October 1, 2019
Mental health, emotional intelligence and positive psychology.
Why is happiness so hard?
Here’s a question: Which early humans survived the dangers of the stone age and the ice age? The one’s who feared danger and worried about the weather and food? Or the ones who relaxed and thought “she’ll be right!”
The fact is happy brains don’t survive hard times. In a world of scarce food and hostile animals, natural selection prefers we worry, avoid danger and stay in our comfort zone. Those who managed to survive had the most highly developed fight/flight response to keep them on their toes. They experienced more anxiety, fear and worry, then passed their genes on to us. Lucky us!
Worse still, our ancestors didn’t just worry about physical danger. They also feared being rejected by the group. If you’re a hunter-gatherer, and you get rejected by your tribe, you will starve to death. Even if you do survive you will be without a mate, so your genes will still die with you. Those who remained in the gene pool were those who feared, not only physical danger, but what others might think about them. The term ‘Homo sapien’ makes us sound very sophisticated, but we are really ‘Homo-scaredy-cats’
Fortunately for us, today we enjoy our comfortable homes and plentiful food. There are very few sabre tooth tigers trying to eat us. And yet we don’t relax. Our brains remain hard wired for more dangerous times and don’t switch off. We worry about work deadlines, social events, job interviews, setting new goals or trying new experiences. Are we attractive enough? Do we fit in? How many ‘likes’ have I got? We live in relative safety, but our primitive brains are ready for negativity from the moment we wake up each morning.
Smarter than your brain?
Your happiness and mental wellbeing are far too important to leave to your brain. Brains are good at survival, but care very little about happiness and wellbeing. If you really want to be happier you need to take more charge – to be more ‘hands on.’ You need to be smarter than your brain, to manage it and be one step ahead of it.
Two decades of positive psychology research have identified proven ways to turn our brains away from default negativity towards happiness. With a little effort we can increase happiness, motivation, self-confidence and life satisfaction. We can also fight anxiety and depression.
Here’s a ‘best of’ list of strategies to get you started. Try a different one each week.
- Each day make a list of five things you are grateful for.
- Identify your strengths and use them more often
- Spend more time with those who want the best for you.
- Talk back to your own negative self-talk (like a tennis player disputing a bad call).
- Spend your money on experiences rather than more stuff.
- Judge yourself by standards no higher than those you apply to others.
- And practice a little regular mindfulness.
Remember, you aren’t in competition with other people. You don’t need to be the smartest person in the room. You only need to be smarter than your own brain; then suddenly everything is easier.
Your brain doesn’t care about your happiness, so we’re not asking it.
What to know more? Attend our EQ Magic; Emotional Intelligence Masterclass.
References and further reading
Russ Harris. The happiness trap: How to stop struggling and start living. Boston
Martin Seligman. Authentic Happiness : using the new positive psychology to realize your potential for lasting fulfillment. New York: Free Press.