Sunday, December 20, 2009

What is the Driving Force? Can Our Actions Change Our Mood?

We all go through lot of emotional changes in our day to day life. We are happy when things work according to our plans, we are irritated when things go out of way. We face situations that make us believe a particular incident changed our mood. Imagine you are working on a report and suddenly there is some telephone call, which turns out to be a wrong number call. You forget it and resume your work, then, when you are busy with your work again, doorbell rings and you find out a typical salesman selling something that is of least importance to you. So, you are irritated by these distractions. What was the cause of your 'ok' mood changing into 'irritated state'? Distractions, you believe. Another example, imagine yourself not feeling that good, you are lonely and all thoughts playing in your mind are more or less negative. Then, suddenly you receive a call from an old friend and he tells you some good news. Your mood changes instantly! Right? Good feelings and thoughts seem to appear out of nowhere! So, in this situation again, you find out the 'reason' to be that phone call from friend, that good news. So, is it true? Does our emotional state really gets affected and influenced by external influences?

Most people think it does and they believe external factors do influence our state of emotions and are responsible for changes in our moods. If it is the fact then let us consider few more situations. When you have an awful day and things look quite bad, does an action like watching some comedy, reading jokes etc change our mood? Do we start feeling better? Always? May be not. Remember like incidents and you will agree that sometimes external factors do not at all change our basic state of emotions. Take another example. You are happy and enjoying and then out of nowhere something bad happens. You may be playing football and then suddenly it starts raining. But, instead of getting irritated you change your action and start doing something else and continue your good emotional state.

So, what does it mean? Is it that external factors are really that important and influential on your basic emotional state or not? Some believe this is a very subjective issue and the causality of external factors on state of emotions of a person can not be determined in way that could make it a rule. There are so many things to consider - intensity of prevailing emotion, importance of external factor(s), basic psychology of the subject etc. If the prevailing emotion is intense enough and external factor is not that big an issue in terms of importance, then the subject may not have his emotional state affected at all. If external factor is big enough and basic state of emotion of the subject is weak, then he may be affected more. Also, a person who is by nature cheerful, may not be affected easily by those events that may be 'irritating' to others.

Well, this may be true that influence of external factors on a person's emotional state are subjective and depend on various things, but, there is a lot more to it. It all depends on our mental toughness, the trait which separates 'weaker' people from 'stronger' ones. Someone who is mentally tough is not affected by external events so easily. This is something that was developed through evolution of memes which follows the basic idea of 'survival of the fittest'. Those who are mentally tough find it easier to cope with difficult circumstances and through natural selection, their genes have stronger chances of survival.

It is actually tough to be mentally tough. Do you also think so? I think its a feedback cycle kind of thing - if we are tough enough then chances are we don't find it tough enough to be mentally tough. Oppositely, if we are weak enough then chances are we find it tough enough to be mentally tough. So this cycle goes on in this way. Its our perception that needs to change, we need to believe first that we can be mentally tough and this perception will change our ability to better our basic psychology. Attitude is basically what matters and if we have right attitude we can become stronger individuals who are not easily influenced by external factors. The causality of external factors to change our prevailing emotional state is established only if we are mentally weak, otherwise, we are not influenced by external factors.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Gandhiji - Let Us Celebrate Birthday of Non-Violence

Today is 2nd October, the day A Great Leader was born - M K Gandhi. Last year I published a post on same day and this is my another yearly tribute to The Epitome of Non-Violence...

The nice thing I noticed today is seeing Gandhiji on Google India search page. Let me post the nice image from that page, right here:

Long Live Gandhiji...

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Are We Friends? I Didn't Know That!!!

If you are reading this post then chances are you already have many friends, some of them from school days, some from neighborhood and some from office/work. But, how many times we thought about the very process that resulted in our mutual friendship? Do we ever think what happened exactly that transformed our relationship of simple acquaintances into friendship? Do we remember when did the status of that person was changed in our mind? Some would say yes. But, in fact, we have very little knowledge about this actual process of converting acquaintances into friends.

The process of meeting a stranger and then successive meetings or other interactions with him/her which transforms our relationship is a complex one and we very seldom think about it using our conscious mind. The fact is we may not even know if someone is our friend or still a good acquaintance!

Social scientists struggled to find out the answer, the reason being - first, surveys are expensive and second, people are error prone when they try recalling their own behavior. If data can be available cheap and recorded, then it would solve this mystery. So they used cellphone usage data!

Researchers have used such data to map out people's social networks, utilizing the duration and frequency of calls between pairs of people as a measure of the intimacy of their relationship. Doing so has revealed patterns of people's contact with each other both in time and space, which is crucial for modeling everything from gossip to how flu viruses spread across populations.

But the question that arises is how accurately do call patterns reflect the intimacy of relationships? After all, so many times even very close friends rarely call each other, while some people who are talking kind call just about everyone (even if not a friend).

A team led by Nathan Eagle, an engineer at the MIT in Cambridge, gave mobile phones to 94 MIT students and faculty members. For 9 months, software on the phones kept track of the volunteers' location and logged all calls made between these phones. Over the same period, the researchers also gathered social data from the subjects in the traditional way, asking them whether the other subjects were friends, acquaintances, or strangers. Finally, the subjects rated their job satisfaction, which has been shown to strongly correlate with the number of workplace friendships.

Just by analyzing the calling patterns, the researchers could accurately label two people as friends or nonfriends more than 95% of the time. But the results, published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, show that the mobile phone data were better at predicting friendship than the subjects themselves. Thirty-two pairs of subjects switched from calling each other acquaintances to friends in the traditionally gathered survey data. These are most likely new relationships that formed during the course of the study, say the researchers, and they left a clear signal in the mobile phone data. Friends call each other far more often than acquaintances do when they are off-campus and during weekends. The pattern is so distinct that the researchers spotted budding friendships in the phone data months before the people themselves called themselves friends. This is the surprising thing and shows how complex our social behavior is!

Finally, the team compared people's self-reported job satisfaction with their networks of friendship at their workplaces. Because the mobile phones kept track of people's proximity to each other, the researchers had a clear measure of people's daily contact with friends at work, not only through calls but through physical proximity. As predicted, the more contact people had with friends at their workplace, the more highly they rated their job satisfaction. And conversely, the less face-to-face contact people had with friends at work, the less they said they enjoyed it.

Source of the study : ScienceNow Magazine and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The link to the study is given above.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Gemeinschaft returning over Gesellschaft

You will find a lot of people complaining how "deteriorated" modern society has become and how bad the consequences are. Although most people think they (people who complain) are nothing more than a bunch of pessimists who love the "good old world" and reject progress, the fact is totally different.

In my days of growth from childhood to adulthood I found many such people. They complained and rejected the "growth" of society which was more and more inclined to physical luxury and getting rid of community feeling. One uncle was particularly angry the way more and more individuals were turning into "selfish, not-caring-for-community" kind of people. I had different understanding of what he said at different age slots of my life. When I was a child I did not understand a word he used to say. When I was a teenager I thought he had some mental problem and laughed at him. When I matured I had a very different feel for his concern. I started to learn what he meant - his concern was not that much odd at all and there was a case for deep thinking on the issue. Then one fine day I sat and pondered on his main points -

He complained how the modern individual cared about himself, the height of selfishness, according to him. He gave an example of power outage problem, people buy backup power inverters in their houses to counter the problem instead of finding a solution for their entire community. Then there were other examples of the kind.

Unlike my peers who shrugged off these things, I thought about them at every incident that struck my radar. There was a real "crisis" and it was only getting worse. Later, when I learned about the concepts of German sociologist Ferdinand Tonnies who gave the idea of two social systems: Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft, the root of the issue became clear. It was economical betterment of society that led to the downgrade of Gemeinschaft.

Gemeinschaft ("community") refers to a small, rural, low-technology, face-to-face community that is relatively poor and based on informal education at home.

Gesellschaft ("society") refers to a large, urban, heterogeneous, high-technology society that relies on electronic communication and formal, school-based education.

The economic boom in past decades has benefited Gesellschaft to the limits. The recessions in these times could not show a case for "community" centered approach but this ongoing Depression has turned things, at least it seems. The Global Economic Meltdown is changing course of the social behaviour and Gemeinschaft is in vogue again! Many of those who have lost jobs or those who have suffered because of this ongoing crisis, have become community centered and are more involved in community work. If this Global Depression has one big positive, then this is it.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Co-operation - an open operation

Co-operation is something we humans have learned as an intelligent species as well as result of our growing intellect. There are reasons we can term it as a manifestation of our selfish attitude but the fact is we can not survive without co-operating with each other. Imagine your colleague sitting next to you in your office needs your help for some work which you are more familiar with, imagine what will happen if you don't help him/her and imagine what will happen if nobody helps / co-operates with each other. In order to survive we all need each other's co-operation almost always.

Now imagine the same scene with a bit different requirement. Think about your colleague in need of your co-operation - not that there is something you can do related to his/her work - but, he/she requires you to NOT do something that is creating troubles to his concentration (e.g. you may be listening to hard rock when he/she needs complete quietness). You may not be bound by your office rules for such an occasion but being a human we somehow know this fact that our actions should never be an act of obstacle for our close ones. Sometimes this is just a mutual understanding, other times it is a binding and rest of the times it is our conscience that makes us co-operate.

In last four months I had been extremely busy with a project and that made me a villain in the eyes of my dear wife. When I was working hard day and night my dear wife was unhappy at best. Then, one fine day I asked for her co-operation. I explained her why that thing was important to me and how my success or failure could affect our future. She understood and since then she did her best to co-operate with my work. Things changed suddenly. The workload which looked like a mountain transformed into a small sand rock and today when I have finished the project, I owe a lot to her co-operating nature. I tell this story to demonstrate how easy things turn when we in our relationships learn to co-operate with each other.

Co-operation is not unique characteristic of humans alone. Ants and bees are bigger examples of co-operation and their very survival is dependent entirely upon it. The conclusion is we have to respect co-operation and co-operate with each other in order to survive.

After posting my thoughts, let me not forget what I promised to my friend Alec of His blog is a must read for those couples who want success in their relationships.