Feeling of Contentment

In the last post we looked at satisfying our desires. We noticed as soon as one desire had been satisfied the contentment resulting from satisfying that desire did not last very long, soon another desire appeared which also needed to be satisfied otherwise we risk being unhappy and discontented. We found ourselves in a vicious cycle of desiring and satisfying the desires because our need for desire never ends. In a way more we satisfy them the more hungry we get for more. We spend a lifetime trying to satisfy all our desires and in the end we die without experiencing real happiness and being content. I witness this all the time in patients with terminal illness. Very few people are content at the end of their life. In this post I hope to explore the sources of this elusive contentment.

In the previous posts I also looked at how we react when we feel threatened. How we are wired to deal with treat and desire has evolutionary benefits. We would not be here as a human species without these systems. They help us to satisfy our basic needs. We humans, however, have the potential for much, much more than just having our basic needs satisfy. We have the ability to be happy, lovingly compassionate and content.  We do this by our ‘emotion regulation system’ that helps to balance the other two systems, of threat and desire, and it’s a major source of our feelings of well-being and connectedness. This system uses natural chemicals in our brains called endorphins and opiates; that enables us to have a sense of well-being and being at peace.

The question is how do we enhance this system in our brains? The answer seems to lie in the certain type of exercises and trying to adopt a certain lifestyle.


We will look at the exercises and the life style in the future posts but for now lets look at how we feel safe by creating positive feeling in the minds of others. Most people have had the experience of feeling soothed and content, safe and at peace when they feel valued, cared for and cared about. We spend a lot of our time thinking about other people’s feeling towards us and trying to earn other people’s approval, appreciation and respect and be accepted in our group. We want to be valued, seem desirable, helpful, talented and able. Paul Gilbert writes


If you can create these sorts of feelings in the minds of others, three things will happen. First, the world will be safe and you will know that these people won’t attack or reject you because they value you. Second, with them you’ll be able to create meaningful roles for mutual support, sexual relationship and / or sharing. And third, receiving signals from others that they value and care for you will have direct effects on your body and on your soothing/ contentment.


Given that this kind of behavior towards us by others makes us feel good, and given that other people have the same needs as us, then doesn’t it make sense that compassion and kindness should be at the centre of our relationships and engagement with the world? In this way we improve our quality of our thoughts in our consciousness. The thought would no longer be fear based but rather be based on trust, caring and being valued. Paul Gilbert writes…

When our brains are in a caring mentality pattern, this brings on-line certain feelings and ways of thinking and certain behaviour e.g. concern and kindness for others and working for their welfare. However, it’s a brain pattern and so the feelings and behavior it supports and encourages can be lost when either the incentive/ resource-seeking system or the treat/self –protection system becomes dominant and regulates feeling and thinking. By learning compassion, we learn how to activate a particular state of mind and brain pattern in us associated with caring and nurturing that have soothing qualities. We can learn certain exercises that will stimulate this system, a kind of physiotherapy for the mind.


The compassionate Mind by Paul Gilbert

How can a same act be both cruel and virtuous?

If we belong to or identify with a group, than we will regard that group to be the ‘in group’, anyone outside this group will be the ‘out group’  and therefore they become the ‘not us’ or ‘them’. This orientation will trigger our tribal behavior and we will become extraordinarily contemptuous of, cruel towards, and paranoid about ‘not us.’  Because we know that other groups can be hateful and as paranoid as we can be, we fear them; and so continue the cycle of hate and paranoia. In certain context, we may even attribute cruelty as a virtue. Around the time of 911 crisis for example we may remember certain cruel acts on both sides were not uncommonly reported in the media, depending on which group you were in, it was either interpreted as an act of cowardice or heroism; same cruel act but interpreted as a virtue by one group and cruelty by another. This kind of behavior has been a source of great suffering for thousands of years.

Why does this kind of behavior continue? One answer is that we derive our self-identity from the group to which we belong and adopt its values. The group then orients us to compare ourselves to others; and as we get comfortable with the idea of belonging and being accepted by our group, we seek to have our contribution valued, wanting validation that our existence matters to the group. A sense of belonging is important to feeling of well-being and feeling safe. It is the sense of belonging that keeps us in the mode of the ‘in group’ and noticing the differences in the ‘out group’. This is a tribal behavior and it is this that keeps us from being compassionate to other groups and will keeps the suffering to continue unless we change our tribal thinking.


The Compassionate Mind  by Paul Gilbert


Sense of Self (Me) and We.

If one decide to become part of “we” it doesn’t mean they should lose sense of “me” ; if “me” does gets lost there is a serious problem knowing and developing the sense of self.

In relationships we share patterns of energy with one another which pass through our neural circuits, these patterns of energy carry meaning and information. If this energy and information is not transmitted properly there are serious consequences for knowing the self and being part of the we.

For example, if  the past experience of relationship connections were unreliable, it will prevent us from knowing ourselves and will cause difficulty relating to others as “we.” So as not to risk being hurt again by similar experiences to the past ones, we will shut parts of ourselves off . This may result in us living life of isolation and creating sense of independence which will allow us to survive but it will limit our sense of vitality that we are able to feel as part of we. We may also find that our sense of self to be in an overwhelming upheaval if our experience of past connections with those we depended for comfort  were inconsistent, un-welcomed and intrusive. In this situation we may find ourselves with disabling doubt , anxiety and fear when ever we allow ourselves to become dependent on our loved one for support, caring  and well-being. We may continue to look for a perfect partner but never finding one. We may become highly reactive to ambiguous communication that may fill our daily lives with dread and uncertainty. These experiences prevent us from growing and knowing ourself as a person; they keeps us from being “me.” They also constrain our present experiences and limits us from constructing more helpful future. We have to grow beyond these past memory patterns and move towards integrated state of thriving as both a strong “me” and a vitalizing “we.”

Daniel J. Siegel in his book Pocket Guide to Interpersonal Neurobiology mentions studies of empathy and reports…

…” individuals who are shown a photograph of a gruesome accident can be overwhelmed in their response and shut down their capacity to help if they ask the question: What if that were me? How would I feel? Instead , if they ask the question, ” How does that person feel?” they are more likely to have the internal resources to extend themselves and help other. The gist of these finding is that if we fuse together you and me, “I” will become lost and overwhelmed. We will become confused, fused – with. Joining is not the same as fusion.”

Various mindful awareness practices are direct way to increase the capacity to become a part of a we without becoming lost as me. ( in the future posts I will say more about these practices.)


Daniel J. Siegel :  Pocket Guide to Interpersonal Neurobiology

Searching for “medical truth” on the Internet.

I use the Internet to look up information almost daily because the new information that gets added to the medical field everyday is staggering. What I had learned in the medical school no longer apply today because about 90% of the information has been replaced by new discoveries and new paradigms.  I remember the dean of medical school telling us in his welcome address to us on our first day of medical school that we will have to continue leaning for the rest of our medical career because what you learn in medical school will be mostly replaced within ten years with new information; and it will continue to be replaced about every ten years.

Searching for the medical information on the Internet can be tricky for someone without medical training. When I look up information on the Internet it is usually to add new information to my existing medical knowledge base and understanding. But a person without a medical background just accrues mere facts. The facts are fine but they do not provide any understanding as to how they are to be interpreted or applied in a given context of a medical condition or situation.

Over the years with the availability of internet and the gradual adoption of the postmodern skepticism view, I have seen more and more people believing less and less to an authority and objectivity; which translated, really means that people don’t trust objective truth. In which case they are inclined not to believe individual who are experts or are specially trained in a particular field. People tend to believe those who are ‘authentic’ or ‘candid’ and state their biases. But that is not enough to get a hold on truth, to see the situation “as it is “ one needs more.

Someone who is an authority on a subject is not alone on holding those truths, he/she has a history of communal trek which span over many centuries and over many different terrains during which sphere of knowledge has been accumulated on firm footing. The folk lure and popular opinion have been weeded out by making scrupulous, disinterested observations and by executing careful, transparent experiments. These truths are never final, in future times it is possible that the truth we hold today may be falsified with further new evidence. This is what separates knowledge from opinion or folklore; knowledge can be corrected and new insights can be added to the sphere of knowledge. Experts in their fields know how to evaluate the truth from competing false charismatic claims; she/he is unlikely to make decisions that may be based on false information, thus avoiding decisions that are irrational, prejudiced, or those that are susceptible to propaganda.

Most people (though less than before) afford special privilege to the professionals because they ask and expect them to render complex, disinterested judgments under conditions of uncertainty; and this is how it should be. We should not be so naïve as to believe that most individuals can become their own best doctors by surfing the Internet and getting the facts. Much more is need to make good medical decisions about the diagnosis and the treatment options.

The Internet has its usefulness for sure; it is a source of information that has never been available to so many and so easily in the history of humankind. People can communicate and publicize that which is not right with the world. They can criticize the experts or the public leaders. This is all good for democracy. But it can also be used as a propaganda tool. It has never been so critical in the history of humans to be able to evaluate information appropriately so that it’s not misleading. Humankind it seems has solved the problem of disseminating information to everyone who cares to know but we still have long ways to go with understanding and wisdom.

Howard Gardner in his book “ Truth, Beauty, and Goodness Reframed” writes…

But the proliferation of sources on the web may well usher in new situation: in the future we can expect more knowledge, better questions, and refusal to accept authority, let alone stand in awe, just because a credentialing agency has placed a new additional letters before or after the professional’s given name.”

It is hard to be certain what the future will look like with new changes, attitudes and expectations. I am hopeful that future will afford constructive conversations between individuals, families, groups, and the community at large; and should disputes arise they are settled with knowledge with firm basis.


“ Truth, Beauty and Goodness Reframed”  by Howard Gardner

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