I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.

-St. Paul in Romans

So I’m in to a new book called “The Happiness Hypothesis” by Johnathan Haidt, and there’s some crazy awesome stuff just in the first introductory chapter!! Check out split brain experiments. Seriously, this is some trippy stuff. So we all know that your brain has two main lobes (left and right), but did you know that they actually kind of operate independently? Or they can, but the right brain (logical) kind of takes things over? Experiments in split brain have revealed a side effect called alien hand syndrome. Trippy. Check out you tube for some videos on alien hand syndrome at home.

So here’s the thing. We are living in a pretty dualistic society here in America. We think of everything as either/or. Good/bad. Cool/loser. Republican/Democrat. Science/Religion. The problem is that life isn’t that way. Reality isn’t that way… as as hard as most of us are trying, we are not that way. Like Kyle’s image for today, it’s the opposite side of our coin, and you can start or end at either side. And we really need both sides for the most effective society, as Johnathan Haidt shares in this TED TALKS video. We’re all the same, we just emphasize different aspects of the same truths.

There is a part of us that is really reactive. It doesn’t think, it just reacts. It’s the reason you jump at a horror movie. You’re in a theater. Nobody there is going to hurt you. You paid money for entertainment. And you just jumped because you thought the killer was going to get you. Makes no sense.

In Happiness Hypothesis, the author talks about our lives as being like a rider on an elephant. We think we’re the rider, pulling the reigns on the elephant telling it where to go. And it’s normally that way. But the Elephant has it’s own mind and it’s own control over itself, it just chooses to (is trained to) listen to and obey the rider. But in an emotional situation where the elephant is scared, it will ignore the rider and just react to whatever is scaring it. Our brain is the same way. We have a part of us that is tamed but still kind of animal.

Ever blurt something out you didn’t mean to say? Ever get a weird thought popping in your head for no reason? (sometimes even thoughts that you think are bad or wrong!) Ever have a temptation to do something weird that pops in your head for a second? Feels like a devil on your shoulder, but no need to worry, it’s just your inner elephant.

But here’s the weird part. Like the people in the split brain experiments, some of us have not learned to keep the two sides of ourselves talking. We ignore or let run wild that part of ourselves that is “bad” or “not really us.” But we need to do more than ignore it or give in to it. We need to train it. We need the logical part of us, the one that thinks and can consider the future, to take control. And the goal is not to kill, ignore, or remove the Elephant, but to keep him under control. To tame his wild ways. To let the human part of us (these higher thinking and ordering skills are what separate us from the animals) make the choices. In fact, it’s the only part of us that can. The other part of us doesn’t choose, it just follows whatever the environment around it tells it to do. It’s a big, stupid animal.

Don’t be the big stupid animal.

There are ways to train the elephant, but it takes some time and diligence. The ancients used Meditation. It’s very effective and free, without side effects.  There are also cognitive therapies that can help (seeing a trained psychologist). Costly, but no side effects.  Today, many people use medication. Costs something, needs to be prescribed, and may have side effects. All three work to varying degrees on varying people with varying success. I won’t give any recommendations to a student on which way to go, but think about taking some steps if your elephant often is taking you places you don’t want to go.

Everyone gets somewhere. Few people get somewhere on purpose. If you’re lazy, you’ll never be in control of your own life. Do something about it. The Elephant is there. You can’t kill him, and if you ignore him, you never know when he’ll act up. But if you recognize he’s there, take the time to do some training, you can work together with him. Let’s face it, an elephant is great to have in your corner for a fight.