Although we sometimes tend to deny it or to forget about it, all our actions are about happiness.
At work, people want to have a rewarding job. They want to feel appreciated and make the money they think they deserve. The boss wants to see good results. The customer wants to get the proper quality. In our personal lives, we look for the right relationships, we have hobbies, and we like spending time with our friends and loved ones.
Why do we wish for all of the above and for more? The answer is simple. When things go our way, it makes us feel good; it makes us feel happy!
Why do people change jobs? Why do people divorce? For these questions, too, the answer is simple. We change our life when we are not happy about it. Yet, not everyone makes such changes. Some settle with an unsatisfying situation. Does this make sense to anyone?
According to the theory of Henri Laborit, it does. He was a French neurobiologist and writer who studied the behavior of people when they face adverse situations. According to him, people have three ways to deal with unpleasant situations such as conflicts:
- Running away
- Fighting back
The French movie, Mon Oncle d’Amérique, illustrates his works by means of a comparison with lab experiments. The research background presented in the movie is a set of experiments with lab rats that Laborit carried out.
In the first experiment, the rat is in a cage with two compartments separated with a wall that has an opening allowing the rat to change compartments. Only one compartment has a floor that can be electrified. The rat gets a warning with a buzzer and four seconds later, the current flows in the floor. Very quickly, the rat realizes that when it goes into the other compartment, where the floor is insulated, it escapes the punishment. All the physical tests carried out show that the rat is in perfect health. The rat is fine.
Then, the operator shuts the opening between the two compartments. The rat cannot escape the punishment. Very quickly, we can see the rat being completely stressed, with its hair straight up and breathing quickly. The rat is not doing well at all.
Then, the operator adds a second rat in the cage. Both rats have no other choice than to take the electrical current. Instead of getting stressed and ill, the rats fight with each other, and it appears that this helps the dominant one to be perfectly healthy again.
The message of the movie is that people experience such situations everyday in our societies, and it affects them. Sometimes, they choose to run away from difficult situations to avoid the tension, such as quitting a job because of a bad boss, instead of enduring stress every day. Sometimes, they fight back, even fight literarily, although the laws do not accept violence as a way of resolving conflicts. When people have no possibility to run away or fight, Henri Laborit’s theory is that they choose inhibition and do nothing at all. They simply take the punishment. Some can compensate this by fighting with their spouses at home, but this usually does not bring much good, either. According to Laborit, inhibition is the stage of angst, and angst is the result of the inability to cope with a situation that seems to have no solution. This usually results in ailment and even diseases, be it physical like ulcers or even cancer, or be it psychological leading to neurosis or depression. Turning against the own body becomes the way of fighting back, and the ultimate act of violence that one can commit against oneself is suicide.
On the other hand, he also noticed that when the rat experiences something that brings satisfaction and pleasure, its natural impulse is to get more of it. If it feels good, then it must be good!
This illustrates nicely how important it is to try constantly to look for satisfaction in our lives, at work and at home.
Excerpt rom Mon Oncle d’Amerique (in French)