A few days back I wrote this piece about the role of the mind in superhuman endurance events and how it's not able to distinguish between reality and imagination. It was drawn from this paper that I was reading at that time and I had promised to break it down in a language that didn't need a PhD in mathematics. Little did I know that one of the side-effects of making public promises is that I'd feel compelled to do it without anyone actually following-up (slightly alien to corporate behaviour!). So I read and re-read the paper in order to make sense. I drew. Made sticky notes. Attempted flow charts. I even opened a powerpoint slide (!). I slept on it. (Literally). And when I woke up the following day, the 3 Idiots scene flashed in front of me. And the penny dropped. The fog cleared.
For the uninitiated, a popular Hindi movie by the name of 3 Idiots, a satire on the Indian education system, uses a leitmotif, an oft-repeated dialogue in the movie - 'All is well'. It is used as a means to comfort oneself and those around when the situation turns sour. And more often than not, it works! Especially at the climax when a new-born baby, momentarily believed to be still-born, comes alive with his crying once this catchphrase is repeated just the way it was said when he was in the womb!
The credibility of the fictional scene apart, there is some evidence when it comes to science on how we make our own reality. That how the brain's 'fight or flight' centre, amygdala, appears to shrink in MRI scans after 8 weeks of mindfulness practice. That consequently the pre-frontal cortex – associated with higher-order brain functions such as awareness, concentration and decision-making – becomes thicker. That pain is real, but suffering is optional.
Every time I study this topic, I am reminded of this quote
I've lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened. -Mark Twain
I was deeply touched by pre-eminent psychologist Daniel Gilbert's work on the science of happiness and his book 'Stumbling on Happiness'. I got feedback that my articles are biased towards books, so here is a link to TED interview of his for those audio-inclined.
Here's a very uplifting and relatable talk by Johann Hari on his own journey of depression and anxiety. He talks about how he started taking anti-depressants as a young lad from East London for years and years till it got to the legal permissible limits. And finally how he found solace. That it gathered over a million views in just a day of its release is a testament to the fact that people are hungry for this conversation.
In this World Mental Health Awareness Month, it is pertinent to note that for the last few years, it is not the number of mental health disorders that are on the rise, it is the number of suicides. In the UK alone, it is the largest killer of men up to the age of 49. It is quite plausible that the reader of this piece is inclined to believe that he or she is far removed from being affected by any mental health issue. The fact, however, couldn't be more different. Each one of us in our lifetime is very likely to be affected by these very issues through someone we know at work, family or friends, if not directly ourselves.
For the first time in history, more people die today from eating too much than from eating too little; more people die from old age than from infectious diseases; and more people commit suicide than are killed by soldiers, terrorists and criminals combined. - Homo Deus, Yuval Noah Harari
It is the best of the times, it is the worst of times...