Intentionality and Happiness | How life choices are impacted by purpose


When you reflect on the major life choices that you have been making over the past few years can you identify a theme?

what purpose are you trying to achieve?

Lately, I have been observing the interplay of intentionality and happiness… the relationship between the two variables is very often symbiotic or reciprocal = Increasing intentionality can lead to greater happiness and greater happiness can free us up to act with greater intentionality.

The interesting observation that I have found with friends and clients is that often these variables can be prioritized in a manner which makes them detrimental to each other = people favor happiness at the expense of intentionality or people favor intentionality at the expense of happiness…

The intention of this post is to encourage self-reflection – for simplicity’s sake let’s break this into three categories

1.) balance – my actions concerning intentionality and happiness seem to be in balance with one another – My level of intention serves to benefit my happiness, and my choices to be happy do not negatively impact my ability to live with intention.

2.) intentionality – I favor Intentionality at the expense of happiness – my life is predictable and consistent with a high degree of reflection and planning… threat, fear, impulsivity, chance, and chaos are minimal, but there is a deficit of joy in my life.

3.) happiness – I favor happiness over intentionality – I have joyous experiences and enjoy flexibility and spontaneity –  positive experiences and connections are bountiful, but there is a deficit in predictability, security, congruence, refection, and planning (and possibly purpose and fulfillment)


ultimately this surrounds the existential concept of fulfillment and of feeling congruent with the life we live (and corresponding actions)…

there isn’t an objective moral truth surrounding options 1, 2, and 3 – there is not an option which is universally ‘best’ … instead, there is an opportunity to choose and adjust your life accordingly based on your own subjective preference.

here are some over-generalizations concerning the existential truths and other value/belief systems relevant to each choice:

Intentionality – Fulfillment is attained by achieving concrete goals. The purpose is the final project more than the process of completing the project. The destination is more important than the journey. All choices, emotions, thoughts, and actions are reflected upon – the unconscious is relentlessly attacked with the goal of one-day achieving total control. Life is somewhat mathematical, and it is fulfilling to impact probability. Morals and Values tend to be more objective and less relative. There is a fulfillment in making the unknown known. linearity is effectively utilized. Understanding is more important than engagement in an experience. life it put into categories. The future is extremely important. The past is very important to investigate as doing such increases the probability of control in the future.

Happiness – Fulfillment is achieved during an experience. Emotions and abstractions are more important than concrete results and truth. The journey is important and often the destination is irrelevant. Spontaneity and intuition guide the actions of the moment. Because the truth is elusive an/or non-existent, reflection is often irrelevant. Commitment to the experience is favored over trying to control the experience. the unconscious is often labeled as intuition – and tends to be a great friend that is allowed to exist without a need to be fully understood. Everything is relative. engagement is more important than understanding. Life is free from categories. Neither the past nor the future is particularly important – the moment is favored. Control and progress are not important goals. potential future consequence and reward are not heavily contemplated.

Balance – Intentionality is used to maximise fulfillment and to create planned strategies that would significantly positively impact long-term happiness. Happiness is achieved whenever possible by allowing immersement and freedom in the moment – yet, the actions of the moment are influenced by a value system and are taken with a consciousness of the future. Intentionality does not overly disrupt the joy of the moment… and happiness in the moment does not disrupt fulfillment in the future.












Double Binded Communication


Often we send ‘mixed messages’ to people. It can be a source of dis-ease in a relationship when a partner or loved one is giving you two opposing messages at the same time. This creates a double-bind as there is not an effective way to respond correctly to the communication.

Most commonly the opposing messages are coming from two different forms of communication – verbal and non-verbal.

A person can, therefore, say two things at the same time which are in conflict or contradict each other.

Example. If I were to say to you (verbally) “I am so happy to see you – come towards me!” While I started walking away from you with a disinterested facial expression. I am telling you two things at the same time “I am happy to see you and I want to connect (verbally) … and I am indifferent about you and don’t want to be around you (non-verbally).

This dissonance tends to cause anxiety in the receiver.

Often the non-verbal communication is being transmitted emotionally – so we can ‘sense’ a discrepancy in what is being said and what is being emoted (for example, people often will respond to “how are you doing?” with an answer such as “really great” when the person is emotionally far from feeling ‘great’.


It is important for us humans to be able to correctly deduce communication so that we have continual feedback concerning the nature of our relationship – we need reassurance that everything is ‘ok’, that we are effectively understanding the other person, and that we are reading the needs of the other person accurately.

Double binded communication removes the congruent feedback mechanism – we, therefore, do not have an effective means of deducing the state of our relationship with the other person. Additionally, we do not have a way to respond effectively to double binded communication (ex. if some who is emoting ‘sadness’ reports that they are ‘happy’… do you respond to ‘sad’ or to ‘happy’… do we respond as if they are ‘fine’ or ‘in need of assistance’? The resulting emotions range anywhere from annoyance to terror.

Children are exceptionally susceptible to double binded communication as it impedes their ability trust their intuition, to develop an ability to effectively empathize, and to trust that people mean what they say.

Adults use double binded communication frequently as a means of appearing professional, being polite, and avoiding conflict etc.

Much double binded communication is unconscious – Every human on the planet has automatic emotional reactions that flash upon our faces called in response to the environment (micro-expressions). a micro expression cannot be controlled – so if you verbalize an opinion that contradicts your emotional reaction to a stimulus, you will be engaging in a form of double binded communication.

For example – let us pretend you are visiting a different culture that has cuisines that you have been implicitly programmed to have a disgust reaction to… If your host says,” we are so happy to have you – and we have good news – we have a fresh selection of the areas finest insects for us to eat tonight.” likely your micro expression would be a combination of fear and disgust… if you then said, “thank you, I am so happy to enjoy the cuisine of your culture.” you would be sending out double binded communication = you say that you are happy, but you are emoting disgust and fear. The solution is difficult in this example as you likely have the goal of not being offensive or impolite = Saying “wow I am disgusted by insects and am fearful about eating them” would likely no go over too well…

There are many other instances where congruence is the best option (meaning what you say), but this can be difficult in a culture that places less value on vulnerability and honesty … and perhaps more value on professionalism, being polite, and avoiding conflict.

to avoid double binded communication we need to develop self-awareness of our emotional state – and increase our courage to communicate messages which reflect our emotional reality accurately.








Addiction, Self-determination, Flow, Mindfulness, Culture, Emotional Intelligence, and Human Bonding


Addiction, Self-determination, Flow, Mindfulness, Culture, Emotional Intelligence, and Human Bonding

What are the components of addiction? why is addiction less desirable? and what aptitudes help us to avoid addiction?

“Let’s Turn the conversation towards Efficiency and Away from Morals”

The Psychobiological and Relational causes of undesired, addictive, and compulsory behavior:

Flow (peak experience) – Humans are most fulfilled when: Goals are clear, there is regular feedback concerning progress towards the goal, and you have the aptitudes necessary to make the challenge at the sweet spot between too hard (anxiety) and too easy (boredom).

  • Implications – Many electronic devices contain software that was developed to create a sense of flow. This creates a radical craving to engage with the software.


  • Solution – We need to ensure public access to ‘flow’ promoting activities that increase biological, relational, and existential wellness. Historically this includes extracurricular activities such as the arts and sport. Self-discipline with also be necessary – such as not having your cell phone at dinner or while on hikes etc.

Implicit System Conditioning – Most human emotions, thoughts, and behaviors are controlled by the implicit system. Our implicit system is evolutionarily older and significantly faster (more intelligent) then our intentional and rational explicit system. This system is adaptive – ex. you couldn’t drive a car with you explicit system.

It is very important to note that most interventions in the past have focused entirely on an explicit override of the implicit system – for example, we attempt to ‘rationalize’ away from a person’s automatic emotional response to stimuli. Unfortunately, this is not how the brain works (If I give you a rational explanation for why something ‘isn’t’ disgusting this will have no impact on your automatic disgust response).

  • Implication – Most of us have been primed to have automatic behavioral responses (towards a vice) in response to various emotions or environmental stimuli. example of stimuli that often lead to drinking: anxiety (emotion) or watching a sporting event (environmental).


  • Solution – We can set up our environments which allow a mindful reflection on our emotional and somatic realities so that we can our observe our desired impulses, emotions, and sensations with calm attention and without action. We then can learn to feel our feelings without reacting automatically to them. Increasing our ability to tolerate intense emotional experiences will have a positive impact on our ability to avoid the compulsory behavior.

Brain wiring and neurotransmitters – there is some overlap here with the implicit system. “What fires together wires together” Experiences that happen together can wire together – this creates predictable emotional reactions to stimuli and can create associates that are not necessarily rational. 

Neurotransmitters help to control our psychological wellness – deficits and surpluses create issues ranging from depression to mania to attention issues to psychosis etc. Adding substances to a developing mind (or a developed mind) can have unpredictable effects on our neural chemistry. Additionally, substances can impact the brain’s ability to properly uptake, release, and create neurotransmitters – which then leads to deficits or surpluses.

  • Implications – Substances such as ecstasy have been shown to dramatically impact the production of important neurotransmitters.
  • Solutions – Modeling and appropriate structure – We can ensure that we are modeling healthy relationships (including abstinence when necessary) with behaviors that can be unhealthy for our biology. We also should have regular access to nutritional items that promote a healthy biology and a sense of enjoyment.

Human Bonding and Attachment – Many vices (especially substances) impact or interact with the brain area responsible for human bonding and attachment. This means that instead of seeking out a secure relationship with another human – the substance is used (ineffectively) as the relational surrogate. This often leads to isolating behaviors – which leads to dysregulation and depression – which leads to more substance use.

  • Implications – Many people will use pot or alcohol as a means of feeling less lonely and dysregulated – though this can feel helpful in the start – the process can create a feedback loop which leads to exacerbated feelings of loneliness and dysregulation without the substance.
  • Solution – Emotionally significant/vulnerable and authentic connection. It is easier to use electronics or to engage in a substance than it is to be vulnerable enough to share your true self with another person. It is hard to remain open, empathetic and compassionate in front of a person who is suffering or who is offering their authentic self in a way that we don’t yet understand (Our impulse is generally to fix or to categorize). When we grow in our ability to stay present, honest, openminded, and compassionate, we naturally dissipate feeling of loneliness… in turn we gain a felt sense of regulation (and we, therefore, are not in need of the vice to mitigate our fears).

Anthropological Importance of Inclusion – We are a tribal animal. Our cortex developed to its’ current sophisticated state in response to the need to track an ever-increasing amount of social information (currently we max out at about 200 people). Exclusion from the group generally resulted in death for the vast majority of human existence – we tracked information to ensure inclusion (and to track ‘unsafe’ people). This reality has created a substantial fear response related to exclusion – this fear will propel us to make poor decisions to mitigate our fear.

  • Implications – We will often compromise our beliefs, emotional needs, intuition, and ration in order to protect ourselves from the fear associated with exclusion – this can mean that it feels terrifying to be without social media or to ‘just say no’ when the dominant group is engaging in unsafe behavior.


  • Solutions – Create emotionally intelligent communities that promote acceptance of differences and encourage open-minded and vulnerable communication. Through a compassionate dialogue, we can create a sense of culture which is best suited to the needs of the individual and the collective. Within this space of openness and acceptance, we reduce judgment and make it safe to express differences (therefore the culture will be inclusive of people who avoid behaviors that are harmful, though ‘normal’.

Faced paced society with ever increasing stimuli, social dynamics, and expectations with a corresponding reduction of health-promoting options – Currently, our society is not set up to be optimal for our psychological health. We are over inundated with stimuli, we lack sleep, we are responsible for monitoring more social dynamics than is possible, we lack access to nature, there is less access to arts and athletics, we are constantly encouraged to think about the future as opposed to the present moment, and we are often held to unrealistic expectations (such as the average workweek for an adult).

  • Implications – Often it can feel like the only way to ‘deal’ with our life is to disassociate from it, avoid it, repress it, or escape from it. Many electronics help us to completely leave (disassociate) from our current reality. Many substances produce a feeling similar to a state of mindfulness – you are absorbed in the present moment and free from the suffering found by attending to the past or the future. Lastly, many substances give us the permission to be who we want to be – inhibition. Both electronics and substances help us to deal with our anxiety resulting from feelings overstimulated, unrested, unfulfilled, and over-extended.
  • Solution – Intentionality and authentic prioritizing our life choices and values. We can enact intentionality and discipline so as to live within a set of values that promote our well-being.  health diet, appropriate boundaries, authentic expression, secure relationships, exercise, and access to nature are vital for our psychological well-being – these should not be compromised if we have the privilege to not be oppressed from accessing them (many, if not most, people in our world are oppressed from access to these variables).

Variables Impacted by Addiction

Freedom and Self-Determination. Reduced Intentionality – Increased automaticity

  • Remember Pavlov and the salivating dog (rang a bell every time the dog was fed – led to the dog salivating by the bell – even when no food was present)? As humans, we are constantly conditioned to have predictable and automatic responses to certain stimuli (this is adaptive). We can, therefore, develop automatic (and often unconscious) emotional, biological, cognitive and behavioral responses to substances, electronics, and other vices.
  • Conditioning Targets the implicit system to create unconscious associations with the vice (drugs, electronics, alcohol, shopping etc).

Experience: you have a huge problem and there is nothing that you can do about it in the moment – what vice do you want?(sibling lost all their money and they are on their way to your house to live with you)

  • Anxiety = conditioned to have a strong desire (sensation and emotion) for vice – often followed by an automatic behavior to engage in vice
  • The teenage brain is already in a state of re-structuring – pre-frontal cortex (executive control center) is less integrated into brain functioning. (this is an important time for the development of intentionality and good habits).
  • Solutions –
    • Mindfulness – focused attention on the present moment. The ability to notice without judgment and without automatic reaction. With mindfulness, we can observe the stimulus and our mind and body’s desired reaction to the stimulus. With practice, the pre-frontal cortex can override the automatic behavior (though the automatic emotion will likely stay mostly the same).
    • Willpower to engage in life intentionally despite a strong impulse to avoid or otherwise retract from discomfort. (without self-determination we are controlled by the external world and our urges)

Emotions and Body Awareness. reduction of sensory and emotional experience along with a reduced ability to tolerate emotions or sensory experiences.

  • What sensations are experienced in an elevator with a stranger (what does it feel like in your body)What emotions do you have as a result? What behaviors are we likely to engage in?
    • Now imagine all the experiences that a teen is going through – Away from home, love interests, making friends, meeting expectations, and figuring out who they are
  • After you have looked at a screen for 5 minutes where is your consciousness?
    •       What effect might this have on emotional aptitudes such as empathy?
    • Electronics and substances often disassociate us from our body (and relationships).
  • We must learn to continually be aware of and to tolerate our emotional and somatic experiences to achieve our ambitions – substances and electronics can rob us of the ability to develop this capacity.

What normal aspects of everyday life require a high level of emotional awareness and tolerance? Public Speaking 😉 Creating an emotionally intimate relationship.

Attachment and inter-regulation through Human bonding

  • New research is finding that substances and electronics target the same area of our brain used for human attachment and bonding (bonding is a primary need like water (orphanage example & cast away example)— the pull is extreme)
  • We are a social animal, and through millions of years of evolution we have developed a very sophisticated system of bonding with other humans that radically improves our ability to survive – Human connection is the #1 predictor of happiness (slope of a hill appears less steep, reduced amygdala activation in FMRIs when shocked)
  • We need to help our teens to bond with each other, with us, with the community
  • Electronics and substances mimic the feeling we get from positive human connection BUT they do not lead to lasting happiness and they do no facilitate regulation (human bonding is the cure for stress).

Conclusion – Our goal is to mentor our community towards becoming Self-determined, Emotionally intelligent, and Relationally able people. This doesn’t need to be a moral argument – Drugs and Electronics are not intrinsically bad or good… Instead, let’s change the discussion to efficiency – what are the most efficient means of developing the above Aptitudes?

The Relativity of Oppression


Oppression exists, and much like other abstractions, oppression is often cognitively enmeshed with content or with something more concrete. There is often a more tangible entity that gets labeled as ‘oppressive’ or as the ‘oppressor’… through time we often allow for more tangible entities (such as a person, lifestyle, belief system etc) to be labeled objectively (and without relativity) as literally being ‘oppression’.

This tendency creates an irony for many ofus as often it is the constructs about oppression which become the oppressor (the constructs become oppressive – the individuals ability to live a most authentic life is oppressed by an unconscious adherence to an oppressive construct).

here is a list of some common constructs concerning oppression that can lead to an individual oppressing themselves:

  • being a stay-at-home parent is oppressive
  • rules and laws are oppressive
  • all religion is oppressive
  • science is oppressive
  • medicine is oppressive
  • set schedules are oppressive
  • education is oppressive
  • work is oppressive
  • power is oppressive
  • gender roles are oppressive
  • grading is oppressive
  • competition is oppressive

 I am going to steer us away from a conversation on dialectics = (yes, all the above variables are both oppressive and emancipating)

whether something is oppressive or emancipating is relative … ex. being a stay at home parent could be the source of oppression for one, and the source of emancipation from oppression for another.

History has played a huge role in creating social constructs (belief systems) that many of us are unconsciously dictated by…

For example, Women were systematically and institutionally oppressed for a long period of time in our country by inhibiting their access to careers. In doing so, females were oppressed from attaining existential fulfillment, independent financial security, and the power to positively influence the various components of the system.

The construct which was born out of this reality was: “to be free from oppression one must have unimpeded access to career.” Well many of us have experienced that in the United Stated many careers are extremely oppressive… they can impede our ability to attain: ‘existential fulfillment, independent financial security, and power to positively influence the various components of the system.”

This creates a potential for radical dissonance as many parents would be more fulfilled with more time spent with their families (or spiritual development, personal hobbies etc), but they don’t allow themselves this option because of there unconscious adherence to the construct: ‘being a stay at home parent is oppressive.’

The solutions is to allow curiosity, flexibility, subjectivity and relativity to become involved in the process.

What is the source of MY oppression? What experiences do I inhibit access too because of a belief system which may not be serving me right now?

I personally experienced this dissonance when I entered into parenthood.

I held the belief system that “schedules are oppressive” – After many years in formal education I arrived at this construct as my incredibly scheduled life caused me emotional discomfort – I found happiness in spontaneity (which I dichotomously labeled freedom) and concluded that schedules oppressed my freedom – thereby schedules oppressed my happiness.

Upon becoming a parent the idea of freedom becomes almost humorous as you are completely enveloped into a developmental stage of service – With freedom being heavily influenced by individualism, there is not much ‘freedom’ when you are a parent of young children 😉

yet the desire for freedom remains – and happiness still manifests when I feel like I have more freedom…

Here is where the paradigm needed to be shifted… schedules were the only means of affording time for me and my wife to meet our individual and spousal needs… in other words, schedules created the freedom to meet our needs … and in meeting those needs we are more happy.


schedules emancipated us from a deficit in perceived freedom… wow

And here is the kicker… If this paradigm isn’t adjusted again as the children get older it could once again be that schedules are the source of our oppression.

In conclusion, what we often label as objectively oppressive may not be oppressive in different relative instances… further, the process of labeling something as objectively oppressive may actually be the source of our oppression.












The Relationship between Anxiety and Attention


Attention is a learn-able skill

There are many famous quotes and affirmations spoken through the years that point to the humbling truth that most suffering never actually happened … of course this is only partially true as we can all speak to the suffering involved in having a high level of anxiety.

it isn’t that the suffering never happened, but instead that the reality which could have created the suffering never actually occurred – instead the suffering was the result of focusing attention on a reality that could happen in the future – the cortex loves to fixate the attention on the future so that it can engage its’ problem solving abilities in a effort to reduce the probability of suffering in that future.

Ironically it is this ‘future solution’ process which is often the source of our anxiety and resulting suffering.

much of the time the present moment is free from stress… it is actually quite benign or neutral much of the time. In these moments the cortex gets really bored… there are no puzzles to solve, no needs to create strategies for, no meaning to be made…

So then we imagine fictitious situations so that we can engage in strategy creation.

Most problems are too easy… so we gravitate towards unsolvable or complex problems.

the problem is that our Limbic system and our brainstem do not know that the fictitious situation are not actually happening… so while the cortex is having a great time playing a make-believe game in the future, our emotional system is reacting as if the fictitious situation were actually happening to us.

let me give you an example:

Imagine that you went to work tomorrow and you bumped into a co-worker that you have always struggled with… imagine them saying to you that thing that you know they think about you, but have never said to you directly. Now imagine that your boss enters into the conversation and takes the side of your co-worker…. what would you do?

pretty uncomfortable right?

why are you uncomfortable? in reality you are simply sitting somewhere reading this… it’s quite pleasant perhaps?

When our attention is placed in these fictitious futures we find that we are the source of our anxiety – we (our at least our Cortexes)are the source of our suffering.

This is why you hear so much talk about Mindfulness (many posts on the subject if you look in my archives)

Mindfulness is a mechanism to harness and heighten our ability to focus our attention

With practice we can increase our ability to put our attention where we want to – such as right now in this present moment… where it may be quite pleasant

With practice we can learn to observe when attention is stuck on a fictitious future… and come back home … to now