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Can Entropy Teach Us About The Secret To Being Happier?

 

My partner, who has a PhD in photonics, mentioned the following to me as an interesting thought about mental health and entropy:

 

The entropy, or disorder, of a system naturally increases. To make things more ordered, you have to put energy in. It seems to me that to be happy, you also have to put energy in. Do nothing, and life will naturally be bad/chaotic/unhappy. Just like a garden needs to be maintained – neglect it and it will get overgrown with weeds and your nice flowers will die.

 

My partner was quick to add that this was just their uninformed, no psychological knowledge behind it, basic analogy. They don’t want it to sound like they’re blaming people for not being happy, because, as you know, happiness isn’t a choice.

 

But I liked my partner’s analogy and link to their base of knowledge, so I thought I’d look into it a bit more and see if I could turn it into some form of self-help or self-care.

 

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What Is Entropy?

 

According to Study.com, the second law of thermodynamics states that without outside energy being provided, a system’s entropy (disorder) will stay the same or increase with time. This law of entropy means the system can’t get more ordered without outside intervention. And, according to this law of thermodynamics, entropy can only increase over time in a closed system (Hirsh, Mar, and Peterson, 2012).

 

A simple way of looking at it is to think of the entropy of an object which is measured by the amount of energy is unavailable to do work (Simple English Wikipedia). To simplify further, it can be seen as the measure of randomness or uncertainty.

 

Although entropy can only increase over time in a closed system, that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to reduce entropy for those within the system. The universe, at present understanding, according to Hirsh, Mar, and Peterson (2012), is our closed system, where entropy will increase over time. But the living organisms, i.e. us humans, can reduce the entropy within their biological system by consuming energy (food). This allows us to displace our entropy into the outside world, reducing it in our own system.

 

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Our Lives In Entropy

 

Although my partner made this comment as a random insight from their field of expertise into mine, it turns out that it does have merit. Because entropy is a measure of disorder, you can think of it as the universe taxing us (FS). The system will dissolve into chaos if it’s left unchecked, meaning entropy will increase over time. What does this sound like to you? If you said a society, then I would agree with you. Society functions because we’ve collectively agreed to rules that help reduce entropy into the system.

 

We’ve also created institutions which help to further reduce entropy into the system, such as healthcare, police, firefighters, civil service, and governments. These all function as a maintenance system that stops societies from rearing towards chaos (FS). So although it might not seem like it at times, societies function better today than they used to, thanks to advances we’ve made as a species.

 

Hirsh, Mar, and Peterson (2012) proposed a theory called the entropy model of uncertainty (EMU). They believed this model would help us understand the nature and psychological impact of uncertainty. The model is meant to help understand the importance of uncertainty management for a person’s survival, wellbeing, and productivity.

 

The EMU was based on a framework of four major tenets:

 

  1. Uncertainty poses a critical adaptive challenge for any organism, so people are motivated to keep it at a manageable level.
  2. Uncertainty emerges as a function of the conflict between competing perceptual and behavioral advantages.
  3. Adopting clear goals and belief structures helps to constrain the experience of uncertainty by reducing the spread of competing resources.
  4. Uncertainty is experienced subjectively as anxiety.

 

Upon reading this, I immediately thought about terror management theory, the death anxiety. Terror management theory states that we create beliefs to avoid fearing our eventual death. If we didn’t do this, then we’d be in a state of death anxiety every day. Imagine having to leave the house when you fear your life can end at any second. Thus, having a belief that you’ll go to heaven or reincarnate reduces your death anxiety, as well as your entropy.

 

Many people have stated that the fear of the unknown is the core of all anxiety disorders (Carleton, Sharpe, and Asmundson, 2007; Carleton, 2016; and Counselling Directory). As entropy has shown, we have an intolerance of uncertainty, and if our ability to endure uncertainty is poor, then we develop anxiety.

 

The belief that the fear of the unknown is the core of anxiety might explain my anxiety-induced psychosis. My anxiety disorders came into creation because I couldn’t trust my reality was real, that I was seeing a different version of reality to everyone else. In short, my fear was that I didn’t know if this was true or not, which shaped my whole world. It wasn’t until I started using graded exposure that this uncertainty went away.

 

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Hirsh, Mar, and Peterson (2012) believed that psychological entropy appears linked to the integrity of an individual’s existence, reflected in their ability to perform work and achieve rewards through goal-directed perception and action. Thus, our lives are spent reducing entropy by managing uncertainty (work) by eating and using cognitive resources to establish value and purpose. In short, everything we do in life is our way of managing the entropy within ourselves.

 

According to Carleton, Sharpe, and Asmundson (2007), this fear of the unknown can be seen in anxiety issues like healthy anxiety and the fear of illness, fear of negative evaluation, and fear of pain. All highlight the intolerance to the uncertainty.

 

Simply put, an impending sense of uncertainty or stress response to a perceived future threat, cause the body to respond with anxiety (Counselling Directory). This would then become clinical anxiety if this continues to happen and gets worse in the process.

 

Given that Hirsh, Mar, and Peterson (2012) believes there are two main domains of uncertainty from a psychological perspective, I could be right about my anxiety-induced psychosis. The two domains in question are uncertainty about perception and uncertainty about actions. As perception is the interpretation of sensory information related to expectations, motives, and experience, not being able to trust that is going to be a problem.

 

As FS stated, entropy is important to our wellbeing because it affects every part of our lives. We’ve all witnessed entropy, like how a clean room becomes dusty and messy, and relationships becoming difficult and end. Entropy is inescapable. To maintain our mental health, health, relationships, and everything else requires constant effort and attention. Order is temporary, whereas disorder is the default, so ignore it at your own peril.

 

There’s a limit to how much energy we can use to do the stuff we need to avoid entropy. An example from Coldwell (2021) states, if a CEO would to improve their compaines image by being transparent, environmental, and engage in social activism, there are risks that come with that. Adding these extra areas to allocate resources can cause profitability to become a secondary issue. This can lead to entropy because they’d be using energy to undermine their goal of being profitable. Although, for the sake of the world, please put environmental goals above profit!

 

Now try applying this same formula to your life. If we put all our energy into working at our jobs, then you’ll be undermining your chances of being happier than you could be. Furthermore, putting on a mask and telling people “I’m fine” when you’re not, also invites entropy. This increases our risk of stress, depression, and burnout. Work to live, don’t live to work. Restore your work/life balance.

 

One could say that mental health issues and stress are states of entropy. And therapists, self-help, medication, and other treatments are there to return order to the system of which entropy has become unmanageable.

 

The picture is split in two with the top image being of a Black woman eating a packed lunch on a forest walk smiling. The bottom image being of an Asian couple sitting at a bench and reading a book together, smiling. The two images are separated by the article title - Can Entropy Teach Us About The Secret To Being Happier?

 

Restoring Order From Entropy

 

As I said in a pervious article about happiness not being a choice, we can’t just decided we’re going to be happy like flicking a switch. If only that were the case. Instead, it requires effort, and there’s no guarantee it’ll make you happy, but doing nothing won’t either. Unfortunately, you can always rely on motivation to help you make that effort either, especially if you’re depressed. The use of self-discipline will be what carries you, no matter how bad you’re feeling. Which I know is easier said than done.

 

So, if you have depression, that might mean taking antidepressants to help you if you can’t do it on your own. That’s the reason we have such medications. You can also try engaging with old hobbies or trying new ones to help address that work/life balance. Even simple things like creating to-do lists can help.

 

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Summary

 

So, can my partner’s analogy of happiness and entropy be used for self-care? I believe it can. You need to do something to change something. If you’re depressed, doing nothing to change that will probably keep you trapped in depression. But contacting a mental health support network, talking to people you trust, or talking to your GP raises the chances of change occurring. Thus, reducing your entropy. But you have to put energy into your own system to do that. It doesn’t have to be a lot. Even the smallest of steps can get the dominos falling.

 

The self-care that entropy highlights is that if you want things to improve, then it requires you to invest energy into making the change happen. It won’t guarantee you’ll end up being happy, but doing nothing guarantees you’ll remain where you are. Maybe playing your favorite joyous songs will help get the ball rolling, or treating yourself to a makeover or shopping trip. Whatever it is, self-care is about putting the time and energy into yourself and your needs.

 

As always, leave your feedback in the comments section below. Also, please share your experiences of entropy and what the secret to happiness is in the comments section below as well. Don’t forget, if you want to stay up-to-date with my blog, then sign up for my newsletter below. Alternatively, get push notifications for new articles by clicking the red bell icon in the bottom right corner.

 

Lastly, if you’d like to support my blog, you can make a donation of any size below. Until next time, Unwanted Life readers.

 

 

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References

Carleton, R. N. (2016). Into the unknown: A review and synthesis of contemporary models involving uncertainty. Journal of anxiety disorders39, 30-43. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0887618516300251 and https://doi.org/10.1016/j.janxdis.2016.02.007.

Carleton, R. N., Sharpe, D., & Asmundson, G. J. (2007). Anxiety sensitivity and intolerance of uncertainty: Requisites of the fundamental fears?. Behaviour research and therapy45(10), 2307-2316. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17537402, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/6299497_Anxiety_sensitivity_and_intolerance_of_uncertainty_Requisites_of_the_fundamental_fears, and https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0005796707000952.

Coldwell, D. A. (2021). Toxic behavior in organizations and organizational entropy: a 4th industrial revolution phenomenon?. SN Business & Economics1(5), 1-7. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s43546-021-00079-0.

Hirsh, J. B., Mar, R. A., & Peterson, J. B. (2012). Psychological entropy: a framework for understanding uncertainty-related anxiety. Psychological review119(2), 304. Retrieved from https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2012-00550-001, https://doi.org/10.1037/a0026767, https://psycnet.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1037%2Fa0026767, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22250757, https://web.archive.org/web/20170829063844/http://www.yorku.ca/mar/Hirsh%20et%20al%20in%20press_PsychRev_Entropy%20Model%20of%20Uncertainty.pdf, http://www.yorku.ca/mar/Hirsh%20et%20al%20in%20press_PsychRev_Entropy%20Model%20of%20Uncertainty.pdf, https://web.archive.org/web/20190225105759/http://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/6164/ecc2ff2cb97ea0ab54da11c553cc6b9b9403.pdf, https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Psychological-entropy%3A-a-framework-for-anxiety.-Hirsh-Mar/6164ecc2ff2cb97ea0ab54da11c553cc6b9b9403?p2df, and http://www.jacobhirsh.com/Hirsh,%20Mar,%20&%20Peterson%20-%20Psychological%20Entropy.pdf.

22 thoughts on “Can Entropy Teach Us About The Secret To Being Happier?

  1. What a great way of combining Entropy with self-care and happiness. I’m far from being a scientist and do not pretend to be one, but the concept of entropy has always caught my interest. It did give me a better understand of life and how it all works. It helped me come to terms with death and why it is an inevitability. But even with our mental health, if we don’t work on it, it will increase the disorder in our thoughts. For me, writing them down, helps to create some order. That does mean putting energy in when thinking about them and digging deep to find them. Great post and I really enjoyed reading it. Thanks

    • Thank you. Writing about your thoughts and feelings is a great way to help process them and to offload to help quiet that inner voice. Thanks for sharing your thoughts

  2. I really enjoyed this post. I have an anxiety disorder and probably experience this. I need to learn to find the strength to put the effort in to make a change in order to live a happier life. But easier said than done, as you say. Hopefully I’ll get there as my courage increases over time. Thanks for sharing. Jade MumLifeAndMe

  3. What a great post! I have never heard of entropy or this concept, but I love how a conversation inspired you to look into the dynamics of entropy and present what you learned in a reader-friendly way that makes use of some great metaphors to illustrate the concept. Just by knowing how something like entropy can affect our lives empowers us to find ways to address it. 🙂

  4. This is a great combination of two important topics. One that governs our universe and being, the other makes that existence better and more worthwhile. A truly fascinating read

  5. Science can help us on many different levels. This article shows a correlation between entropy and our happiness. Our minds and thoughts can become disordered if we don’t put energy it to work at our issues. Without it, entropy will increase, making our life more troublesome

  6. Really interesting post. My personal perception is that we do need to do something to change something, and looking after yourself should be number one, however that goes against many messages and stories we are told to put others first. I love the ideas in this post, and the respect that you give to us, the reader. I believe that the universe is energy, and we are a key part of that. Our emotions are what makes us who we are, and the dangerous idea of constant positivity only adds to the problems we face emotionally. We are what we are, and only live for today, an idea that has helped me come to terms with myself as someone who finds the world a very strange place to be in. Thank you for this post.

    • What you said about putting other people first, rather than ourselves, is often something you’ll hear from a client in therapy. There’s nothing wrong with putting other people first, but you also need to prioritise your own wellbeing. Thanks for sharing your thoughts

  7. You’re right, there is always going to be a certain level of entropy, so managing it becomes very important. Self-care is an excellent place to start. There is absolutely a certain amount of action involved in it as well, and it is time well invested in ourselves. Another fantastic and insightful post. ✌️

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