Australian General Semantics Society Inc.




Seminar Summary - 15 April 2012


"How to Feel Happier"

This seminar teaches Korzybski's GS happiness formulation
and other ways to make yourself happier,
based on modern scientific research.

Led by Mr David Hewson
at Pauline and Gavan's stunning Seminar Centre: "Clifftop View".


Laurie with his medallion !

*** Our Catch-up and Special Events time ***  included -

   * the happy news that Laurie is back from his time in hospital,

   * Presentation of Laurie's "Senior Australian of the Year"
     Certificate and Medallion,

   * Pauline and Melanie's Circumnavigation of Australia
      in the Queen Mary II,

   * Our enjoyment of Gavan and Pauline's bathroom facilities -
     renovated just for us ... !

   * and various tales of "What I did in the Easter Holidays".

David worked us through revision of some familiar "Happiness" concepts,
and introduced lots of new material.

Happiness and what drugs tells us about the brain

Using drugs can impact on nerve synapses in the pleasure centre of the brain.  This gives us pleasure.  But it has a diminishing effect.  The brain adapts.  Eventually you end having to take the drugs just to keep normal level of happiness.  And there are side effects.  This includes not only illicit drugs but things like alcohol and nicotine.  And of course when you go off the drug, like alcohol, you get withdrawal symptoms which can include seizures and delirium tremens.

Conclusion: Do not use drugs to create happiness.

Korzybski’s Extensional Theory of Happiness

What does Korzybski and others mean by "minimal" expectations? 

To see more read page 35 Olivet College Seminar 1937 notes.

Expectations1: Intensional maximum expectations based on two-valued Aristotelian certainty.       Facts are worse than expected result.  Hence disappointment, frustration, etc.

Expectations2: Extensional minimum expectations based on maximum probability.
    Facts are better than expected results, thus an interest in life, cheerfulness and happiness.

Expectations3: Intensional minimum expectations based on two valued Aristotelian certainty.
      Expectations are so low that you just don’t try.  
      Therefore, facts are roughly what was expected.
      The result is a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Hence bitter, cynical, etc.

The Happiness Theory updated

Here is a summary of my paper on happiness in "ETC" Vol 63 No 1

Happiness = a function of (value(Results) – value(Expectations))

Value of (results) R and not R. 
e.g. Expect 50% get 51% versus get 64% 
According to H=R-E you’d be happier with the second. 
But if grades are C = 50-64, B = 65-79 and A = 80+ then both are C
and you evaluate both the same.  Hence according to H = f(V(R)-V(E)) the two are the same.

Losses are felt about twice as much as gains.  Both with diminishing returns.  Losses are discounted at a different rate to gains.  And there are other effects also.

Ways to change happiness based on this formulation:

  1. Reduce expectations,
  2. Increase results,
  3. Change the way you value things.

Results = function (motivation, skill, knowledge, etc)

Motivation = function (value(Expectations) i.e. how much we value what we expect to get, etc)

Happiness can be thwarted by rising expectations and adaption. 

Other GS theories

Wendell Johnson’s IFD

Idealisation leads to Frustration which leads to Demoralisation.

They are too high in the following ways:

  * Ideal goal. Too high a goal.    Little chance of success with current skills and resources,
  * Ideal as in too highly valued.   Either / Or oriented evaluating,
  * Too vague, i.e. highly vague.  How do you know that you’ve got there?

Critique of Weinberg and Lee

Weinberg and Lee have H=M/E  They exclude E=0 but not E~0

Problems with "maximum" motivation.

Problems with E=>0 as H does not go to infinity!  Relate to AK’s E.  i.e. you do not want E around zero.  Without some expectation for success we are unlikely to act at all and will resign ourselves to letting fate take its course.  So zero expectations are out.

So like Newton’s theory match Einstein’s for low velocity e.g. momentum = m*v, which is like Non-Aristotelian matching Aristotelian in limiting case we can similarly see that for low levels of motivation H=M/E matches my theory.  It also matches for high levels of E.  But for high levels of motivation (relate to IFD and Yerkes curve) it does not.  And for low levels of E~0 it does not. 

Critique of money or wealth for happiness

Money and happiness - From complete poverty up to a certain amount, more money means more happiness.  But once you get to this limit of having all the basics (in the US $75,000/yr) some research says more won’t make you happier in the long run.  If you get a large amount like winning Lotto this increases your happiness for about 6 months then you return to normal.  Mechanism:  a rise in expectations.

 “People are happier after spending money on experiences, rather than physical things”

 Does great wealth equal great happiness?

Think that being super rich will take away all your worries and fears? Think again. The results of a recent survey overturn the myth that great wealth automatically brings great happiness. Mega-millionaires are, in fact, a fearful and worried bunch, often caused by their own fortunes.

The survey, funded by The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, spoke to 160 households, of which 120 had at least $25 million in assets. The findings: despite great wealth, many seem miserable.

But if people are pulling in the big bucks, they are more likely to say they are happy with their lives overall.  Why?  When people evaluate their life, to see if they are happy, they often compare themselves to a social standard of what a successful life is supposed to be, and a lot of that has to do with money and material prosperity. 

Relating the theory to others:


Get happier (or at least less unhappy) by removing the following three main expectations
that are too high.

  1. I expect that I will perform well and win others approval all the time and never make mistakes:
        a. I.e. I expect too much from myself
    b. An example is that of perfectionism.

  2. I expect others to perform well, especially in treating me fairly and considerately and not doing things I find frustrating:
    I.e. I expect too much from others.

  3. I expect life to always give me what I want:
    I expect too much from life.

All these expectations are too high which leads to frustration, etc.
II.e. . I expect too much from myself, others and the world.

These expectation relate to the ways we distort our interpretations of reality.  And then how we misevaluate our interpretations.

Seven ways of distorting your view of reality:

  1. Over generalisation.
  2. Either/Or – Black and white thinking
  3. Filtering
  4. Fact-inference confusions:
    a. Emotional reasoning,
    b. Fortune telling,
    c. Mind reading,
    d. Personalising.

Three ways of misevaluating / rating:

  1. Catastrophising:  (making mountains out of mole hills):
        a. Awfulising - Where you view things as a lot worse than they are,
    Can’t stand it it-itis - Where you overreact to stimuli.
  2. Demanding: making desires more extreme:
        a. Moralising where you turn guidelines into absolute requirements:
        b. Must-urbation where you take a want or desire and turn it into an absolute need. 
            (Relate to an I in IFD)
  3. People rating.  Living down to your label. (Related to identification.)

Flow:  The Psychology of Happiness

Improve quality of life by:

  1. Making external conditions match our goals.
  2. Change how we experience external conditions to match our goals.
         a. Don’t expect perfect results.
    Realise risks are inevitable.  Relate to M<>T and M<> all T.

The flow diagram relates to the motivational result diagram as a cross section. (Page 74 of "Flow")

Relate to degree orientation.  Boredom, flow, anxiety stress as motivation/challenge increases.

Use flow diagram to show how one can get anxiety and hence unhappiness.

Csikszentmihalyi identifies nine indicator elements of flow:

Elements of enjoyment in an activity.

1) The activity is a challenging one that requires some skill. 
     There is a balance between challenges and skills.

        a)  You are happiest if at the optimum level of challenge for your skill level.
               e.g. Tennis game.

2) There is a chance of completing the activity. (Relate to IFD)
        a) So don’t try to do (or at least expect to complete) activities
               that have little likelihood of success.

3) Able to concentrate on what we are doing.
        aAll our attention is concentrated on the activity.

4) The activity has clear goals. (Relate to IFD)
        a) e.g. Playing chess, tennis, etc.

5) The activity provides immediate feedback. (Relate to IFD)
        a) i.e. Feedback that is clear, (not vague), quick and of the sort we are after.
               (No ballistic behaviour)

6) Deep and effortless involvement leaving worries and frustrations behind.
        aWe have intense involvement just in the present activity. 
                This leaves no attention for irrelevant things like unpleasant aspects of life.

7) We exercise a sense of control over our actions.
        aThe feeling of exercising control in a demanding situation is the main point.
        bNote:  Watch out that you do not get addicted to it. 
               Otherwise you lose control to it.  e.g. You have to be in control all the time.

8) Concern for self disappears.
        aYou get a feeling of union with the environment.
        bYou lose self-consciousness.

9)  Your sense of time passing alters.
        a) e.g. Hours will seem to go by like minutes.

10) The activity can become an end in itself.
        a) I.e. It becomes intrinsically rewarding.

 Internal conditions required for flow

1) Self control of consciousness:
    aActing excessively rigidly will reduce your control:  say.

i) Being too self-conscious. 
   Being overly concerned or worried about what others think of you.
   (Relate to degree.)  This can limit you rigidly to what others say.

ii) Being too self centred. 
    Information is relevant only if it relates to your desires.
    In the extreme this limits you rigidly to current set of goals.

iii) This excessive rigidity can lead to boredom.

b) Fragmented attention will reduce your control also.
            iIf you try to pay attention to too many things at once you will not have enough attention on any one task to be able to achieve flow.   Like trying to chase many rabbits at once.  You are likely to end up catching none.  So if you are trying to both “look good” and “succeed at your project”, you are more likely to fail at both.

ii) This excessive fragmented attention can then lead to anxiety.

2) Improved control of the abstracting process helps by leaving out irrelevant information.
    This lets you attend to just the relevant information.

           aFirst become aware that you are abstracting.

b) Learn more about the abstracting process, etc.


How to motivate yourself in a positive way.

 “Bad” methods that lead to unhappiness and procrastination. Page 156 “Heart of Mind”

See task and you look at the negative consequences if not done
    => You should/must/ought to do it. => Feel bad.

Imagine doing the task => For unpleasant tasks you feel bad => you don’t do it.

“Good” method that leads to happiness and a finished job.
    Think “It will be great when it is done” => Imagine tasks done => feel good  => Do It!

ie.  Use positive reward rather than punishment as an internal motivator.

Note: The “bad” methods are sometimes useful,  e.g. for motivating yourself in putting on a seat belt.  So reduce but don’t eliminate their use.  An example of conditional indexing!


The Psychology of Happiness

Three things are required for happiness: something to do, something to look forward to and someone to love.  Just sitting back and taking it easy is OK for holidays but not good for the long run. 

List of “things” to make one happier

  1. Don’t compare yourself to others. Financially, physically, mentally, GS knowledge or socially, comparing yourself to others is a trap. You will always have friends who have more money than you do, who can run faster than you can, who are more successful in their careers. Focus on your own life, on your own goals.

  2. Foster close relationships. People with five or more close friends are more apt to describe themselves as happy than those with fewer.

  3. Have sex. Sex, especially with someone you love, is consistently ranked as a top source of happiness. A long-term loving partnership goes hand-in-hand with this.  Unlike money, which has at most a limited effect, a good marriage is robustly related to happiness.

  4. Get regular exercise. There’s a strong tie between physical health and happiness. Anyone who has experienced a prolonged injury or illness knows just how emotionally devastating it can be. Eat right, exercise, and take care of our body. (And improve your fitness slowly!  Don’t overdo it by trying to get fit in  a few days.  That’s dangerous.)  Exercise can be as good as or better than antidepressants for treating depression.  Vitamin D is also good for reducing depression.

  5. Obtain adequate sleep. Good sleep is an essential component of good health. When you’re not well-rested, your body and your mind do not operate at peak capacity. Your mood suffers.

  6. Set and pursue goals.  Continued self-improvement makes life more fulfilling.

  7. Find meaningful work. When you find it, it can bring added meaning to your life.  Those who felt their lives had meaning had lower rates of cancer and heart disease than did those who didn’t feel this way. Having a sense of purpose in life is a common trait among the world’s centenarians.  Key characteristics of having a purpose in life?
    1. Find your passions, interests and skills
    2. Work or do something you are passionate about into old age
    3. Develop a skill that challenges you and provides ongoing feedback

  8. Join a group. Those who are members of a group, like a GS group, experience greater happiness. But the group doesn’t have to be a self improvement group. Join a book group. Meet others for a Saturday morning bike ride or sit in at the knitting circle down at the yarn shop, etc.

  9. Don’t dwell on the past. I.e. don’t beat yourself up over mistakes you’ve made before, letting the past eat away at your happiness.  Learn from the past yes, and concentrate mainly on the present or positives in your anticipated future.

  10. Embrace routine – to some degree.  Research shows that although we believe we want variety and choice, we’re actually happier with limited options. It’s not that we want no choice at all, just that we don’t want to be overwhelmed. Routines help limit choices. They’re comfortable and familiar and, used judiciously (to the right degree), they can make us happy.  To the wrong degree they create mindlessness.

  11. Practice moderation. Too much of a good thing is a bad thing. It’s okay to indulge yourself on occasion — just don’t let it get out of control. Addictions and compulsions can ruin lives.

  12. Be grateful.  When we regularly take time to be thankful for the things we have, we appreciate them more. We’re less likely to take them for granted, and less likely to become jealous of others.  E.g. gratitude can enhance happiness by 25%

  13. Help others.  Over and over again, studies have shown that altruism is one of the best ways to boost your happiness. Sure, volunteering at the local homeless shelter helps, but so too does just being nice to others in daily life.  E.g. Do volunteer work for better mental and physical health and lower mortality risk.

  14. Memory.  Having a good working memory is vital for a happy and successful life. Working memory is being able to remember in the short term, things for processing. Useful for “multi tasking”.  The study suggests that people with good working memories tend to have better jobs and relationships, and be more positive and optimistic than people with poor working memories.

  15. Sanity. An emotionally stable (the opposite of neurotic/unsane) personality correlates well with happiness.
    1. a. Omega-3 fish oil capsules may help prevent psychosis in young people at high risk of developing psychosis.  A study involving 81 young people at high risk of psychosis, showed that those who took the fish oil capsules had fewer symptoms of psychosis and sharper minds than those who took the placebo.  Symptoms of psychosis include hallucinations, delusions, confused thoughts and being out of touch with reality.  Experts say how the omega-3 might do this by affecting the structure of cell membranes in the brain and improve connections between nerve cells.  It also helps memory.
    2. If you can laugh at your own failings and see the funny side of a situation, that will reduce negative feelings and improve happiness.  [e.g. you do not expect so much from yourself or be so serous.  Relates to E2 and IFD]

 So how much control do we have over ability to change?:

A correlation study (not causal) showed that:

About 50% of individual happiness comes from a genetic set point. That is, we’re each predisposed to a certain level of happiness. Some of us are just naturally more inclined to be cheery than others.

About 10% of our happiness is due to our circumstances. Our age, race, gender, personal history, and, yes, wealth, only make up about one-tenth of our happiness.

The remaining 40% of an individual’s happiness seems to be derived from intentional activity, from “discrete actions or practices that people can choose to do”.

So we aim here to work on that 40%

How to change

Methods on how to change to become happier. 

Use  P1=>T1 method and calculus of small steps.

Conclusion and discussion

Limits to happiness.  So do not expect too much from applying these ideas! 


Stages of the grief cycle over loss, potential loss or bad news about a loss. 
Useful for helping cope with grief.

1) Shock stage: Initial paralysis at hearing the bad news or realising there might be a loss.

2) Denial stage: Trying to avoid the inevitable.

3) Anger stage: Frustrated out pouring of bottled-up emotion.

4) Bargaining stage: Seeking in vain for a way out.  I.e. trying to find a perfect solution.

5) Depression stage: Final realization of the inevitable.

6) Testing stage: Seeking realistic solutions.

7) Acceptance stage: Finally finding a realistic way forward.

Problems people have with the cycle:

1)  Getting stuck.  A common problem with the above cycle is that people get stuck in one phase. E.g. a person may become stuck in denial, never moving on from the position of not accepting the inevitable future. E.g. When a person who has lost some of their skills, but still go on trying to run a business, like they used to. 

2)  Going in cycles.  Another trap is when a person moves on to the next phase before they have completed an earlier phase and so move backwards in cyclic loops that repeat previous emotion and actions. For example, a person who finds that bargaining is not working for them, may go back into anger or denial.  Cycling is itself a form of avoidance of recognising the inevitable, and going backwards in time may seem to be a way of extending the time before the perceived bad thing happens. 

Three types of self-talk  

Three types of self-talk seem especially corrosive and lead to unhappiness.  So removing it will improve one's happiness: 

1) Victim Self-Talk: Here we tell ourselves that others have created our problems and are responsible for our setbacks and losses. Even when people legitimately have been victimized, it is not helpful to wallow in victimization. Such talk robs us of a sense of control over our lives.  How do we feel energized and optimistic about life if we’re telling ourselves that positive outcomes are out of our control? How does this influence our choices, our decision-making and our sense of self? 

2) Hopeless Self-Talk: Sometimes our losses and setbacks become so frequent or seem so overwhelming that we doubt whether we’ll ever find success and happiness. Hopeless self-talk is a significant component of depression.  Many times, it is accompanied by self-blaming talk, where we direct our anger and frustration at ourselves over disappointing outcomes. The result is a gradual leaking of optimism and energy, where the dominant mood can be expressed by, "What’s the use?" Where do we go with our thinking and actions when we start with the premise of: there’s no point anyway?  This relates to zero expectations. 

3) Perfectionism Self-Talk: When we acknowledge our successes, we reinforce self-efficacy and confidence. Our victories are psychological confirmations that we can, indeed, achieve our desired ends. Perfectionism robs us of victories by setting standards of success SO HIGH that they cannot be met. It’s not enough to have completed the tasks we set for the week; we should have done them better, faster or with a new, fresh angle. In a dangerous way, perfectionism snatches defeat from the jaws of victory.  Do perfectionists experience satisfaction, lightness, joy?  Or are drained of life giving energy and a broader sense of perspective on their overall life?  This relates to excessively high expectations.

*** * ***

Next Meeting:

Saturday 26 May 2012
"Sanity - Unsanity - Insanity"
Are we really "sane"? 
What does Korzybski have to say about this "sanity spectrum"? 
What is it like to descend into psychosis? 

How can we use GS formulations to "drive ourselves sane"?

Led by Robert James.
10:30am - 4:30pm at Bonnet Bay, Sydney, Australia




(Updated 16/04/2012)

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