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Archive for the ‘Satisfaction’ Category

Pop a sugar cube in your mouth and what happens? You taste sweetness, right? Pretty simple.

Not so, according to researchers. Simple pleasures actually hide a complex dance between the brain, the nervous system and a host of chemical or electrical reactions — all of which might hold important keys to your overall satisfaction and happiness.

Take the desire for something pleasurable. Is that the same as the result itself? Say you want to water ski and imagine the spray on your face, the tug of the boat and the bright, blue sky above as you crisscross across the smooth, watery surface. Will the event match your expectations? Perhaps. Both may give you the same pleasure.

But “wanting” and “having” something may also have two different outcomes in the brain, according to researchers at the University of Michigan. In other words, you can gain pleasure from each independent of the other. For example, the researchers suggest that some drug addicts relapse because their changed brains make them vulnerable to wanting the drugs, even after the symptoms of withdrawal have long passed.

In practical terms, desire holds its own rewards. We can actually experience pleasure and thus some level of satisfaction by wanting something, regardless of whether or not it becomes reality.

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Here’s a counterintuitive thought — if you want to be happier, lower your expectations and aspirations.

That’s right. Don’t shoot for the moon. Set your sights instead on orbiting the Earth.

This advice runs smack in the face of the prevailing attitude in the U.S., which often begins in grade school. You probably heard this familiar refrain when you were growing up: “You can be anything you want to be if you put your mind to it. You can even be President of the United States!”

In the 231 year-old history of the United States, there have only been 43 Presidents. In other words — long odds.

Our dreams and fantasies can fuel positive and productive behavior. They can add tremendous value to individuals, groups and companies when the pursuit of seemingly unreachable goals results in dramatic changes, improvements and innovations.

But they won’t necessarily make you happier. High or unrealistic expectations can lead to disappointments, both in yourself and others. Add too many disappointments to life’s “plate” and you may find yourself profoundly unhappy, regardless of your accomplishments.

Happiness comes from the journey, not the destination. Try enjoying the ride more and setting modest goals or aspirations. See if that doesn’t improve your overall happiness.

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If you want to achieve greater satisfaction or happiness, increase your resources.

For most people, that means increasing one’s income. Having more money will probably (but not always) improve your chances of being satisfied. The same can be said for finding a life partner.

But there are other resources of equal or greater value.

For example, relaxation is a significant satisfaction resource. Being relaxed usually lowers your blood pressure, which lowers your risk of a heart attack and helps you live longer. Relaxation also helps you perform better under stressful conditions, including making better decisions at work. And being relaxed means you will more likely enjoy life more. Life’s daily irritants have less potency when you enjoy a more relaxed state of mind.

Relaxation has proven to be a major satisfaction and happiness resource and the great thing about it is — it can be learned by any person at any age.

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Almost all sources of excitement lose their ability to produce excitement when repeatedly used over short periods of time.

In his book, The Strategies and Tactics of Happiness, Dr. Maynard Shelly made that observation 30 years ago and it still rings true today.

Several years ago citizens of a major U.S. city built a first-class aquarium and it enjoyed early success with large crowds. But eventually the newness wore off and people slowly stopped coming, especially the local crowd. Had the aquarium changed? Not at all. What had changed was the use of the aquarium as a source of excitement. When that excitement wore off, which was bound to happen, people went elsewhere for the same stimulation. The result? The aquarium bordered on bankruptcy and had to be rescued by the city and eventually new owners.

It happens all the time. Unless a business can maintain that early level of excitement and stimulation, it runs the risk of being discarded and forgotten–especially in a fast-paced, overstimulated society–where excitement resources (even those costing $50 million) are discarded like gum wrappers.

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It turns out scientists have confirmed what writers like Stephen King have known all along — we like the unexpected.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging to measure changes in human brain activity in response to a sequence of pleasurable stimuli, researchers used a computer-controlled device to squirt fruit juice and water into the mouths of research participants. The patterns of squirts were either predictable or random.

They discovered the pleasure center of the brain (the nucleus accumbens) recorded a particularly strong response to the unexpectedness of a sequence of stimuli.

These researchers say that most scientists prior to their work assumed that the neural reward pathways responded to what people like. Now, they believe that most people respond more to the unexpectedness of the stimuli instead of its pleasurable effects.

Researchers at the Baylor School of Medicine and Emory University published their study in the Journal of Neuroscience.

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No wonder a donut tastes so good. Scientists say fatty foods light up the pleasure centers in our brain.

In one study, researchers at the University of Oxford put 12 people inside a functional magnetic resonance imaging machine and fed them differently textured foods through a tube. The foods were a mix of tasteless cellulose tailored to the consistencies of water, corn oil or runny syrup, as well as a mouthful of vegetable oil.

According to the study as reported in the British journal Nature, fatty mixtures fired up the brain region called the cingulate cortex, which is stimulated by other pleasurable experiences such as a caress, a perfumed scent or winning money.

Researchers say the discovery reinforces the idea that a dab of butter or dollop of cream makes dinner all the more appealing. In other words, fast foods and donuts will be around awhile longer.

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Here’s something that doesn’t make sense (cents) — paying your taxes can be satisfying.

Researchers at the University of Oregon gave 19 women participants $100 and then scanned their brains with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) as they watched their money go to the food bank through mandatory taxation, and as they made choices about whether to give more money voluntarily or keep it for themselves.

They found that two regions in the brain – the caudate nucleus and the nucleus accumbens – fired when subjects saw the charity get the money. The activation was even larger when people gave the money voluntarily, instead of just paying it as taxes. These brain regions are the same ones that fire when basic needs such as food and pleasures are satisfied.

The study, according to one of the researchers, reflects the balancing act that every society must face. “What this shows to someone who designs tax policy is that taxes aren’t all bad,” Ulrich Mayr, professor of psychology, said. “Paying taxes can make citizens happy. People are, to varying degrees, pure altruists. On top of that they like that warm glow they get from charitable giving. Until now we couldn’t trace that in the brain.”

For a more complete description of the study, click here.

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