Aspects of Personality Development
I am thinking of all these nights with a bottle almost empty, alone or together with friends, listening to sad songs and contemplating about lost loves, potential loves, imaginary loves, general difficulties and the unjustness of society. Putting the blame on women, other times blaming me, blaming the existing lifestyle and blaming the whole society for its ethics. OK you can say that it is enjoyable. I know… but is it healthy?
First of all, we have to make the assumption that we rationally want to do what is best for our mental health and thus our happiness. Many things may be or seem enjoyable but they are not enhancing our health. Typical examples are sweets, drugs and alcohol. These happen to have observable negative physical effects so it’s easier to be accepted as unhealthy. At the same time there exist several lifestyle choices that because of this absence of clear physical effects may be continued for ever without noticing their results. Our job as beings with such a brain size is to understand our tendencies (what we find nice) and afterwards decide which ones we accept as correct and keep them and which others we define as wrong and change them or adapt our behaviour to them.
One way for both positive and negative influence of human psychology is called priming. Priming is an environmental stimulus that has effects in later stimuli and can influence later decision making. You somehow “open the head” and structure the behaviour! For example Malcolm Gladwell in an interview described an experiment of the famous social psychologists of Yale University, John Bargh: Bargh gave the students a test and they only had to use some specific words and make sentences. What the students didn’t realise was that all the words were coming from a similar context. All of them were about old age. Words like arthritis, shuffleboards, white hair et c. What he measured was the time they did to enter the room and the time they did to walk out. The latter was found significantly lower. The students after reading and using all these words about old age they actually deep inside felt old themselves! Bargh did the same experiment with words about politeness and immediately put the students in a fake social situation where he measured their waiting times before complaining. They could wait forever, Gladwell mentions.
Aspects of Personality Development
The best definition of priming that I have found is the following:
Priming refers to an increased sensitivity to certain stimuli due to prior experience. Because priming is believed to occur outside of conscious awareness, it is different from memory that relies on the direct retrieval of information. Direct retrieval utilizes explicit memory, while priming relies on implicit memory. Research has also shown that the effects of priming can impact the decision-making process (Jacoby, 1983)
Let’s say now that you are listening to a song that talks about a person that didn’t appreciate your angelic feelings, or about someone that didn’t care but only for oneself, or about the life that is an absolute wh**e. The only thing you are doing at that time is falling deeper and deeper in the negative spiral loop that you already are. You already are because else you wouldn’t have picked that kind of entertainment. And you choose to elaborate on negative emotions and influence your whole brain and behaviour towards the mentality described in the songs which is totally mistaken most of the times. To make the long story short you are priming yourself on a direction that underestimates your own self.
First of all, too much alcohol is not the wisest thing to do but, unless you are a monk, I guess it is acceptable if you are having nice time. But what happens when you listen to the “romantic” songs and drink from the bottle but you feel awful at the same time? When you supposingly try to forget someone or something. For sure without the music you would consume less. Not to mention that the only thing you’ll remember the next day is the person you wanted to forget! There is a whole mistaken mentality behind it. You intentionally prime yourself with misery and pick all the negative effects of whiskey to feel much worse both mentally and physically. All these popular love songs are about self – destructive behaviours and promotion of fake bravery or excessive affection only from the one side that went lost and that’s a pity (this is the time when tears drop). A wise person would otherwise try to overcome a sad situation by accepting it, by calmly leaving time to “clean” the emotional “wounds” and by trying to move on, not by falling deeper because of it and by being stuck on it. Because this is all it is. A mistaken lifestyle choice – preserved by generations – that leads us to become weaker.
At the same time think what else you are doing: Instead of being tough to difficulties, you put yourself down because of someone else that most of the times you hate or at least believe has done something wrong. Instead of showing mainly to yourself that you are much more than this, you shout out to everyone that you are far less than this. Someone or something that created bad feelings to you is the reason for your self destruction. You clearly react on it. This person or this situation is the one that is mostly described in the songs. Of course this is the safest way to prime yourself to care about it. And you also need to think what the other person may be doing at the time you are finishing the bottle… You must stand proud even if you are sad, not fall on the grounds like a servant.
Together with the above goes the unconscious stimulus to overestimate the whole situation and not only the person involved. Music together with alcohol and drugs work in a psychotropic way. Which means that your feelings are exaggerated. If you are sad you see the whole situation many times more dramatic and you become desperate. Of course this happens by music itself, too. Also, you overestimate the other person because you focus on his/her reaction so by definition it has influence over you which is something you want to avoid.
There exist, as well, the situation that you may listen to sad songs for no particular reason. You may have as a habit to listen to dramatic music, talk or think about nowadays’ misery, about imaginary-potential loves, have drinks and generally be in a depressive mood together with the song’s atmosphere. So, as I see it, you are doing your best to increase the feelings of sadness inside you.
I understand that when you are in a bad mood sad music looks nice. The brain’s reward circuit, indeed, releases the neurotransmitter dopamine which results in feelings of enjoyment. However, that doesn’t mean you become happier in the long-term but you are decreasing your happiness by falling deeper and deeper in the aforementioned negative spiral loop. One thought follows the other and so on.
I don’t know about you but, personally, I want to do my best to minimize the negative emotions and maximize the positive ones. Unfortunately, life and human brains create many difficulties and many depressive feelings. So, of course, apart from trying hard to become happier every day, I cannot see any good reason that I should intentionally feed myself with pessimism.
Priming can be used in a positive way, too. Talking about happiness, I have my room full of my favourite quotes. Also, two great paintings, one of Van Gogh and one from Dahli. In my mobile phone I have the River God statue from the Vatican Museum. I see them and they make me happy! If you put in your room pictures of people that you love and make you happy, then you pull some strings towards the increase of your happiness. Priming is one very important reason why friendships and the environment that you spend most of your time should be picked wisely. They should have the most positive impact possible.