Pleasure Vs. Happiness

Pleasure Vs. Happiness

Recently I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about the brain, happiness and addiction. It’s been eye-opening. Most people’s defintion, I’ve come to realize, relates to pleasure, but do not have a concept of what long-term happiness is.

What’s the difference? Pleasure is short-term. It’s the dopamine kick we get in anticipation and from using something. Examples of pleasure run the gamut from gambling to sex to food to drugs. In all respects our brains from what one point of view is the brain of an addicts. Think of the card player or slot jockey at a casino. Or maybe the heroin addict. Or the cigarette smoker. Or how about the newest addiction, that of our addiction to our phones. Often times we think we have free will and are choosing to do these things. But neurochemically the picture can be interpreted quite differently. It some respects, without realizing, we are just chasing dopamine hit after dopamine hit, slaves when we think we’re free.

Happiness is different. In fact I don’t even like the word happiness because so many people associate it with pleasure. I prefer the Aristotelian word, eudaemonia, which translates roughly to contentment of the human spirit. This sort of contentment of the spirit is not chased by dopamine hits. (For the record, I don’t have anything inherently agains short-term pleasure. I’ve been known to polish off a pint of ice cream and smoke too many cigarettes in my day!) How one reaches eudaemonia is of course different for anyone. I’m almost 40 and I think I’m just fully coming into my own form. But I’ve had to make some changes in my life.

Food Justice And The Environment

Food Justice And The Environment

I’ve been on a bit of a Food Justice and environmental kick. To put it bluntly, the environment was never high on my list of priorities for social justice as oppressions and inequalities with regard to class, race, gender and more always took center stage. But that’s changed as I’ve become more and more educated about climate change. And in the last year, I’ve come to see that all other inequalities fall far behind what we are doing to our environment.

It’s easy to despair about climate change and our lack of response as a species to deal with it. I know I often do. Carbon emissions keep rising. We keep extracting more and more oil from the ground. The ocean’s acidifying. All coral reef in the ocean and much of sea life will probably be completely gone in the next 50-60 years. It’s not great.

But I still have hope. I realize that hope is quite possibly a delusional hope. But despair doesn’t feel like an answer to me. I prefer an absurd humanism akin to Camus’s philosophy. It might all be meaningless and hopeless for the human race, but I feel a moral urge to live in a sustainable way because the other option is choosing inaction and apathy.

Go Read "One Hundred Years Of Solitude"

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Just a short blog as I haven’t had a ton of time today to write…

I just reread “One Hundred Years Of Solitude” for the first time in 20 years at least. When I was a younger man, I had loved the book, but I don’t think I had any sense of its depth, the cycles of growth and decay, life and death, and the sense that time can often feel like it’s moving in a circle instead of linearly.

Reading it again now, I was surprised how much I loved it immediately. I have reread quite a few of my favorite novels from my youth recently, including “The Brothers Karamazov,” “The Sun Also Rises,” and “The Great Gatsby.” All of them were still excellent books, but somehow didn’t move me or bring me to awe the way they did when I was younger.

But this book did. Choose any one paragraph in Marquez’s book, and there is more energy, more to say about what drives us, our flaws and joys and sadnesses, in any one paragraph than I’ve read in other author’s entire books. Somehow it captures all that is profound magical about life, along with all that is banal and useless. It is the best novel I’ve ever read, and is on the short list of the best books I’ve read…

White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy

White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy

There has been a lot of chatter among liberal culture about identity politics. (Full disclosure, I do consider myself a liberal but far left of that ideology). On one level, I completely understand to work toward an antiracist, anti-patriarchal society as race and gender are two of the most forms of oppression that have been going on for hundreds of years. What I don’t understand is how class is almost never seen as a form of oppression among a certain-type liberal culture. That on one level if we had more diverse educated and rich people, that would be this amazing achievement for society.

You Are Not A Narrative

You Are Not A Narrative

Human beings are narrative creatures. As Yuval Noah Harai and others have noted, most of our basic institutions are based on some of collective fiction that would fall apart if examined too closely. This goes for things like nationalism or the idea of a nation state or even the concept of money and value. (For example, money is almost entirely imaginary at this point. 90% of is just computers sending back amounts from account to account that doesn’t really exist in any tangible way).

But humans are also narrative creatures in the sense that we view our own lives as stories with a beginning, middle and end. It’s the reason our novels and movies follow this basic format. It’s a trick of memory. Narratives are how we make sense of immeasurably complicated world. Without narratives, I think most of us would lose a sense of identity.

New York, I Love You, But You're Bringing Me Down

New York, I Love You, But You're Bringing Me Down

I took a bit of a hiatus from writing and this blog. I won’t bore you with too many details, but there has just been a lot going on in my personal life, almost all of it good, including some traveling. But I’m back in New York for awhile…

Although at the moment, I cannot say I am thrilled to be in New York. I just spent a week in Hawaii, and it was a thoroughly magical place. Pristine beaches. Warm weather. Lush mountains and forests. Relaxed people. Star-filled skies. And more importantly, lots of silence. It was another data point on how I’ve changed. I’ve sent more time in nature this year, and I’ve felt more connected to it.

Part of me feels more and more done with New York. What was once attractive about it— the constant hustle and bustle, the unlimited culture, restaurants and bars available— has lost much of its appeal. Now I see its flaws more clearly. Besides the fact that it is unsustainably expensive, especially for anyone trying to raise a family and who doesn’t make 200k a year, it also lacks what I need more and more of daily: silence.

Screw Positive Thinking

Screw Positive Thinking

A person I know went to a therapist about 10 years ago to work on some issues. During one session, this person discussed their bad luck with dating. This person admittedly was a bit dramatic about the situation, but they lamented how impossible it seemed to find a good partner in New York City. The therapist, looking them dead in the eye, said, "You have to think positively and imagine getting your ideal partner." 

"What a bunch of horseshit," I said to them and laughed. I didn't mean to be so harsh, and it caused this person to be taken aback. After all about 10 years ago, and the book "The Secret" was widely popular. "The Secret," if you've never heard of it, suggests that thinking and visualizing about things you want will make them appear in your life. That's the secret. So many people bought and accepted this philosophy as somehow true, the absurdity somehow lost on them. Just because I think about being rich or dating Beyonce with all my energy, doesn't mean it will make it so. 

The Racism of Online Dating

The Racism of Online Dating


America is a racist country. (I know, shocking.) Depending on your point of view, it's very easy to draw a line between enlightenment thinkers such as John Locke, the birth of slavery and America to the racism we see today. Again, no surprise there. 

Racism bleeds into all parts of American life. Online dating is a particular I've been thinking about lately. There are plenty of articles on the interwebs talking about how online dating is racist. (Here's a hint, it's really good for white men and women and not for a lot of other races).  I don't want to rehash that. What I want to discuss is how I see online dating anecdotally affect people of different races in my sessions. So here are three observations I've noticed over the years about online dating. 

White Men Have it Good

I'm almost always surprised by how easily white men are able to get dates and able to have multiple sexual partners in short periods of time.  These are generalizations, and obviously, it differs from individual to individual, but I see it a lot in my therapy sessions. White men are also far more confident about reaching out to many different people. 

Can Psychedelics Help Prevent Suicide?

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I just finished this fascinating piece about psychedelics and mental health that I wanted to share. It's worth a read yourself but I wanted to highlight this key passage: 

"Creating meaning in life is dependent upon hope, and it begins with the story we tell ourselves about ourselves. Consciousness, in part, is a continual narrative we both invent and listen to inside of our heads. And there are brain regions involved in that process, which is why Pollan sees psychedelics as a potentially potent therapy for when those interior voices go awry:

Getting overly attached to these narratives, taking them as fixed truths about ourselves rather than as stories subject to revision, contributes mightily to addiction, depression, and anxiety. Psychedelic therapy seems to weaken the grip of these narratives, perhaps by temporarily disintegrating the parts of the default mode network where they operate."

Thre is lots of truth here. Human beings are narrative creatures. We see our lives as a story. And if the story starts to go awry, depression and self-doubt are common byproducts. In my own life, psychedelics have proven life-changing with regard to my own mental health. It's hard to explain fully in words, but I could see how unimportant all our cultural standards were so much more clearly. I could see what was beautiful and what was worth living for and what was not. I personally recommend everyone try them at least once in their life. It's a bit corny, but they can change your life. 

Alan Watt's Backwards Law And 3 Ways It Can Help With Your Mental Health

Alan Watt's Backwards Law And 3 Ways It Can Help With Your Mental Health

One of his more famous thoughts is the "backwards law," which is nicely summed up in the quote above. Essentially the more you try and grab a hold of something, the more it slips through your fingers.

His "backwards law" is not an original thought by any means. It's origins come directly from the Tao Te Ching or Zen Buddhism. But like a lot of famous white male philosophers of recent times, he has made it more understandable to a Western audience. 

So how does this apply to mental health? I can think of a number of ways:

1) Happiness- Many people's parents tell them "I just want you to be happy." I know parents mean well, but it can create an unrealistic impression for a lot of us and a source of shame. It means that if we don't feel happy, then we feel shame because that's all anyone has ever wanted for us, and yet we can't achieve it still. We become failures.