27 May 2007

Ruminating: It's Not Just For Cows Anymore (Happiness Part 10)

Joy may be fleeting, but self-loathing and doubt are
lifelong companions. Just ask my editor. (Props to my homey
Marc Chagall.)


Remember that "happiness experiment" I was doing, the one where every night, I'd write down three things that had made me happy that day? Well I decided that I'd stop doing it for a while to see if any of the benefits that I had received from doing the exercise would disappear and if I'd go back to my old cycles of thinking. I got some interesting results.

By the way, this is how I help combat animal testing. I do experiments on my own brain rather than, say, a Rhesus monkey or, say, my cat. My own brain is less expensive, is right here where I can reach it all the time, and I don't have to clean up any poop. I foresee a glowing, cruelty-free future where all psychology students will do the same. I also foresee a future of totally wigged-out zombies who roam the earth in search of research grants so that they can feast on the sweet, sweet money inside them. But that's a discussion for another time.

So did I go back to my old thought cycles? Yes and no. The "lows" in my day-to-day mood never returned. I never had what I would term a "bad" day since I started the exercise or since I took a break from it. There was always something positive, some accomplishment that I sensed in the back of my mind. The feeling of "everything's going to be okay", even if it was only slight, never went away whether I was doing the exercise or not.

However, I did go back to ruminating quite a bit. As I've said before, I believe that rumination is at the center of every neurosis, so that covers pretty much everything except maybe the schizophrenias, brain damage, and organic disorders. I also think that rumination must be in large part a chemical process in the brain. I know that it can be controlled by the same supplements that help defeat the over-firing of neurons that occurs in the locus ceruleus of people like myself who suffer from panic disorder. (Think of over-firing as a sort of "feedback loop" that doesn't stop when it's supposed to.) Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is an over-the-counter supplement that works pretty well, but if you take too much of it or take it for too long, it inhibits your ability to...oh what's that thing? The thing that you do when there are thoughts in your head? Oh yeah...THINK. And that...ummm...what's that thing where something's really bad and you hate it? Oh yeah...BLOWS.

Don't even get me started on Elavil, Norpramin, Xanax, Valium, or Imipramine. I think those should all be reclassified in the PDR as Schedule IV Dick-Wilting Barbiturates. (Was that crude? Beg pardon.)

But back to the point. Since I stopped doing the exercise, any kind of...how shall I say this...negative stimulus, whether it was general stress (traffic, work, and the myriad daily frustrations) or specific stress (my ex-wife calling me names - everything from "sub-human", "complete failure" and "sperm donor" to "faux Buddhist"), caused me to go off into wild tangents of rumination, sometimes lasting for days.

(Hey, cut her some slack. At least she didn't call you "motherfucker" this time. Although I can see how her calling you that, while it may have been intended as hurtful, borders on comically tautological. -Ed.)

(Oh yeah. Hilarious. But c'mon, don't make fun. People who are that pissed are not having a good life. Don't contribute to the suffering. That ain't right. -TRG)

(Oh dude, c'mon that was AWESOME! I even threw in the word "tautological"! That was fuckin' SWEET! That'd get you hella points in Scrabble! -Ed.)

(May I continue? -TRG)

(Whatever, ya fuckin' faux fuckin' Buddhist fucker. -Ed.)

(Thank you for giving me an opportunity to practice. Namaste. Now onward. -TRG)

And I don't mean ruminating just a little. I mean quite a bit. On the upside, it wasn't the old, negative kind of rumination, like "how can I retaliate? or "on a scale of one to a billion, how hateful can I feel?" Instead it was more along the lines of "what is the best, most ethical way to handle this?" And then afterward ruminating ad infinitum on whether I handled the situation well or not.

Well I've pretty much decided that whether it's ruminating on good things or bad, ruminating at all - if it doesn't have any specific outcome - is a pretty huge waste of brainpower, not to mention a phenomenal waste of time. It's like putting your car up on blocks and revving the hell out of it in neutral. Even if you engage the clutch, nothing is going to happen. In the meantime it's a huge waste of fuel - and with gas prices being what they are this Memorial Day Weekend and what with the Global Warming and all the drowning of the polar bears and whatnot, and all the stinky of the exhausty fumes blowing into the neighbor's yard while he's trying to have a barbecue, and then him getting all aggro with the threats and the dog and the shotgun...well, you can see how ruminating just makes it bad for everyone.

Okay. So. Yeah. Here's the good part. Just one day of doing the happiness writing exercise brings all that unnecessary rumination to a tire-barking halt. I know because I resumed the exercise. It was like Baby Jesus poured out a mighty flood of calm that immediately extinguished my brainfire. The experience was truly phenomenal. It's as though the action of focusing on things that made you happy even for a moment completely negates the brain's ability to ruminate. It's as though you can't be miserable and happy at the same time. Shocking I know. (Whatever, ya fuckin' faux fuckin' failed cognitive scientist. -Ed.) (Namaste. -TRG) It's also probably something that Big Pharma would hate for you to find out, but there you are. If doing this simple exercise is all it takes to elevate a person's general mood and inhibit if not altogether stop neurotic ruminations, then Big Pharma is going to go broke. And I know there must be something to this because I performed this experiment on the most jacked-up brain I could find: my own.

Cheers, (Whatever. -Ed.)