Thursday, May 25, 2006

Happiness is an electrode in my brain

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In response to the earlier post on happiness, someone talked about the pursuit of happiness being similar to the quest for the Holy Grail.

Following that quest, scientists are currently looking to extend work in deep brain stimulation to promote happiness.

Having isolated the areas of the brain relating to pleasure in rats in the 1950s, the work was extended to humans in the 1960s, placing electrodes deep within the brain. Electrical stimulation led to feelings of wellbeing, so much so that the subjects repeatedly self-administered electrical shocks to the area. However, the feelings of pleasure stopped immediately the stimulation ceased.

Today, this early work has been extended and implemented successfully in medicine for pain management and Parkinson's Disease. Individuals are now able to control their pain by using a switch mounted in the chest to deliver voltage to an electrode in the pain centres of their brain.

This has again reawakened interest in the artificial manipulation of happiness. Certainly, this has the potential to provide feelings of pleasure but is this truly happiness? Happiness is more than a fleeting feeling. Most people would define happiness as a longer term, pervasive sense of contentment. And in experiencing a constant euphoria, wouldn't many other experiences be missed?

Professor Paul Salkovskis, clinical psychologist at King's College London made an interesting point in relation to artificial means of creating happiness.

"It seems to me that drugs as a solution to unhappiness are rather similar to kind of, you know, say plastic surgery to enhance your beauty or whatever."

We all know how popular plastic surgery has become.

If your continued happiness could be guaranteed by an electrode in your brain, would you take that leap?

Read the full story at Scientist's Short-Cut to Happiness


Dr. Deborah Serani said...

The more we learn about how the brain works, the more we have to think about things.

I have several patients who suffer with depression. Years of therapy and years of trying different meds...even using ECT. The vagus nerve stim is being considered by one of them. I think for someone like that, the decision to use a shortcut might be a lifesaving option. I always find myself worrying about those two individuals, hoping they can find relief, let alone happiness.

Another great post!!!

healthpsych said...

Hi Deborah,

Yes, it's one thing to look at this kind of thing from the viewpoint of that quest for happiness and another to view it from the viewpoint of an individual who has struggled with depression and found no relief.

That's a different ball game entirely. For someone in the latter position, this could be life-changing.

jumpinginpuddles said...

we wouldnt but then again a short buzz now and again mightnt go astray like NOW. if it was now we would sign up ;)

healthpsych said...

Thanks for visiting. Sounds tempting that way, doesn't it?

Sarebear said...

I sort of had a brief happiness vs. contentment epiphany last December.

I actually think I'd choose lasting contentment, over "happiness", which seems like a rainbow; the more you "pursue" it, the more discontent with the lack thereof you may become, and that rainbow becomes ever more elusive.

Not that I'm knocking happiness! I just am starting to think of happiness as being the peaks on the graph chart of my life, well, JOY being the highest ones, like giving birth, getting married, and happiness being ones like achieving a goal, reaping the results of doing something that was ornerous but needed doing, going on a really good date, etc.

Joy/Happiness feel to me like a wave, but it's always in motion, and always recedes.

Contentment, on the other hand, may be somewhat more subtle, but it is a gentle wash over the soul, that wraps you in the very awareness of the NOW . . . . and it is good. No exclamation points, no capital G. I love the capital G moments in life, but I'd love to have a life that was filled with alot of contentment.

Paradoxically, I think happiness can actually come through surrendering to the contentment, and quitting the pursuit.

Urk, I'm rambling. Here's a link to the post where I found some contentment, while, of all things, flipping slices of Spam in a frying pan . . .Spam I Am

healthpsych said...

Hi Sarebear,
I agree with you totally. I'd take contentment any day over the constant pursuit of happiness...and that's my beef with a lot of the current push towards happiness. It's almost like settling for contentment is letting the side down!
Will check out your link!