The Origins of Pleasure

“I adore simple pleasures. They are the last refuge of the complex.”

– Oscar Wilde

Pleasure and pain, two sides of the same coin many would argue. In the last talk in the series Understanding Happiness on iTunes U, Yale Psychology Professor Paul Bloom explores the origins of pleasure and it’s impact on our happiness. In this interesting TED talk, Professor Bloom explains that human beings are Essentialists.

People are natural born essentialists. We don’t just respond to things as we see them, or feel them or hear them, rather our response is conditioned on our beliefs of what they really are, where they came from, what they are made of, what their hidden nature is . . . not just how we think about things, but how we react to things.

Bloom gives some fascinating examples of people’s experience of an item and how their brain actually responds (as seen through an fMRI) when they think an item is authentic (expensive) or a fake (inexpensive) – such as wine, art, etc.  The brain reacts very differently when given different information, even if the item itself is exactly the same (same wine – either poured from a box or from an expensive bottle, for example.)

I had a somewhat similar experience to this last night.  My dear friend Victoria lent me a dvd by the comic, Tim Minchin. At first, I thought I had an idea of who this comic was, I had created a whole persona. His looks confirmed my thought and I didn’t like him too much in the beginning, and I thought he looked weird.  However, by the end of the dvd I thought he was brilliant!  And as such, I saw him differently, I thought he was better looking and my whole response to him was different.  I have no idea if this is really along the lines of what Paul Bloom is describing, as I wasn’t under an fMRI at the time.  However, it works for me.

Bloom’s talk is interesting and thought provoking.  But now, can I actually say I Understand Happiness any better than when I embarked on this iTunes U course.  Well no, not necessarily.  But it’s been a really interesting, educational and fun ride!



I hope you enjoy Paul Bloom’s TED talk at iTunes U, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on pleasure and pain.

And as always thank you for taking the time to visit, I appreciate it.





Bliss and . . .spaghetti sauce?

Life is a combination of magic and pasta.”

Federico Fellini

Bliss!  My husband Jeff and I just spent our wedding anniversary at a glorious  Mineral Spring Spa here in the Coromandel Peninsula called The Lost Spring.  It is beautiful and luxurious. We spent 3 hours soaking in the relaxing natural springs, then got a heavenly massage, then went back in and soaked some more. We ended the day with a wonderful meal in the restaurant on site.  (Jeff had a really tasty dish of succulent garlic prawns on spaghetti) . . . now transition back to my series of posts on iTunes U . . . According to Author Malcolm Gladwell, we can learn a lot about happiness by looking at spaghetti sauce.  The 6th talk in the iTunes Course Understanding Happiness is an entertaining and somewhat whimsical exploration by Gladwell into choice, happiness and spaghetti sauce.  (Ironically, he almost seems to contradict the 4th speaker in the series, Barry Schwartz who explained that in fact choice did not lead to happiness, but instead tended to make us unhappy.)  However Gladwell believes that more choices which reflect differences in people, is an important key to happiness:

“By embracing the diversity of human beings, we will find a surer way to true happiness.”

So, tying back to my day at the spa . . . it was a magical day!  Which in turn brings me back to Fellini – life is about magic and pasta!  It all comes together in the end.



Please let me know your thoughts Malcolm Gladwell’s TED talk at iTunes U, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on choice and its impact on your happiness . . . or even your experience at a day spa!

And as always thank you for taking the time to visit, I appreciate it.




Why are we happy?

“Tis nothing good or bad

But thinking makes it so.”

– William Shakespeare

In the fifth class of the iTunes U course Understanding Happiness, Harvard Professor and author of Stumbing on Happiness, Daniel Gilbert, dissects the question: Why Are We Happy. This TED talk is wonderful!  Daniel Gilbert is entertaining and excellent at explaining how the brain makes us happy.  As the brain evolved, it gained new structure, namely the frontal lobe and specifically the prefrontal cortex, and this new structure enables us to sythesize happiness. That’s right, happiness can be synthesized:  this means we can create  something by artificial means – in other words we make it up!  Fascinating!  In example after example, and experiment after experiment, Gilbert shows us scientifically how we synthesize our happiness.

“Natural Happiness is what we get when we get what we wanted.  Synthetic Happiness is what we make when we don’t get what we wanted. Synthetic Happiness is every bit as real and enduring as Natural Happiness!”

So Shakespeare’s words are more true than ever – thinking makes it so. Oprah implores us to Choose Happiness!  And with this latest research, it’s proven, we can.  I’m not saying it’s always easy, just that it is possible.

Please take the time to watch this informative and entertaining video, I think you’ll be glad you did.


Please let me know what you thought of Daniel Gilbert’s TED talk at iTunes U, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on why you are happy.

And as always thank you for taking the time to visit, I appreciate it.






Still Trying to Understand Happiness . . .

“I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I’m going to be happy in it.”

– Groucho Marx

I’m still trying to Understand Happiness through iTunes U.  In previous posts I discussed classes 1, 2 and 3 in the iTunes U course Understanding Happiness.  In the 4th class, psychologist and professor Barry Schwartz discusses The Paradox of Choice and it’s effect on happiness. His talk is interesting and entertaining and somewhat disconcerting.  His premise is that:

Adding options to people’s lives can’t help but increase the expectations that people have about how good those options can be –  and what that is going to produce is less satisfaction with results even when they are good results . . . the secret to happiness is Low Expectations!

This is an interesting thesis certainly creates debate, but is it true?  Professor Schwartz’ talk certainly has validity.  And when I think back to talks I’ve had with friends about shopping and dissatisfaction, I can’t help but think the man has a point. Schwartz explains why choice makes people miserable:

  1. Regret and anticipated regret
  2. Opportunity costs
  3. Escalation of expectation
  4. Self-blame

We are always wondering if we could do better.

A thought provoking and often funny video presentation:



Please let me know your thoughts Barry Schwartz’ TED talk at iTunes U, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on choice and its impact on your happiness.

And as always thank you for taking the time to visit, I appreciate it.




Understanding Happiness – Love and Happiness

“Love consists of overestimating the differences between one woman and another.”

– George Bernard Shaw

In my previous post, I talked about the second talk in Understanding Happiness, a wonderful course offered on iTunes U. That course was by the “father” of Positive Psychology, Martin Seligman.   The first talk was the one I discussed in Paying Attention to Happiness, in which Nancy Etcoff explores the Surprising Science of Happiness.

In the third talk, Dr. Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist, tells us why we love and cheat and it’s relationship to happiness.  Facinating!  A great talk on love, happiness and the brain. This was kind of timely for me in that it mirrored a conversation my husband, Jeff and I had sitting in bed this morning.  He is possibly taking a job in Borneo for a year, and could be leaving as soon as next month. Well even after 23 years of happy marriage, sigh, I still do feel some jealousy.  And the thought of him away for a year feels, well disconcerting.  Of course I’ll miss him, and practically speaking, I’ll miss the stuff he does around here.  But there is also that little painful piece of fear that he’ll find some gorgeous woman there and have passionate sex! Sigh, I wish I could say I was much more mature and secure than all that , but there it is.  I found this talk by Dr. Fisher both entertaining and informative. And I have to agree with one of the women who commented on the video:

This talk is comforting and disconcerting all at once.

Please let me know your thoughts Helen Fisher’s TED talk at iTunes U, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on love and cheating.

And as always thank you for taking the time to visit, I appreciate it.

Understanding Happiness

“Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.”

– Aristotle

In my post Lifelong Learning, I introduced a wonderful course offered on iTunes U called Understanding Happiness.  This course is actually a compilation of 7 different TED talks.  The first talk was the one I discussed in my previous post, Paying Attention to Happiness, in which Nancy Etcoff explores the Surprising Science of Happiness.

The second talk in this course is by the “father” of Positive Psychology, Martin Seligman.  His talk, On Positive Psychology, is informative and engaging and very well worth the 20 minutes of time for anyone even slightly interested in this field.  He gives the history, the science and the reasoning behind the field.   He points out three key points.  Positive Psychology is:

  • As concerned with strengths as it is with weaknesses
  • As interested in building the best as in repairing the worst
  • As concerned with making the lives of normal people fulfilling and nurtuiring talent as with healing
Note, it does not say “just be happy.”  It does not say that it is not concerned with healing, just that it is just as concerned with nurturing the positive as it is with healing; it does not say ignore one’s weaknesses, it is just also concerned with finding strengths.  As I suggested in Moving Toward Authentic Self
In order to make changes in the present and not stay stuck, we have to look at the past and understand what led us to our current situation. We need to work through and move through our feelings of pain and loss in order to move on. Please understand I am absolutely and positively a believer in Positive Psychology and finding happiness.  But it must be Authentic Happiness.  And in my opinion Authentic Happiness can only be obtained when we have done our work and touched our Authentic Self.
For those of you interested in learning more and even taking a free test to assess your own level of Authentic Happiness, you can go to Authentic Happiness.
So for those of you that believe that Positive Psychology is the science of  just be happy and get on with it, I hope you will take the time to listen to Dr. Seligman’s informative and interesting talk linked below.  It goes a long way in helping us in Understanding Happiness.

Please let me know your thoughts Martin Seligman’s TED talk at iTunes U, and I’d love to hear about what you think about Positive Psychology.

And as always thank you for taking the time to visit, I appreciate it.

Paying Attention to Happiness

“It’s so hard to forget pain, but it’s even harder to remember sweetness. We have no scar to show for happiness. We learn so little from peace.”

–  Chuck Palahniuk

Hard to remember happiness . . . and hard to pay attention to happiness even when it is happening.  As I learned on iTunes U,  we are hard wired for happiness, we search for it everywhere as Cognitive researcher Nancy Etcoff discusses. So why is it so hard to remember happiness and to be present for happiness as it occurs?

Etcoff tells us that research shows that we are happiest when we are “in flow” (absorbed in what we are doing) and when we are with other people, actively engaged (with loved ones; having sex with a partner; participating in a team activity.)

Through participation in an academic study, I have personally experienced Etcoff’s findings to be true.  I’m participating in a study at University of Canterbury, NZ in which the researcher checks in several times a day to find out what people are doing at that moment, with whom they are doing it and measuring how “pleasurable, meaningful, engaging the activity is and how happy the person is at that moment.  I got involved because I’m a member of NZ Association of Positive Psychology and I saw the researcher Carsten Grimm was looking for participants for his well-being study.  I’m doing it not only because I like to help out in the research of Positive Psych, but also because I relished the idea of someone checking in on me and my happiness.  What a wonderful reminder to be present and to pay attention!  Several times a day I am asked if I am truly engaged in whatever activity I am doing and if I am aware of my level of happiness.  What a gift!



Please let me know your thoughts Nancy Etcoff’s TED talk at iTunes U, and I’d love to hear about how you pay attention to happiness.

And as always thank you for taking the time to visit, I appreciate it.






Lifelong Learning!

“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”

– Benjamin Franklin

WOW!  I am so excited!  My son Lukas just introduced me to iTunes U.  Have any of you had the opportunity to explore iTunes U?  It is absolutely amazing – such an awesome free resource! For a tutorial go to

So much knowledge and information at iTunes U.  There are lectures and talks on absolutely every subject from most Universities in the US, and a few from Europe and the rest of the world.  I found an exciting series of lectures in  Psychology called: Understanding Happiness. There are mind boggling lectures in Science on subjects like Quantum Physics and String Theory. The basics are also offiered – like Intro to Psychology or Intro to Philosophy from Standford or Berkeley.  One of my favorite lectures that I’ve watched on iTunes U is:  On Death by Professor Shelley Kagan at Yale. Professor Kagan’s course has lectures, slides, and lecture notes – it’s an entire course!  And it’s free!

Some of the lectures are available on YouTube (such as the the Intro to Death by Professor Kagan that I include here)  Some of the talks are TED talks and available on TED. But many others are only available on iTunes U, full university courses.  There are no excuses now to say that we cannot continue to learn through our lifetime.  The only problem that I have found is that there are just not enough hours in a day to explore all the topics available on iTunes U!

Please let me know your thoughts Professor Kagan’s course On Death, and I’d love to hear about any course at iTunes U that you have experienced.

And as always thank you for taking the time to visit, I appreciate it.