Shakespeare says, “For there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” But if it’s just thinking, plain thinking, why can’t we think ourselves into a good mood whenever we want? Seems like we should be able to just flip a mental switch.
But we all know it’s not that easy. Sometimes our brains get focused on negative things. We can’t stop! I do this all the time. And you want to know a secret? Everybody does. Every single person gets stuck focusing on the negative sometimes.
I’ve spoken on stages with the best-known motivational speakers, Fortune 500 CEOs, and political leaders from around the world. Do you know what they’re all doing backstage? Freaking out. Sweating. Thinking something might go wrong.
We all have negative self-talk. There is no such thing as an eternal optimist. There are people who feel optimistic, but those people have negative self-talk, too. And that’s okay. The problem isn’t that we have negative thoughts in our brain.
The problem is we think we shouldn’t have negative thoughts.
But why do our brains focus on negative things? Once we understand this we can learn how much we can control and make conscious efforts to be happy using proven techniques.
This is one of the most important things I can share with you.
Why is it so hard to be happy?
Because life was mostly short, brutal, and highly competitive over the two hundred thousand years our species has existed on this planet. And our brains are trained for this short, brutal, and highly competitive world. How short, brutal, and highly competitive was it?
Let’s do a quick experiment.
Stop, close your eyes, and picture the last time you felt completely alone in the middle of nowhere.
Was it camping in the mountains when you walked away from the fire and stood on the jagged edge of a mirrory lake? Was it a misty waterfall you found on a field trip when your classmates disappeared and all you could hear was the wind rustling the leaves in the forest canopy? Was it jogging at sunrise on a sandy beach when you curled around the coastline and suddenly couldn’t see anyone for miles in any direction?
Picture yourself back in that scene.
Now mentally erase from our planet all of the following:
You are now standing alone in the middle of the planet with none of those things. Take your phone out of your pocket and toss it away. Take your shoes and shirt off, too, because they don’t exist. Take everything off. You are completely naked with nothing around. None of those things exist. And none of them will begin to exist before the end of your life!
Now close your eyes, picture yourself there, and remember that:
- 99% of our history was living in this world.
- 99% of our history was with a life span of thirty years.
- 99% of our history was with brains constantly battling for survival.
Life was short, brutal, and highly competitive, and we have the same brains now that we’ve had throughout our history.
Were we happy back then? The better question is: Did we have time to be happy? David Cain, author of This Will Never Happen Again, describes this exact situation on his website Raptitude: Getting Better at Being Human:
We have the same brains we’ve always had through this short, brutal, and highly competitive time in our history. Our brains didn’t just suddenly change when we got printing presses, airplanes, and the Internet. How have our brains been programmed?
What did this fear do? It drove our survival. We survived at all costs. We were paranoid. We were fighters. We were ruthless. We were brutal. We were murderous. And because of it . . . we got here. And because of it . . . we took over the planet. And because of it . . . we have everything in the world.
So this begs the question: Is that fear still programmed into our heads today?
This post is an excerpt from The Happiness Equation, by Neil Pasricha.