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Your Brain Doesn’t Want You to Be Happy. It Wants You to Be Safe.

Your Brain Doesn’t Want You to Be Happy. It Wants You to Be Safe.

It’s not your fault, but you can overcome it.

Did you ever feel like something’s wrong with you because you’re not happy? As if you’re making mistakes because everyone around you seems to be so much happier than you?

Or did you ever think of all the things that could go wrong in your life even though everything’s actually fine? Well, you’re not alone.

I’ve never been a cheerful person, and growing up, I always wondered if something’s wrong with me. People constantly asked me if everything was okay because I looked so grumpy.

I didn’t even think of faking smiles to avoid those annoying questions, but deep inside, I felt irritated.

According to a study carried out by psychologists at Queen’s University, more than 6,000 thoughts cross our minds every day. But what’s even more fascinating is that most of those thoughts are negative or repetitive — or both.

In 2005, the National Science Foundation published an article describing how 80% of our thoughts are negative, and more than 90% are exactly the same thoughts as the day before.

It’s not your fault
Negative thoughts and emotions can have different backgrounds. Most of the time, we don’t even know why exactly we’re feeling bad.

But the most overlooked fact is that your brain isn’t wired to make you happy. The main purpose of your brain is to keep you safe and make sure you survive. Your body, and particularly your brain, don’t care whether you’re happy.

According to research published in Science Advances, our brains are 40,000 years old. Now, if you lived 40,000 years ago, survival was indeed your main ambition.

Our ancestors were much more concerned about staying safe because tiny mistakes or accidents could lead to their death.

Centuries ago, this negativity bias served an important purpose: survival.

Thousands of years ago, our ancestors were exposed to immediate environmental threats that we no longer need to worry about — predators, for example — and being more attentive to these negative stimuli played a useful role in survival. — Psychologist Catherine Moore

That’s why it made sense for them to be worried about safety and survival.

The bad news is that our brains are still wired similarly, even though most of us aren’t concerned about survival anymore.

Instead of saving us from wild animals and death, our brains now try to protect us from all sorts of negative experiences — no matter if that’s a heartbreak or an embarrassing moment at a party.

Your brain also doesn’t like surprises — that’s why you often think about the next bad thing and prefer being well prepared for negative things that might happen, even if they’re unrealistic.

That’s why we sometimes make a mountain out of a molehill and turn small struggles into huge problems.

The good news, however, is that we can change the way we think, behave, and ultimately feel, even if the #1 priority of our brains is to keep us alive.

You are the CEO
The fact that your brain is more receptive to negativity doesn’t mean that you’re meant to live a negative life. You can choose your thoughts, which lead to changes in your emotions, which again change the way you act and the results you create.

The truth is, you can’t always control the thoughts that bounce around in your mind. But you can indeed control what you focus on.

You’re not your brain; you’re the CEO of your brain. You can’t control everything that goes on in ‘Mind, Inc.’ But you can decide which projects get funded with your attention and action. — Eric Barker

Each moment, you decide what you focus on.

When you wake up in the morning, you decide whether you scroll through endless social media news or if you follow a mindful morning routine.

When eating your meals, you decide whether you turn the TV on or enjoy each bite in silence.

When waiting for a bus or being stuck in traffic, you decide whether you let negative emotions and anger take control over your life or if you use the time to practice gratitude.

Choosing the bright side isn’t always easy, but it’s more fun. This isn’t about faking smiles or toxic positivity but about making the most of your life.

Ask yourself this question
According to Eric Barker, an effective strategy to control your thoughts and better manage your emotions is to ask yourself if a thought is useful.

Asking yourself, “Is this useful?” helps you assess whether the thought deserves your attention or not.

“If the worry is reasonable, do something about it, if it’s irrational or out of your control, recognize that. Neuroscience shows that merely making a decision like this can reduce worry and anxiety.”

Whenever you pause for a moment and question the usefulness of a thought, you’re consciously deciding whether you want to dedicate time and space to that thought.

If the thought or concern is useful, paying more attention to it might be a good idea. And if it’s not, you can replace it through other, more productive thoughts.

Above all, asking yourself if a thought is useful helps you get a neutral perspective on your emotions.

If you’re struggling to let go of the useless thoughts, try this: Write your negative thoughts on a piece of paper, crumple it up, and throw it away — physically and mentally.

You don’t need to be 100% “clean”
Keep in mind that controlling your mind and creating a happier life is not about being cheerful all the time.

It’s about giving less space to unwanted and unproductive thoughts and emotions, so you have more time and energy for your desired feelings and experiences.

We all know that life is short and time is precious, but what’s even more valuable is our energy. And the truth is, negativity absorbs your mental and physical energy.

When you’re constantly worried, afraid, and in fight-or-flight mode, you don’t have much time and energy left for positive experiences.

Sometimes, negative thoughts are validated, and we experience them for a good reason.

Shit happens to all of us. We get rejected, experience unexpected losses, and come across small and big disasters from time to time.

In those moments of desperation, it’s okay, and even helpful, to embrace the negative feelings we experience.

There’s no point in sugarcoating the reality when life sucks. But the truth is that most of your days don’t suck. Most of the time, life is okay, and your brain is still trying to keep you unhappy.

It’s those days when you need to take responsibility and get in the driver’s seat of your life.

A man is but the product of his thoughts. What he thinks, he becomes. — Mahatma Gandhi
Focus on this goal
According to author Bronnie Ware, one of the five biggest regrets people have on their deathbeds is: I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

Most of the time, we don’t even realize that our small daily thoughts, decisions, and actions ultimately shape who we are and the reality we experience.

I’ve found the easiest way to positively impact your thinking and life is to focus on one goal: Becoming your best self.

As a teenager, I didn’t have any motivation to be more cheerful or happy. I was annoyed when people asked me why I looked so grumpy all the time.

Today, I know that a grumpy life is certainly not the best life, and I choose the bright side whenever possible.

This doesn’t mean I ignore the bad or never face problems. It just means that I know exactly who I want to be and give my best to show up as her every single day.

Sometimes, I succeed. Sometimes, I don’t. But above all, I keep getting closer to that best version of myself.

Whenever you make decisions, no matter how small or big they are, ask yourself what your best self would do.

Choose with your best you in mind and take little steps that will make your future self proud of you.

Don’t confuse this with a lack of authenticity. We’re not trying to fake who we are. We’re just showing up as the best version of ourselves because we all deserve to live a good life.

 Source | Photo by Alessio Cesario from Pexels
Sinem Günel

Sinem Günel


Entrepreneur, Coach & Dreamer. I write about Personal Growth & Business. Grab your Personal Growth Toolkit:

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