Wind is a funny thing. It is all around us and we know it is there from what it does. From how it rustles the leaves on a tree, how it feels against our cheeks, to even the destruction it causes through a storm. However, we never know where it comes from. Sure, we can point at the general direction, but we cannot pinpoint exactly what caused the wind and where it started.
Sometimes in life, a similar thing happens to our hearts as well. Sometimes we are smitten with a feeling or emotion. It may be a warm, breezy sensation that makes you feel happy, or it may be a whirlwind that makes you fall head over heels and feel absolutely helpless in the face of it. More often than not, we cannot find the exact reason or source for this. Even worse, sometimes we figure it out, but far too late.
Like the wind, you may never be able to find where those feelings are coming from, no matter how far you travel. But regardless, perhaps it’s not such a foolish thing to follow the wind. You may not find where it’s blowing from, but at least it will feel nice and keep you cool.
There is a Persian poem that tells the story of a powerful king who ruled the Persian Empire. One day, he assembled a group of wise men and charged them with a task: make a ring that will make him happy when he is sad and make him sad when he is happy. The wise men were puzzled – was the king asking for some magic ring capable of changing his mood? After much pondering and deliberation, they came up with a solution. The wise men presented the king with a simple ring, with its only remarkable feature being words etched on the outside. Words that the king could read whenever he was tearful or joyful. The king read the words and was pleased. It said: “This too shall pass”.
A tiny wound like a paper cut or pin prick takes about one week to heal. A cut from a sharp object like a knife takes 2~4 weeks to heal. Broken bones take 6 weeks to heal. Even after a heart attack (myocardial infarction), with proper medical care and rehabilitation you will return to living a relatively normal life 3~4 months later (assuming you survive). But there is no concrete figure of how long it takes to heal the aches of a broken heart.
The time it takes to get over a broken heart is extremely variable from person to person, case by case. Even so, ultimately the wound will heal and you will be able to move on with your life. Sure, the healing process will leave a scar that may cause you to wince every now and then, but you will come to accept and become okay with things. People do all sorts of things to hasten this process, from harmless things such as demolishing a tub of ice cream to acts such as rebounding or walking down a self-destructive path. But there is nothing that will heal a broken heart like the best medicine – time.
Time has an incredible effect on the body, mind and heart. It is like fertiliser for good memories, letting it bloom and flourish over time, while acting as pesticide for bad memories, slowly weeding them out until it is out of sight. So if you are in pain from a wound – physical or emotional – let time do its job and work its healing magic. And remember that just like a cut, poking at the wound in your heart will only delay the healing process. While time does all that, all you have to do is survive.
The spleen is one of the lesser known organs of the human body. If you asked the lay person, they would not know what the spleen does, let alone where it is. The spleen is a solid organ that lies in the left upper corner of the abdomen, tucked under the left diaphragm (opposite to the liver which lies under the right diaphragm). Its functions are mainly related to blood, such as removing old red blood cells (sequestration), storing platelets in case there is an emergency bleeding, making antibodies and releasing lymphocytes (type of white blood cell) to help fight infection and in times of need, creating red blood cells. Red blood cells are usually made in bone marrow in adults, but if the bone marrow fails (e.g. leukaemia), the spleen and liver can step in to create vital blood components (extramedullary haematopoiesis).
As most of the functions of the spleen are not technically necessary to sustain life, it can be removed without significant consequences. The spleen is sometimes removed when a patient has severe thrombocytopaenia (lack of platelets) or when the spleen is damaged by trauma. Because it is a solid organ, trauma to it such as a kick to the stomach can cause it to rupture (i.e. break in to pieces). Splenic rupture can cause life-threatening haemorrhage (bleeding) and may not be evident in trauma cases. A person without a spleen needs regular check-ups and immunisations to help fight infections as they have a weakened immune system.
The role of the spleen was a mystery for thousands of years and thus various cultures tried to explain various medical phenomena using the spleen. The ancient Greeks thought the spleen produced black bile, which was associated with melancholy. The spleen was also associated to anger by the English and laughter by the Talmud.
Have you ever had a day (or in some people’s cases, their whole life) where you cannot help but think that everyone is judging you because your hair just does not look right? Almost everyone has at least one “bad hair day”, when they feel self-conscious about their appearance and how others in society perceive them. Depending on the person’s general confidence level and self-esteem, the effect of a bad hair day can range from being harmless to completely ruining someone’s mood.
A psychologist named Professor Marianne LaFrance at Yale University decided to study how physical appearance affects people’s feelings. She separated 120 volunteers into three groups. Group 1 was asked to recall a bad hair day, group 2 was told nothing (control group) and group 3 was asked to recall a day in which they had difficulty opening a package (bad experience unrelated to appearance). She then measured the change in mood among the participants to see how the memory of a bad hair day could affect mood and self-esteem. To no surprise, the results showed that those who recalled a bad hair day suffered from much lower self-esteem and mood. Group 1 felt less smart and confident compared to the other groups and felt “embarrassed” in general.
The reason for the drop in self-esteem is that we are socially educated to feel that we are judged on our appearance. We have an inherent belief that an untidy appearance will mean that others will judge us as being unorganised, unprofessional and not trustworthy. This applies to anything that might potentially affect our image, such as an embarrassing moment or an unsightly accident. We become fixated on this idea and shine a “social spotlight” on ourselves, thinking that any embarrassing moment for us will be instantly judged by those around us. In psychology, this is known as the spotlight effect and it can be quite a powerful effect.
But here is the kicker: nobody cares. We have a psychological tendency to overreact to such situations where a spotlight might be turned on us, when in truth, others do not notice it as much as we think they do. There have been many experiments (mostly involving university students) where surveys showed that fellow students barely paid attention to or had little recollection of another student’s embarrassing moments or dishevelled appearances. Although it may have been the most embarrassing moment in the person’s life, to other people, it is at best a comedic happening that fades away in their memories.
So the next time you feel that others are judging you and you feel the blinding spotlight on you, just remember: the greatest, and only important judge of your character, is yourself.
Have you ever had a moment of pure passion, where you are so immersed in what you are doing that everything around you does not matter and you are in a state of total bliss? In that moment, you feel fully alive, present and completely engaged with what you are doing. When the happiness and creativity expert Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi was studying how painters work, he noticed an odd thing. When their painting was going well, they did not care about getting tired, hungry or uncomfortable. They just carried on. But when the painting was finished, they rapidly lost interest in it.
Csíkszentmihályi described this state of mind as a flow state: the experience of being fully engaged with what you are currently doing. When in a flow state, an hour can pass in the blink of an eye, action and awareness merges and the experience is intrinsically rewarding. You feel that what you are doing is important, in full control and not self-conscious. Flow state does not just involve ultimate concentration. It is a complex state of mind where you are solely driven by focused motivation, operating at your peak level of mental and emotional engagement. Essentially, your mind uses 100% of its capacity for the task at hand, rather than wondering what is for dinner or peeking at the beautiful girl across the road. Because of this, a person in flow state not only works with great efficiency and creativity, but they also feel positive, energised and happy. In fact, the intense spontaneous joy brought on by flow state can almost be considered the mental equivalent of an orgasm.
So how can you achieve flow state? Flow state is not something that one chooses to go into. It is only attained when certain criteria are met.
Flow state can happen with any activity, but it is more likely to occur if you are internally motivated (i.e. you are doing the activity mainly for its own sake).
You should have clear short-term goals for what you are trying to achieve. This adds direction and structure to the task.
An important aspect of flow is that the activity must be challenging enough to stretch your skills almost to the limits, but not more. If it is not challenging enough, you will get bored. If it demands more skill than what you are capable of, you will become anxious. That being said, the balance only has to be between “perceived” challenge and skill. In other words, all you need is confidence that you can take on the challenge.
The activity should provide immediate feedback on how you are doing (e.g. seeing how a painting is turning out, hearing yourself sing). This allows you to adjust your performance in order to maintain flow state.
Flow is an incredibly useful thing. Through flow, you can forget about your worries and your strife, reach a state of pure happiness and inner peace and produce something truly great. The key to happiness is knowing what allows you to reach flow state and routinely entering flow state. For example, I know that the three things that give me flow are: music, humour and obsessions. Ergo, I play my guitar and sing, watch television shows that make me laugh and write an entry for the Encyclopaedia of Absolute and Relative Knowledge every day. All of these activities allow me to be truly happy, no matter what the situation may be.
Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross was a psychiatrist who was greatly interested in the field of death and dying. She believed that medical students and doctors should be aware of how important the topic was. One of her major contributions to the field of medicine was a theory inspired by her work with terminally ill patients. Dr. Kübler-Ross discovered that patients who were given bad news often reacted in a rather predictable pattern of five “stages”. She also found that these theoretical stages of coping with dying also applied to other grieving processes, such as a child going through a divorce or grieving a break-up. It is important to note that these stages are not absolutely complete or chronological, but only a general theory of how people react to grief.
Denial: A person’s initial response to any bad news or trauma is usually denial. Denial is a hardwired defence mechanism of the brain to protect the mind from trauma. However, it may hinder the process of coping, with some people being perpetually stuck in this stage while never fully coping with their grief. An example thought during this stage is “This can’t be happening to me”.
Anger: Once the person overcomes their denial and recognises reality, they respond with anger. This is an externalisation response where the mind tries to deal with the bad news by lashing out. It can be seen as the mind’s response to the confusion that arises from receiving the bad news, which may be caused by cognitive dissonance arising from the conflict between denial and reality. Because people at this stage often lash out with rage and verbal abuse (sometimes even physical), they may be difficult to deal with. Thus, it is important to recognise that this is a natural response to grief and try to support them even though they are acting abusive. An example thought during this stage is “It’s unfair that this is happening to me”.
Bargaining: When the anger settles down, a person attempts to deal with the grief with logic instead of emotions. They will try to negotiate with a higher power to delay their death, such as through praying. This stage shows how desperate and vulnerable the person is while trying to deal with the bad news. They will try to do anything to make the grief go away, or at least reduce it. However, this stage rarely produces any viable solutions. An example thought during this stage is “If I can have a few more years, I will do anything”.
Depression: With both emotions and logic failing to protect them from the grief, the person will fall into a state of depression. Hope is lost and the person understands that resistance is futile (an example of learned helplessness). By this stage, the person has become quiet and withdrawn, often detaching themselves from family and friends. Ironically, trying to cheer a person up during this stage is ill-advised. It is more beneficial if the person can pull through the depression and process it to make it to the last stage of grief. An example thought during this stage is “Why bother, I’m going to die anyway”.
Acceptance: The last stage of grief is not only accepting that death is unavoidable, but also recognising that there is still time before that. The person reaches a state of clarity and comes to term with the grief, achieving some inner peace. The time taken to reach this state varies and some people may never reach it at all. It is also important to note that just because the person receiving the bad news has accepted it, others around them may not have processed the grief. An example thought during this stage is “Everything is going to be okay”.
During the 1950’s when the field of neuroscience was making many research breakthroughs, a fascinating fact was discovered. Scientists had located the specific part of the brain responsible for feeling pleasure. In 1954, two Canadian neuroscientists named James Olds and Peter Milner were undertaking research to find the association between electrical stimulation of the brain and sensation in rodents. During their research, they found that if they stimulated a certain part of the brain, the rats would interpret the signal as pleasure. Based on this, they inserted electrodes into the rats’ limbic system (the part responsible for emotions) and connected it to a lever in the cage. Thus, they had devised a device that allowed the rat to feel pleasure by stimulating its own brain with the press of a lever. The results were astounding. The rat furiously pumped at the lever, forgetting to eat or sleep, until it ultimately died of exhaustion (over 26 hours, the rat pressed the lever 50,000 times).
Pleasure is not the same as happiness. Happiness awards us with satisfaction and contentment, but pleasure only brings greed, obsession and addiction. Pleasure was originally a mechanism devised to reward behaviour that aided survival (such as mating and eating), but addictive things like alcohol, smoking and drugs ruin your life and any chance at happiness instead of helping you survive.
The foolish run around to seek temporary pleasure while the wise seek permanent happiness.
There is a German word called weltschmerz, which translates into “world pain” or “weariness against the world”. This word describes sad emotions felt after realising that the material world cannot satisfy the mind and that the ideal, hypothetic utopia in your mind cannot exist. It also describes the sadness felt after realising that your weaknesses arose from physical and social conditions of the world. Weltschmerz was widely used by poets such as Lord Byron, mainly as a way of viewing the world. It is a very pessimistic view of the world that often leads to or associated with depression, resignation and escapism. In severe cases it may lead to mental disorders such as hikikomori (a social disorder where the person does not and cannot leave their room due to fear and disgust of the world, also known as agoraphobia).