughts. The client is trained to catch their thoughts, write them down, name the dis­tor­tion and find an alter­na­tive and more accu­rate way of think­ing. Over a period of sev­eral weeks the client’s thoughts become more real­is­tic and the feed­back loops are bro­ken. This will result in the cycles of anx­i­ety or depres­sion being sig­nif­i­cantly reduced.

This type of ther­apy works because it gets the rider (con­scious mind) to train the ele­phant instead of try­ing to defeat it with log­i­cal argu­ments that the ele­phant can’t under­stand in the first place. At first of course the rider does not know that ele­phant is con­trol­ling him, that it is really the elephant’s fears and dis­likes that are dri­ving his con­scious thoughts. The thing is that in cog­ni­tive ther­apy, home­work needs to be done daily (like med­i­ta­tion) instead of just vis­it­ing a therapist’s office once a week. The ele­phant can only learn by daily prac­tice that goes on for more than the 21 days, but often for sev­eral weeks and even months. The prac­tice has to become a habit. With each refram­ing and each sim­ple task of accom­plish­ment, the client receives a lit­tle reward in the form of dopamine with its flash of relief and plea­sure. It is like train­ing an ele­phant by giv­ing it a peanut each time it does the trick right. You can­not win a tug-of-war with an angry or fear­ful ele­phant, but you can grad­u­ally reshape the behav­ior cre­at­ing the auto­matic thoughts and affec­tive style.

Cog­ni­tive ther­apy has been shown to achieve results faster than most other psy­cho­log­i­cal ther­a­pies, pro­duc­ing sus­tain­able results even after the client stops the daily exer­cise once they have gone through the ini­tial train­ing stages. When done well, it has been shown to be as effec­tive as drugs like Prozac for the treat­ment of depres­sion. Besides, cog­ni­tive ther­apy does not have some of the side effects of Prozac, and it still works after the ther­apy, as the ele­phant has now been retrained. Prozac ther­apy only works while it is being taken, with the behav­iours com­ing back after a month or so of stop­ping the drug.

Of course there are many other forms of ther­a­pies that will fit spe­cific peo­ple bet­ter than cog­ni­tive ther­apy, but it has shown a great track record.

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Prozac is a mem­ber of a class of drugs known as selec­tive sero­tonin reup­take inhibitors (or SSRIs). There are sev­eral oth­ers, such as Paxil, Zoloft, Celexa, Lexapro and oth­ers. I am going to only use the name Prozac for sim­plic­ity, but I really mean all of the SSRI cousins. Prob­a­bly the first thing we should state is that even though Prozac has been used since 1974, they still don’t know how it works! As the class indi­cates, it appears to affect the sero­tonin uptake at selec­tive synapses. It results in increased sero­tonin within days, but the action takes at least 4 — 6 weeks (and some­times longer) to be noticed by the con­sumer. Even though it is not known how it works, it can be used affec­tively in a vari­ety of men­tal issues includ­ing depres­sion, anx­i­ety, panic attacks, social pho­bias, pre­men­strual dys­phoric dis­or­der, some eat­ing dis­or­ders and some forms of obses­sive com­pul­sive disorder.

Prozac is con­tro­ver­sial for sev­eral rea­sons. Some feel it is a short cut and it often changes the consumer’s per­son­al­ity dra­mat­i­cally (not always to the bet­ter). As a Herbal­ist I don’t really like the use of it, but have to con­cede this group has often saved the lives of many of my patients. I have seen sig­nif­i­cant improve­ment of many clients, so I would have to say I have a love/hate rela­tion­ship with the SSRI. We sug­gest it should only be used for as short of a period as pos­si­ble, with other strate­gies to replace its use. It can often do what no talk ther­apy can do, chang­ing the per­son in as lit­tle as 5 weeks. What I object to is ‘cos­metic psy­chophar­ma­col­ogy’ where peo­ple take it just to have an upbeat per­son­al­ity. Often this will back­fire some­where down the line. If a per­son can take the time to do other work to train the ele­phant while on the SSRI, this is best.

Bot­tom line is, the SSRIs do not train the ele­phant, as evi­denced by the fact that the per­son is back to the same place 5 weeks after stop­ping them. This usu­ally means tak­ing another form of the SSRI until they are all used up. These drugs appear to cage the ele­phant and make it so they can­not com­mu­ni­cate with the rider, thus the rider appears to be in con­trol until the drug does not work any­more. Often I have had patients state that it makes them feel they are cut off from the old self or even their spirit while on the SSRI, but at least they can func­tion inside soci­ety. I feel that these ‘easy fixes’ are overprescribed.

Med­i­c­i­nal Mushrooms

Ganoderma 1 Happiness Part 4: The Remedies

Any­one who is famil­iar with my lec­tures or who has fol­lowed these blog for a while knows this is one of my favorite areas. Sev­eral of the med­i­c­i­nal mush­rooms work on ‘calm­ing down the rider’, but my favorite for this is cer­tainly Reishi (Gan­o­derma lucidum).  One of my beloved by-lines for Reishi is, “To pro­tect an aca­d­e­mic from their own brain”. Reishi is great for reduc­ing cir­cu­lar argu­ments, get­ting a per­son out of the head (the rider) and into their body (ele­phant). It can be very spe­cific for this, as it helps move a person’s cen­ter of grav­ity from the ‘head’ to the ‘heart’. I real­ize these are metaphors for mov­ing from the lin­ear log­i­cal world, into the non-linear emo­tional world, but the side effect is to make both the rider and the ele­phant become much more calm. It has often been said that Reishi is like an addi­tional ½ hours worth of med­i­ta­tion a day.

Yes it works on the immune sys­tem, car­dio­vas­cu­lar sys­tem, the liver and sev­eral other part of our body, as listed in other of my blogs, but ulti­mately its calm­ing effect is its basic func­tion. This effect helps the rider and the ele­phant cre­ate a flow, dance, or syn­chro­nized Tai Chi. This form of calm­ing also is quite sus­tain­able. It is nowhere as fast and as dra­matic as the SSRIs, but retrains the ele­phant sim­i­lar to med­i­ta­tion.  The med­i­c­i­nal mush­rooms in gen­eral, Reishi specif­i­cally, help a per­son ground, help­ing them keep their feet on the planet, instead of up in the clouds.

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Flower Essences

This too is an area of strong inter­est for me, being the sub­ject of my last book, Flower Essence: Emo­tional Alchemy and Spir­i­tual Evo­lu­tion. Flower essences work on the much more sub­tle level of vibra­tional med­i­cine. I have talked about them more exten­sively in other blogs.  They work directly on the non-linear realms, com­mu­ni­cat­ing directly with the ele­phant. They can help train the ele­phant, but this time on very spe­cific issues. You can use pre­pared for­mu­las for depres­sion, focus, SAD, anx­i­ety, ADD, Insom­nia, children’s anx­i­etiessen­si­tiv­ity and shield­ing, self esteem or addic­tions, but many cre­ate a spe­cific cus­tomized for­mula. Often a per­son does both, because you can use up to five for­mu­las at a time. By cre­at­ing a cus­tom for­mula, you deter­mine the right flower essences to hone in on the issues that need to be trained in your ele­phant. One of the eas­i­est ways to do this is by fill­ing in a flower essence ques­tion­naire, as found here. We usu­ally use a spe­cific for­mula for about a month or two, repeat­ing the ques­tion­naire each month to see if you need to change the blend. Through this method we can slowly change the way the ele­phant relates to the world, thus increas­ing our Hap­pi­ness Lev­els. Often we keep one of the pre­pared for­mu­las going at the same time. Each for­mula should be taken at least 5 – 15 min­utes apart.

Again the func­tion of flower essences is quite sus­tain­able, as it retrains the ele­phant and as a bonus has no side effects. Con­sis­tency is impor­tant here; they need to be done 1 – 4 times daily (more if needed) for at least a month. Their action is quite fast, mak­ing dra­matic changes in a person’s emo­tions within min­utes. Increas­ing the amount of flower essence taken at each dosage does not increase their effec­tive­ness, tak­ing them more often does.

In this blog we have reviewed five dif­fer­ent tech­niques to work on increas­ing a person’s Hap­pi­ness Lev­els. In the next blog on Hap­pi­ness we will con­clude this area and look at the under­ly­ing phe­nom­ena that con­nects these tech­niques together. By see­ing this, we will be able to get a bet­ter han­dle on how to cre­ate and sus­tain more Hap­pi­ness in our lives.





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