Felix Felicis

 

T
he psychologist and evangelist of cognitive behavioral therapy David Burns explains the difference between anxiety and depression:

Most of the time, negative emotions don’t come in pure packages. In fact, anxiety and depression usually go hand in hand. However, these feelings are very different from each other. Anxiety results from the perception of danger. You can’t feel anxious unless you tell yourself that something terrible is about to happen. …In contrast, when you’re depressed, you feel like the tragedy has already happened.[1]

Depression stems from the strong sense that everything is not okay. Anxiety stems from the strong sense that everything will get worse in the future. So if happiness is the opposite of depression and anxiety, then it must stem from a strong sense that everything is okay and it’s going to get even better in the future.

Felix Felicis is a magic potion from the book Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince. Harry is a boy wizard who attends a school for witchcraft and wizardry. One day in his potions class, the teacher, Professor Slughorn, shows the class a vial of Felix Felicis, and asks if anyone knows what it is. Harry’s astute friend Hermione has the answer:

“It’s liquid luck,” said Hermione excitedly. “It makes you lucky!”
          “Yes, it’s a funny little potion, Felix Felicis,” said Slughorn. “Desperately tricky to make, and disastrous to get wrong. However, if brewed correctly, as this has been, you will find that all your endeavors tend to succeed… at least until the effects wear off.”

Harry wins that bottle of the magic potion in a contest. Later in the book, Harry is tasked with eliciting a memory from Slughorn that the professor does not wish to share. He decides he needs the assistance of Felix Felicis to accomplish the task, and so, with the encouragement of his friends Hermione and Ron, Harry decides to imbibe the potion:

Harry took out the rolled-up socks at the bottom of his trunk and extracted the tiny, gleaming bottle.
          “Well, here goes,” said Harry, and he raised the little bottle and took a carefully measured gulp.
          “What does it feel like?” whispered Hermione.
          Harry did not answer for a moment. Then, slowly but surely, an exhilarating sense of infinite opportunity stole through him; he felt as though he could have done anything, anything at all… and getting the memory from Slughorn seemed suddenly not only possible, but positively easy…
          He got to his feet, smiling, brimming with confidence.
          “Excellent,” he said. “Really excellent. Right… I’m going down to Hagrid’s.”

Harry intuitively knows that he should attend the funeral of his friend Hagrid’s giant spider. This confuses Harry’s friends, since it seems to bear no relevance to the task at hand. When you feel lucky, you experience overwhelming confidence in your own intuitions.

“What?” said Ron and Hermione together, looking aghast.
          “No, Harry – you’ve got to go and see Slughorn, remember?” said Hermione.
          “No,” said Harry confidently. “I’m going to Hagrid’s, I’ve got a good feeling about going to Hagrid’s.”
          “You’ve got a good feeling about burying a giant spider?” asked Ron, looking stunned.
          “Yeah,” said Harry, pulling his Invisibility Cloak out of his bag. “I feel like it’s the place to be tonight, you know what I mean?”

Why he knew that going to Hagrid’s was the right thing to do, he had no idea. It was as though the potion was illuminating a few steps of the path at a time: He could not see the final destination, he could not see where Slughorn came in, but he knew that he was going the right way to get that memory.[2]

Harry goes to the home of his friend Hagrid, and a series of fortunate events ensue that somehow lead to Slughorn relinquishing to Harry the required memory. Felix Felicis saved the day.

I’ve had days when I felt as if I were under the influence of Felix Felicis. It is indeed a magical feeling, and it’s the feeling I most associate with happiness. Actually, it is not just a feeling (an emotion), but also a set of beliefs, a way of thinking, and a set of behaviors. In other words, it’s a state.

When in this “Felix Felicis state,” you will experience pleasurable feelings, like these:

  • Confidence.
  • Peace. (Physically relaxed and free from anxiety and self-doubt.)
  • Calm excitement.
  • Motivation.
  • Joy.

Notice that Felix Felicis is calm. Emotions that come in huge bursts and stay with us a short while, even when they feel good, are usually unhelpful. Erratic surges of joy are obviously better than panic attacks, but better still is sustained joy. The goal is a mood that feels good but is also calm, steady, and long-lasting.

These feelings will be accompanied by self-helping beliefs, such as:

  • There is nothing to worry about.
  • Life is good.
  • Everything will work out.
  • I’m a capable, worthwhile person.
  • Other people are good, and they’re nothing to be afraid of. If I talk to them, a fun & silly conversation, or otherwise enriching interaction, will ensue.
  • People like me. And if certain individuals don’t, I don’t care, because their opinions can’t hurt me and don’t “mean” anything. I can’t control what others think and I don’t want to.
  • I don’t care about judgments other people might make of me. I can do silly things in public without worrying about embarrassing myself. I’m okay, no matter what other people think.
  • There are no problems in my path, just fun challenges, and opportunities to make glorious lemonade where others only see lemons.
  • I like myself and my life.
  • I am a funny, fun, creative, spontaneous, sensitive, compassionate, cool, intelligent, wise, balanced, healthy person.
  • I know just what to do next, and it will be rewarding.
  • This is fun.

These feelings and beliefs will be accompanied by self-helping thinking patterns:

  • If a distorted negative thought occurs to me, I don’t assume ownership of it. I just let it go. I don’t take it seriously or let it bother me.
  • If something genuinely negative happens, I accept it for what it is without “catastrophizing.” I allow myself to experience painful emotions, like sadness, when they are merited, without sinking into a self-destructive state.
  • I see humorous things all around me.
  • I’m okay with my choices. I don’t expect perfection, so I don’t irrationally belabor decision making. But I also don’t succumb to impulses without engaging my critical thinking. I suit the investment of energy into making a decision that is merited by the importance of the decision.
  • I tend to see all sorts of positives and possibilities in my life. (But I’m still realistic.)

These feelings, beliefs, and thinking patterns will be accompanied by self-helping behaviors, like these:

  • I’m pro-active. I go out and do things.
  • I focus attention on others easily, because I’m not wrapped up in my own problems.
  • I choose to do things that I might ordinarily stop myself from doing because I’ve convinced myself they aren’t practical.
  • I choose to do things that are creative, fun, and otherwise rewarding to me.
  • I deal with chores quickly and efficiently, and don’t put them off and belabor them.
  • I defer gratification when I know it’s the smart thing to do, rather than succumbing to impulses (but I take pleasure in this so that it feels more like an investment than self-deprivation).

Various states serve useful functions. There are states that are better for problem solving than Felix Felicis state. But Felix Felicis would be a good state to adopt as your norm.


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  1. [1] When Panic Attacks by David Burns, p31.
  2. [2] From Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince, chapter 9 (p187) and chapter 22.
 Posted by on February 23, 2012
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