Our lives have frequency and intensity, both of which change over time. Frequency is our general state of mind, which generally is called personality, and it may be subjectively described as joyful, grumpy, etc. Intensity is our momentary state of mind or mood, which can be described in the same way as our frequency: joyful, grumpy, etc., and this is our real source of what we call joy or happiness.
A clear example could be language learning: Why do babies learn languages faster or why do we generally learn more when we talk to people than when we study by ourselves? Because we learn more by doing, and there’s no more engaging way than having someone in front of you demanding an immediate answer from you: Our life’s intensity goes up to the roof at that time and our brain makes a strenuous effort to catch up. Everything we experience at that moment is more probable to be remembered than when our life’s intensity is lower. But intensity isn’t all; we also need frequency to reinforce our knowledge.
As every muscle, our brain needs to rest, but to come back to action as soon as it’s rested so it can further develop; also long periods of inaction can lead to atrophy. So the best option for frequency is to be in an environment that demands the use of the desired language: For instance meeting people or working with people who speak the language, but also doing any intense activity that demands the use of that language, like reading an interesting book or doing some fun linguistic exercises. But we’re social animals, so naturally we have a tendency to learn language better directly from our natural interaction other people. The problem is that spontaneous interaction is hard to come by and although it’s intense, it’s frequency isn’t high.
Here’s where babies have an advantage: In the combination of frequency and intensity. Many people have argued that a baby’s brain is more elastic, malleable and that it absorbs knowledge more easily than an adult brain, but all of it can be accounted for a higher intensity. A baby’s only job is to learn to communicate; its all existence consists of it. A baby has no other worries than communication: We’re the most sociable when we’re babies and kids; our social frequency is the highest. That’s why sociable people tend to learn languages more quickly than introspective people; although they learn it more superficially: Quantity over quality. So in the case of language learning, small kids have all the time of the world because they don’t have responsibilities and they learn intensively because communication is paramount to them; the whole brain, conscious and subconsciously, is engaged in the activity.
This paradigm can be applied to life in general. Depressive people have a low life frequency and gamblers, promiscuous and violent people try in these ways to have small doses of high intensity to compensate for a unsatisfactory life frequency. But we all fluctuate among waves of happiness and unhappiness; only our frequencies differ. For someone living in a country in war, happiness may be to have a nice meal in company of their loved ones. For someone living in luxury and comfort, happiness may be to get out of the routine. Happiness here is nothing more than the intensity with which we live life at a certain moment. But this intensity depends also on the frequency. The death of a loved one is a moment of high intensity and therefore it should mean happiness according to this logic, but it doesn’t because it lowers our frequency. This is a complex subject which can be better elucidated with children’s approach to the death of their relatives. Kids don’t mourn the death of their closed ones as adults do; this is because kids are self-absorbed and they don’t see the repercussions of what happens around them. However, they will surely be sad when the person who passed away starts missing in their lives and when they realize that the good things that that person represents are gone. We adults plan and dream, and we do this including our loved ones, so the death of any of them affects our lives deeply. But death itself brings our back from our lethargy to show us that life is immediate. The problem is that now we’re missing someone and also the emotions and love that we put on them are gone. We find ourselves empty; we’ve just devolved in our life frequency.
Now a question arises: is it possible to achieve a frequency in which we won’t be unhappy anymore? No, it’s not; and actually the higher we go up, the easier to get unhappy. Just like the businessman who has a dozen of companies and needs to juggle them all. The bankruptcy of any of them would provoke unhappiness in him. So the less friends and loved ones we have, the less prone we are to heartbreaks. The problem is that we’re social animals and we naturally develop bonds, but also we can’t bet all our emotions on one single person because they may be gone the next we know. It’s healthy to have a couple of good friends besides a partner, and to have a close relationship with our families.
But happiness itself doesn’t depend on frequency, so we could be in the middle of a war and still find happiness in the view of nature around us or when eating a meal with real hunger. Happiness depends only on our mindset and ability to seize every moment and live it with intensity. We can train our brains to be happy by learning about ourselves, the world and its magic. Our sense of curiosity, when maintained awaken, is the way to happiness. Like kids learning the language and the world, we can be in an intense journey without worrying about our destination. We just need to let go of the future, which may come immediately in the form of death and cut short all our plans. We need to live only the here and now.
Chapter Fourteen from: Life’s predicaments