The Mind and Body are One
We’ve all heard this phrase – and whatever image it conjures in your head, I want to replace. This one sentence is an incredibly important insight into what we are as human beings, as living things.
Often, in science, things are reduced to their parts, and then each part is analyzed separately and independently. Want to learn how a car works? Take out the motor, understand the motor first, then connect it to the axle, and so on. We tend to think of cars, computers, electronics and technology as parts – because we build them that way. An unfortunate repercussion of this is that we have applied the same reductionist logic to biological systems – including our own body.
We like to believe that the brain is the brain is the brain. That if you were to remove the brain from the body and keep it in a jar of nutrient and oxygen, we could preserve who we are (Thanks, Futurama)– but that is pure fiction, for the brain is connected in an infinite many ways to the body through our nerves, which are connected to blood vessels, tendons, muscles, and all of our organs. These nerves read signs from every millimeter of our body, outside and in, and can tell us how we’re doing. If we were to remove the brain from the body, we would feel not only odd, but likely downright horrible.
The brain is important, and so is the body. Learning and keeping the brain active keeps it growing, and keeps the neurons occupied. This contributes to our overall happiness. We also know that exercise does the same thing – but when you think of this is reductionist logic why on Earth would exercise make you happy? It shouldn’t – since the body isn’t the brain, it doesn’t have neurons*, it doesn’t sense depression or happiness.
One of the greatest and most simple examples of how the mind and body are one is smiling. When you feel fairly bland, a simple forced smile will cause your brain to release endorphins, making you feel happy. A similar example is the spreading open of the arms – when you hold arms close to you, and shrink your body area, the brain closes off endorphin release and tends to create stress – however, if you open up your arms as if ready to give a big hug, and spread your legs out wider than usual, the brain senses calmness and ambition – again, making you feel good. One other useful example is chewing gum removes stress and anxiety – why? Because the brain more or less tells itself “If I were really in danger, I wouldn’t be eating right now” – so chew gum before an anxious or stressful event.
But what does this really tell us? Is there such a thing as “real” and “fake” happiness? Nope; not at all. What this tells us is that happiness is a muscle, an action that we take, and just like muscles they can be activated involuntarily (like your arm muscles contracting when the hand contacts fire) or they can be used on command and strengthened. It also tells us that the brain shouldn’t be considered separate from the lips, the arms, the mouth, or any other part of the body. The brain is the body, and the body is the brain. You have more receptors for serotonin in your gut than in your brain!
What you should remember is
1. Logically, the brain and body are one. That they are inseparable and taking care of one is going to help in caring for the other.
2. You can achieve happiness voluntarily. Sometimes it will be harder than normal, and sometimes it just won’t be worth the effort (imagine lifting weights after a marathon).
3. Train it! Just like the muscles of your arms, the brain will grow in response to how it is used. The happier you attempt to make your day, the happier your following days will be.
*The body does have neurons but not the same as the brain.