Another Sunday, another book that I’ve recently read. This time it’s The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt. I read this book over the past weekend. Honestly it is one of my favorite books now. I’ve said that before. Buy this one may take the cake. Very interesting and insightful overall. One cool concept that I like from the book is that people are like plants.
So I want to expand my thoughts on it.
People aren’t like computers
The most common analogy to the human mind is that of a computer.
And it makes sense in a way. Both are super powerful computing, reasoning, and decision-making entities. So it’s not surprising that this analogy has taken off and become an almost universally accepted substitution.
This works really well on a rational basis. But people are not purely rational beings. That’s why we don’t follow the tenets of utility theory in all or maybe even a majority of situations. It’s why investors still try to beat the market even though we know passive investing is the way to go.
So this analogy has a fatal flaw
And where it really shortchanges us is when it comes to mental health.
Because to fix a computer, you need to open it up, diagnose the issue, replace the bad parts, and it’s all good. So, it would follow that to fix your mind, the same principles apply.
But is that really how it works?
People are like plants
No. The answer to the above question is no.
But we unfortunately we tend to believe that’s how it works. Even as a physician, that is probably the best understanding or metaphor for treating mental health that I could muster. I’m not proud to say that but it shows how pervasive that concept is.
We look to therapy and medication as an “on/off” switch or “parts replacement” for our cerebral computer. And I am not saying that these treatments are not effective or necessary. They are! I’m just saying that their effect is not like that of changing your computers motherboard when it burns out (pun intended).
And that is because people are like plants
When a plant is dying, you can’t just substitute out the leaves.
All you can do is change the conditions. Give it better soil, sunlight, and water. And wait.
With the right healthy conditions, the plant will begin to thrive again. And that, in my opinion, is such a better analogy for how humans and our brains work.
What does that mean for you and me?
If you are burned out, unhappy, unfulfilled, or experiencing mental health issues, focus on creating the right conditions for you to thrive. Seek help and leverage therapy and necessary medications to help build these conditions. And then be patient and persistent.
Looking back, I recognize that when I faced my challenges with burnout and falling out of love with medicine, what brought me back was seeking support, changing my conditions, and being patient.
This metaphor really helped me to reframe my past challenges and grow into my future ones. I hope it can do the same for you!
What do you think? Are people like computers? Or like plants? How have you faced challenges in the past? Let me know in the comments below!