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  • Writer's pictureRyan Luby

Spontaneous Happiness - Intro

This post is from the Introduction to one of my favorite books, Spontaneous Happiness - Dr. Andrew Weil. This book focuses on emotional well-being, both defining it, and offering Dr. Weil's best, low-risk approaches to resolving any mental or emotional struggle. Dr. Weil covers his own emotional struggles, and explains why understanding how to cure and prevent mental and emotional struggles is the key for everyone to live a healthier life even if you never had depression or anxiety.

“In the early 1970’s, I lived in Colombia, studying native uses of medicinal and psychoactive plants. During my stay I made a number of trips to the Vaupes Department of the Amazon basin to visit a tribe of Cubeo Indians. To get there, I had to drive from the capital city of Bogota at eight thousand feet above sea level to a city in the lower, warmer eastern plains, then take a cargo plane to the tiny frontier town of Mitu in the rainforest. From there it was a half-day trip by motorboat to the Cubeo village. The climate was unrelievedly hot and steamy, and once in the village, I had a very limited range of foods and drinks. When I was not interviewing Cubeos or accompanying them on walks through the rainforest, I spent hours in a hammock under a mosquito net, mostly dreaming about ice-cold drinks.

In particular, I could not stop thinking about my favorite juice bar on Seventh Avenue in downtown Bogota and the delicious, icy drinks it offered, made from combinations of fresh fruit both familiar and exotic. One that I found irresistible whenever I was in the vicinity was jugo de maracuya, made from a kind of passion fruit, with just enough sugar to offset its natural tartness and just the right amount of crushed ice. I would have given anything to have one as I lay parched and sweating in my hammock in the jungle with nothing to drink but tepid boiled water or tea or the thick, sour beerlink drink (chicha), also tepid, that Indians made from a starchy tuber. If only, I imagined, I could have that cold juice right then and there, I would be supremely happy.

When it came time to leave the Cubeo village, I became obsessed with planning my visit to the juice bar. I pictured myself taking a taxi directly there as soon as I got to Bogota, but what would I have first? Should I go right for the passion fruit drink of my dreams, or should I build my anticipation and pleasure by starting off with a fresh mango frost? Or maybe a pineapple-coconut shake? Throughout my entire journey - on the boat ride downriver, during what seemed like an endless night in a Mitu flophouse, on the cargo plane (missing its door), and on the long ride to Bogota - all I could do was contemplate the happiness that was in store for me. But as the road began to climb the eastern foothills of the Andes toward the high plateau of the capital, I felt my anticipation wane as reality intruded on my fantasies. It got cooler and cooler as my trip progressed, and by the time I reached the outskirts of Bogota, I was in the chill, damp fog that often envelops it. When I was in the jungle and couldn’t get it, I had wanted my ice-cold drink. Now that I was so close to getting it, I was no longer hot and thirsty and didn’t want it nearly as much. By the time I arrived, I was more interested in checking into a hotel and changing into warm clothes than in going to the juice bar. And as I felt the possibility of satisfaction evaporate, my disappointment was compounded by seeing the folly of my fantasies and my tendency to allow myself to be happy on condition of getting something not available in the here and now.

The Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert has spent more than a decade studying just how abysmal human beings are at predicting which future events will make us happy. He has found that we tend to overlook how the future context - in my case the climate change I encountered - devalues the happiness potential of the goal we seek, such as the refreshing jugo. Here, science confirms the advice of saints and sages over eons: Emotional well-being must come from within, because reaching external goals often disappoints.”

Learn more on this:

Spontaneous Happiness - Dr. Andrew Weil

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