There used to be an advertisement for a famous toilet disinfectant (Harpic). The strapline for the advert was, “cleans clear round the bend”. In the way that popular adverts insidiously creep into common vernacular, the expression ‘going harpic, was used to replace the expression, ‘going round the bend’.
UCL Neuroscientist, Tali Sharot explains that there is a U-shaped bend in the lives of all primates (man and apes), and it is all to do with the development of our frontal lobes. We are generally happy as children, get depressed in midlife and then get happier as we get older. Specifically it is about the way in which our brains handle bad information.
Tali explains that most people assume that as children we live a carefree existence, then we go through the miserable confusion of teenage years ("Who am I?") but regain happiness once we figure it all out and settle down, only to then grow grumpy and lonely with every additional wrinkle and grey hair. However, ‘assumptions’ can be dangerous, and this is no exception. Happiness is indeed high in youth, but declines steadily hitting rock bottom often to produce a crisis in our mid-40s. Then, miraculously, our sense of happiness takes a turn for the better, increasing as we grow older. It’s the U-shape pattern of happiness.
The happier you are the longer you live, presumably because stressRelating to injury or concern. impacts on health negatively. Age-related changes in the brain structures influence happiness. As we develop, we slowly increase some frontal-lobe function including the ability to learn from bad news, which we then lose later in life.
Tali says, “My colleagues and I have found that people tend to discount the relevance of undesirable information to themselves (such as news that alcohol is bad for your liverA large abdominal organ that has many important roles including the production of bile and clotting factors, detoxification, and the metabolism of proteins, carbohydrates and fats.) but readily adopt good news (being told that red wine is good for the heart). So when smokers see warning signs on cigarette packets they think: "Yes, smoking kills - but mostly it kills the other guy. At the same when we hear the housing market is going up we think: "The value of my house is going to double!"
She goes onto explain, saying, “Using brain imaging techniques we discovered that the tendency to discount bad news is related to how well regions of the frontal lobe are coding unexpected negative information. Now, you may think that discounting bad news can get people into trouble - for example, causing us to smoke more and save less. There is some truth to this, but it is also good for our mental health.”
“Our research shows that the successful incorporation of bad news is related to depressionFeelings of sadness, hopelessness and a loss of interest in life, combined with a sense of reduced emotional well-being. Discounting bad news, as most of us do, presumably allows us to keep a rosy view of the future, and while this view is not necessarily realistic it does keep us happy.”
This might be useful information if you feel that you might have gone harpic, but on the other hand, you may prefer not to know.