We’re Hardwired For… Unhappiness?

“There are two distinct classes of what are called thoughts: those that we produce in ourselves by reflection and the act of thinking, and those that bolt into the mind of their own accord”

~ Thomas Paine

Do you ever wonder why we have to make an effort to divert negative thoughts and comments? Why we often have to pause and think before seeing positively? It can seem tiresome to keep up with staying positive! What gives?

Unhappiness has one best friend: fear. We fear that we aren’t good enough, don’t have enough, aren’t safe and secure, aren’t worthy and so much more. This perpetual cycle of fear and doubt is tickled out of us society daily, as we increasingly feel like it’s all our fault. The good within the bad is that it’s not your fault; it’s natural.

Destined For Unhappiness

Neuroscience research has done some investigating and found two happiness busters that come stock in every human.

First, our reptilian brain, or brain stem, is programmed for instinctual fear. That’s its one source of fuel. It runs off fear and is incapable of knowing anything else. It sniffs it out fear like a pig after truffles.

Second, our mammalian brain joined in down the evolutionary road bringing the amygdala – the center for memory and emotion. Trouble is, it naturally stores painful and threatening memories.

It’s simply easier and more natural for our brains to jump on the negative. Do you ever have an amazing meal or engage in something enjoyable and then find people talking about the few things that weren’t even bad, but could have been better? Or have enjoyed a night out, but all you can think about is that one negative remark your friend made? Drag.

We’re primed to dwell on the negative. Side note: if your friends are inclined to negativity, try to set them straight or seek proactively positive people.

Not So Fast, We’re Smarter Than That 

Indeed, we are. As we evolved, the human neocortex developed. This shining knight of intellect achieves cognitive feats and houses the human spirit, which blows my mind in its ability to transcend the boundaries of reason and experience and provide a sense of knowledge to the unknowable. That’s another story, though…

Our intellect answers the calls of fear and threat with confidence, reason and reassurance providing comfort and enabling happiness.

Fear comes quick, strong and with responses of adrenalin and cortisol felt within the body. It gains the upper hand more often than we’d like it to. We’re human, overwhelmed and conditioned to focus on fears.

While this is seemingly negative in itself, it is. But, the best lessons are the hardest. Knowing you’re wired for fear, which is the number one threat to happiness, you can use that knowledge and awareness as a tool to better bring out happiness.

Outsmarting Unhappiness

Since happiness doesn’t arise on it’s own, and we can’t merely think happy to be happy, we have to outsmart our minds and work to overcome our fearful instincts.

We often get caught up trying to find happiness in work, health or relationships, but we’ll never find it focusing on one area. Without a rounded sense of well-being we fall into the balance trap, seeking balance when we need to find what eliminates the need.

Love, optimism, liberation, courage, proactivity, health, spirituality, perspective, humor, purpose and altruism are the top dogs in a happy life. There are a few tips and tricks to better achieve these ends, let’s have a look.

Tools to Help You Find Happiness

  1. Empowered choice. The lands of liberation and the good life await, but only if you choose to direct the course of your life. When we allow what’s thrown on our plate to decide our life’s direction down the path of least resistance, we give in to our automatic fear indicators and strip our chances of liberated living. When we proactively look into ourselves, our skills and our world, we link these into harmonic work, relationships and lifestyles that support our creativity, health and purpose.
  2. Know your strengths. Forget your weaknesses, lead with your strong points. Find out what you’re good at from a mental and technical perspective and apply those to values-driven action. By doing so, our minds stay focused on what we can achieve and any weaknesses naturally develop or remain out of sight and out of mind. Weakness driven lives are a product of the lower brains fear-sector. Show love and lead.
  3. Appreciate. This one is huge. As the ultimate embodiment of love, it’s toted as one of the most potent happiness drivers. While fear is the essence of unhappiness, love is the heart of happiness. Show gratitude for the simple and profound wonders of life. Embrace the mundane. Embrace all people. We are comforted by company and empowered by appreciation.
  4. Acceptance. Of others, yourself, the world. While we are pressed to do more, want more and achieve more, we fall into a perpetual spin of endless dissatisfaction. Scary. Acceptance is the antidote to expectation. Don’t fret, compare, complain or despair; choose, lead, love and grow.

Learning From Dogs

Martin Seligman placed some dogs in an open box and a closed box. Then he mustered his evil and shocked the dogs in the name of human psychology.

What he found, as you very well assumed, is that the dogs in an open box got the hell out of there while the others remained trapped.

It was a breakthrough experiment because it revealed that we can, in a sense, learn to be unhappy. The dogs that were trapped tried to get out, but realizing they were stuck, simply lay down in submission and accepted their fate.

Just as the dogs were so easily conditioned to a mentality of hopelessness and acceptance of a life of pain and confinement, as human beings we subject ourselves to the same ends.

We’re thrown into a world of uncontrollable parameters that place seemingly inescapable burdens on us. We lay down sheepishly and accept our fate in a depressed state of helplessness.

This is a generalization. I’m not saying you or everyone does, and clearly many say the hell with it and find a way to escape. When we put our minds to it and practice the tips above, we choose life, and when we choose life, we live in the lands of liberated goodness.

Do you ever notice your lower level instincts affecting your choices and happiness? Have you broken the confines and escaped into the good life? What works for you?

If you found this article interesting and it helped you, it may help someone you know. Please feel welcomed to share. If you’d like more information on the topic, check out Dr. Dan Baker’s book What Happy People Know. I derived most of the facts discussed above from his work.


8 thoughts on “We’re Hardwired For… Unhappiness?

  1. Pingback: How To Be Unhappy… Common Habits of Unhappy People | Inspired Every Moment

  2. Was not expecting that story when I read the headline “Learning from Dogs.” I do understand the point you’re making though and it is very true how the conscious effort to be happy is difficult to maintain 24/7. I think it really is about escaping. Although it may not be easy or even possible for everyone, it’s always worth looking out for new opportunities.

    • Thanks for dropping a note, Vincent. It is about escaping, but enthusiastically – seeing escape as a process of passionate work that liberates one from potential-limiting confinement. It’s always worth looking for new opportunities, but know that the more you know what drives you, what you’re seeking, the more opportunities will arise. It’s why luck isn’t necessary luck – those who are most ‘lucky’ also often work the hardest. Best.

  3. Pingback: How To Achieve Happiness | Why I Believe in God

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