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No, I cannot, my dear. However, it can be done.”

I recently finished reading the book The Science of Happiness by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. It was a very, very long one, and the fact that I have read it five times (each reading took about three weeks) makes it that much more rewarding. I thought it would be helpful to share with you a few passages of the book (which you can read here, here, and here) that are definitely relevant to the topic of meditation in this blog.

The key word is “categories”. When Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky studied students in the 1960’s, there wasn’t a single category of emotions that people showed interest in: anger, fear, sadness, fearfulness, joy, love…and also disgust. They noted that in the experiment, anger and fear and other emotion categories seemed to show the strongest interest, while disgust didn’t. (You can see a clip of the experiment here and a recording here.) That might be because they were already working on other research, and there is a lot more to come on this topic.

Now here comes the really interesting part. In the experiment that is referenced by Daniel and Amos, the students were placed on four different tracks with eight different emotions (that I can’t remember off the top of my head) mixed in. The students were asked to stay on all four tracks for at least five minutes, and it wasn’t uncommon for the participants to take a break. This was how Daniel and Amos found out that in the case of anger and fear (the two strongest emotions):

They saw a significant overall increase in anger and fear over all four tracks.

The students that could stay on tracks for less than five minutes saw significantly higher levels of anger and fear – almost 2.15 times higher.

The researchers believe that they learned the following lesson: anger and fear is an effective motivator for other emotions, because you might be able to see them as more important than other emotions.

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So when the researchers asked the students to meditate on an emotional category, they found that in three different ways, they were able to reduce their levels of fear (that we have talked about in the past). First, they were able to reduce anger, fear and sadness. Second, they were able to reduce envy and jealousy. And lastly, they were able to reduce sadness – a more common emotion than fear – which I think is very interesting.

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