Happiness: a Dance of Openness and Closure

Navigating the Rhythms of the Mind

Happiness: a Dance of Openness and Closure
Open and Closed states in relation with Maslow's pyramid of needs
Photo by Aarón Blanco Tejedor on Unsplash

Our mind operates with two main paradigms. Open or closed.

Openness is the feeling we experience when connecting directly with our experience. It can be while being in the flow state, as identified by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi where we lose our sense of time and solicit our brain effortlessly. We have multiple expressions for these states.

If you meditate, it can be the open feeling of pure awareness as vast as the blue sky and accepting of any experience. When running, you can experience the runner's high state of mind & body. When competing in a sport or game of chess, it happens when the self disappears: you are entirely focused and engaged. The feeling is called the groove if you play or listen to music or dance. For intellectual or manual work, you feel in the zone. It happens when learning new concepts, languages, tools, and techniques and creating things (woodworking and blogging, for instance).

A multitude of terms and expressions exists to designate open experiences. They all imperfectly describe our open minds.

When our mind is open, we associate these states with feelings like happiness, curiosity, effortless, control, empathy, relatedness, togetherness. These feelings lead to growth, wisdom, joy and happiness. There is no self in these feelings, simply a wide-open sensation welcoming and joyful.
Typical Open vs Closed feelings - (c) RadicalOptimist.org 2022

Closed is a feeling we have when our self feels threatened. It is a feeling designed to protect us from danger. We have three basic modes of survival: fight/flight/freeze.

  1. The flight response:  we are trying to make ourselves as small as possible to not appear as a target for predators. We also protect our vital and reproductive organs. We blush as blood is pumped faster and stronger in our bloodstream to prepare us for the life-saving effort, and we run away from the threat.
  2. The freeze response: we do precisely that. We are indecisive, incapable of taking any action. We wait until the threat is gone. The body is also ready for a life-saving effort as we can transition to a fight-or-flight response: both require a high-intensity effort.
  3. The fight response: we manifest ourselves in the physical world. We type upper-case hate messages and press send without any thought; we make ourselves bigger and change our appearance and behaviour to be intimidating and threatening to others. We raise our voices and adopt a dominant position. We want to be the alpha in the room and impose our presence and charisma on others.

In these states, the ego manifests itself. There is a clear separation between us and the world and others. We have tunnel vision and even tunnel perception: we can only focus our attention and energy on some particular aspects of the experiences. These states close our perception of the outside world, and we focus all our resources and energy on the danger source that threatens our survival.

When our mind is closed, it manifests as fear, anger, stress, indecision, craving for possession, authority and fear. It can happen at work, at home, in a crowd, in public speaking (or writing), during family dinners, performance evaluations or meeting strangers. It can lead to chronic stress, chronic illness, unhappiness and burn-out.

Connexion with Maslow's pyramid

Our open & closed states relate to Maslow's pyramid of needs. While our fight or flight reflex is indispensable to ensure our physiological and physical safety, it is hurting our ability to develop our self-esteem and self-actualization.

Schema of Maslow's needs with the open and closed experiences.

Good news: open and closed states do not last!

As you all know by now, these experiences (whether open or closed) are all temporary. You can remember when you were happy or a pleasant experience from yesterday when listening to a podcast. Or your latest crisis at work or with a close friend or family member.

In our life, we alternate between these extremes. In one state, our self disappears (open); in the other, our self takes center stage in our experience. Both of these experiences constitute a strong argument that you don’t have a stable self that behaves identically and consistently, nor that you don't have a self (open states).

You only have open, closed and in-between experiences.

What is Happiness?

Our mind operates within two primary paradigms: openness and closure. Openness allows us to discover our interconnectedness with the universe. Closure compels us to protect ourselves from potential dangers: it limits our perception and confines us to negative patterns to protect ourselves from real or imaginary threats.

Throughout our lives, we oscillate between these two states. It is crucial to recognize that they are only temporary experiences. A stable and consistent self does not define us, nor should we identify with our states of openness.

Real life happens at each instant between these two types of states.

Happiness is your way to find balance between these two type of states.

Feedback is a gift 🙏🏼

  • How do you detect when you are open? closed?
  • Can you switch from one state to the other?
  • Are they any additional resources useful for the readers?

Feedback is a gift 🙏🏼: don't hesitate to share your thoughts!

You can comment on this article or reach me:
- email: ben@radicaloptimist.org,
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