Monday, August 27, 2012

the mind is weak, and so is the body

Whenever I tell myself that I am going to sleep early and come up with an awesome blog post no matter what happens everyday, somehow I always end up doing stuff other than what I originally intended to do. Like playing DotA2 for example. Wait, most of the time I end up playing DotA2. In fact, DotA2 is one of the top reasons why I always end up forsaking my blog.


he probably cast a spell on me


I've blogged a lot of times about my relationship with this game already in the past, like DotA from the creep's perspective, my opinion on why people love to play the game (no scientific basis actually) and other random posts here and there (like this). To be honest, since first starting the game in 2005, I think the time spent on this game has taken more than 10 to 20 percent of my life since and I often can't help but wonder, what are the basic mechanisms that underlie our fondness with the game?

I foresee the modules that I'm taking this semester is definitely going to somewhat help me answer this question. For starters, there's this module called "Addictive Psychology" that attempts to understand the process that affects us when we're addicted to something (going back to the game time after time even though I kept losing like mad counts as a pseudo addiction for me) and there's this "Positive Psychology" too, which somehow ties in to what makes humans tick.

To give you an example, there's this research that I read last week which attempts to answer whether happiness in an individual can be increased. I know a lot of you will say "Duh" because it's intuitive, but research on the field has generally found that when it comes to being happy, almost 50% of the cause comes from our genes, which explains why no matter how hard to try to cheer Aunt Jane up, she's just as grumpy as ever. Evidence from longitudinal studies show that although events can alter our mood in a lot of ways, sooner or later we'll somewhat return to our default stage, or our average happiness (of course, there's a lot of other factors to take in, but that's the general consensus). 


"Yes I'll be the one dictating how you will feel for the rest of your life, so suck it up"


However, researchers do find that it is possible to increase your happiness, after all, genes only account for 50% on your mood, whereas the remaining 50% are comprised of your social circumstances (which accounts for 10% and refer to your physical status in life such as age, income and level of education) and intentional activity (40%).

Of course, that's just one way of measuring your happiness, there's ton of other ways of measuring or explaining happiness (difference between your aspirations and your attainment for example) but what I do found interesting was how they said you should go about achieving that 40% to increase your sense of happiness everyday.

From a series of studies that they did, they found that for an individual to truly enjoy an activity and to be happy about it, the activity must be something that fits your personality, vary in content and timing and does not incur a significant cost so that it overrides the benefits. Take for example a person who loves to run. The activity, running, has to fit the person's personality (enjoy sports or athletic), vary in content and timing (different routes with different on different days) and does not incur a significant load on him (running more than his body can take it). Which means spontaneity kinda helps too.

And it's not counter-intuitive, you could say. Because we all know that routine bores the hell out of everyone and we all love a simple variation here and there.


also explains why people who go through the same thing day after day tend to feel much less satisfied or happier with life


Bringing back this to DotA, I realize that although the basic gameplay stays the same (defending your base using a hero while attempting to destroy your opponents) basically almost everything changes with every gameplay. The hero you play might be different, the heroes your opponent pick are different and the stuff that happen from the start of the game til the end of the game are different. Each game is unique in its own right. Which explains why we can never get bored of it, despite how many thousand times we play it.

The same rule applies to everything else too. Why are people addicted to gambling for example? The exact same reason that no two games are the same. There's always a variation in your cards for example and the chances of you winning is always different. Sports matches, shopping trips (the shops will have something different every time) and other popular hobbies have this random element to them that makes people love it so much. In essence, we humans are suckers for variation.

It's interesting to see how a simple concept of variation could have such a huge impact on our lives. Psychologists have a term for this feature in our bodies called the hedonic adaptation. As it's name suggests, humans learn to adapt to situations after a while. For example, you might be very happy after getting a raise of 10000 dollars in your pay but after a while, you get used to it, and eventually, you end up wanting more in the end (your level of desire stays the same but what you desire might change. You might want a 100 dollars wallet last time, but now you want a 2000 dollars wallet). 

It's a pretty cool human feature if you ask me, because it helps us to overcome failures or disappointments and it helps us in keep moving forward. After all, if achieving one success is all it takes to make us stay happy for the rest of our life, it would be pretty boring right?

But of course, this hedonic adaptation has its limitations too, which is we tend to get used (or get bored) with what we have after a while, meaning our mood or sense of fulfillment goes back to baseline and we need something new to stimulate our life and keep it interesting. Have a little spontaneity here and there. Like what Jim Carrey did in Yes Man. You'll never know where it will take you.


and for today's blog exercise, go on a random trip to a random place with a random friend that you like this coming weekend


P/s: The majority of this blog post is based on the writings of Kennon M. Sheldon and Sonja Lyubomirsky's  article "Is It Possible to Become Happier? (And If So, How?)" that appeared in Social and Personality Psychology Compass 1/1 (2007): 129–145, in case you're feeling curious


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