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

Quick Strategies of the Past no Longer Work in Modern Times.

I remember being sixteen and my first girlfriend. Whenever I could not contact her I would be full of fear that she had left me for some other boy who is smarter, charming and better looking. I would slip into a state of sadness until she reassured me that I was the one who was smarter, charming and good-looking; that she was head over heal crazy about me.

I would feel silly for thinking the worst possible reasons for my inability to reach her. I would be very hard on myself for thinking such thought. It is only now I can be compassionate towards myself because I know that I had little control over those thought and emotions. Here’s why.

Our brains over millions of years have been designed to over-estimate the dangers, this had a survival value. If you were in a lion country and you heard a noise you are more likely to think there is a lion and run away. If you stayed around to make sure it was a lion you may not survive to tell it was a lion.  Our brains were not designed to be accurate when there is a threatening situation; to survive you had to make assumptions rapidly, not caring very much if it’s wrong. It is far better to run thinking it’s a lion even if you are wrong nine times out of ten. This ‘jumping to conclusions’ and assuming the worst has actually saved many of our ancestors’ lives.


The point is that our threat / self – protection system has been designed along fairly simple lines to detect threats and protect us. These systems still gets triggered but we are not able to respond like our ancestors did by running away.  With our ‘ new minds’, our capacity for thinking, reflecting and rumination our desires for self-preservation and to impress and influence others, does not allow us to respond in a simplistic manner. We may even end up hating the feeling that the situation generates inside us-which usually makes things worse. So again we need to train our brains carefully and compassionately to offset this tendency. It is not our fault that our primitive impulse tries to find a quick solution to a complex situation.

In the future post we will look into how we may guide ourselves by understanding  these primitive impulses.


The Compassionate Mind  by Paul Gilbert



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How to cope with anxiety without drugs- part 5 -Think Realistically.

Our mood and feelings about a particular situation are largely determined by what we think. If for example you are stuck in a traffic you can either say to ourself I am going to be stuck here all evening and start worrying about how you will never get all the things you need to get done before tomorrow or you can accept that you are going to be stuck there for a while and take this time to relax before you have to tackle the tasks you planned for the evening. It is the same situation but depending on how you viewed the situation the mood to do the tasks when you get home will be totally different. On the one you could arrive home all anxious and stressed out or you may come home relaxed and ready to tackle the jobs you had lined up for yourself.

Here we are going to look at how our distorted thinking can spark anxiety in us and learn how to  recognize the distorted thinking and replace it with more realistic thinking. Anxiety prone people are quite often engaged in fearful self talk. When they face any perceived difficulty they immediately start thinking “what if  such and such happens?”; what if I panic, then people will laugh at me or what if I am awkward and embarrass myself, that would be horrible etc. Just noticing when you fall into “what if” thinking pattern is the first step towards gaining control over it. But the real benefit come when you start countering the negative – what if thinking – with more positive thoughts which are supportive and reinforce your ability to cope;  such statements as “so what “- “these are just thoughts” or ” this is just a scare talk”.

Type of distorted Patterns of Thoughts which provoke anxiety:

Catastrophizing thinking is when one imagines that some disaster is imminent, and this is based on very little convincing evidence; for example, if cough goes on for more the two weeks then I have a lung cancer, or if I am tired it must mean I have a cancer, or on an exam paper one question was left unanswered means I am going to fail badly or pain with urination means I have sexual transmitted disease etc. Here the bad stuff is over estimated and the your coping ability is under estimated. What are the odds that if you are tired it means you have a cancer. There are lot more other plausible reasons why you maybe tired, not sleeping well, not eating healthy, viral illness, diabetes, hypothyroidism etc. To correct this kind of thinking you have to first identify the distorted thinking, then ask what is the possibility of it being true, almost certainly it going to be very low, then replace it with more realistic thoughts.

Filtering is when you focus on the negative features of the situation and ignoring all the positive ones; for example you do a presentation on the latest product your company has developed and you get a feed back what was good about the presentation and how you can improve it by making minor changes. You just focus on the negatives and decide the presentation wasn’t any good. To counter this kind of thinking one has to stop this pattern of thinking, which is usually habitual and focus instead on the solution to the problem. Stop seeing the glass half empty but focus on the glass being half full.

Polarized Thinking is when things are either black or white ,good or bad, you are perfect or you are a failure – there is no middle ground. You have to stop making black or white judgement, think in term of percentages if you like;  65% good and 45 % bad.

Overgeneralization is an exaggeration. Counter it by quantifying it instead of using words like huge, awful, massive  or minuscule; for example instead of saying massive debt , you could say I owe $24000.

Mind Reading is when you assume what the other person is thinking without actually checking it out with them; you might think your friend didn’t smile at you because he or she is mad with you when in actual fact your friend is having a bad abdominal cramps from eating something that didn’t agree with him or her. You have to counter it by checking it out with the party involve or regarded your assumption as a hypothesis until further confirmation or refutation is available.

Magnifying is another form of exaggeration, where degree or intensity of the problem is overinflated; like minor criticism become scathing criticism, minor obstacles become overwhelming barriers etc. However , your ability to cope with the problem is minimized.This pattern creates a feeling of doom and pessimism which give rise to anxiety. You can counter this kind of thinking by convincing yourself or saying to yourself that ” I can cope” and “I can survive this”

Personalization thinking is when you frequently compare yourself with others, trying to determine who is smarter, more competent, better looking  and so on. You view your own worth as dependent on how you measure up to others. Then you become anxious worrying whether you can actually do measure up to others. You have to catch yourself comparing yourself to others and remind yourself that everyone has strong and weak points. By matching your weak points to someones strong points would be very demoralizing and anxiety provoking.

“Shoulds” are when you have rules about how you and other people should act. If other people don’t follow the rules it angers you and if you don’t follow the rule then you feel guilty; ” I should be a perfect friend, parent and spouse ” , “I should act nice and never display anger”  etc. The personal code of conduct is so demanding that it is impossible to live up to it.  When the you fall short of this demanding conduct it is anxiety provoking. Counter this kind of thinking by avoiding words like should, ought, have to or must. Try to use words like prefer. So you prefer to be a perfect friend , parent or spouse etc.


Coping with Anxiety

Edmund Bourne and Lorna Garano

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