YOUR BRAIN IS NOT WIRED TO MAKE YOU HAPPY. YOUR BRAIN IS WIRED TO SURVIVE.
Here's the deal.... Our society teaches us that being happy all the time is “normal” and that should be our baseline. This is something called the "happiness trap" (coined by Russ Harris). But this notion is radically incorrect. There is literally no survival value in being happy. You aren’t more likely to have kids if you’re happy. You aren’t even more likely to be successful if you're happy. Sometimes our anxiety and fear can actually drive us to get things done. (Isn't that crazy?!) And in evolutionary terms, all your brain cares about is surviving and reproducing so its genes can be passed on.
So over the millions of years of evolution, the people that were careful, likely to hesitate when they saw something in the bushes were the ones more likely to SURVIVE. Even if they were only right 1% of the time, that gene got passed down and was compounded.
The more careful our ancestors were and the more they were driven to never be satisfied (more food, stronger shelters, more children) the more successful they and their genes 🧬 were.). Which is why all of us that exist at this moment in history are HARDWIRED to be careful. We come from a long lineage of ancestors who were careful and made calculated risks. Ancestors who constantly surveyed their surroundings to make sure they were safe, while also trying to get as many resources as possible.
Fast forward to us living in a modern society and our “threats” are typically not life threatening. We no longer are in danger of being eaten by a bear, we are in danger of being called out at work, feeling rejected by friends or being ghosted by a partner. Now, being careful hurts us. Constantly worrying about outcomes that are not going to happen makes us less productive and happy. It's no wonder so many people have anxiety.
Unlike other animals, who can have a fear about something (say, a dog had a traumatic instance with almost drowning), we can literally imagine being around water and being scared 24 hours a day. A dog lives his life and doesn't think about the traumatic incident unless he is immediately exposed to water. Through the part of our brain that developed to plan, reason and imagine, though this initially helped us survive, it now allows us to replay unhappy events all day long as if we are still in the situation! Again, no wonder so many of us struggle with feeling happy.
I share this because important information about being happy because before I knew this, I would berate myself and get mad at myself for not being happy. I thought something was wrong with me and that I was a bad person because I had so much. You may feel this way too because of what our society teaches us. I’m here to set the record straight.
YOU CAN BE GRATEFUL AND BE UNHAPPY.
YOU CAN HAVE EVERYTHING YOU COULD EVER WANT AND NOT BE HAPPY.
YOU CAN STILL FEEL LIKE YOU WANT MORE & THERE'S NOTHING WRONG WITH YOU.
That's just the way you were wired- your brain was wired to want more and not be satisfied, no matter what you have. You're not ungrateful, you're a human being!
Once you learn about the happiness trap and the way your brain was wired, you can stop torturing yourself and start offering yourself compassion for the human being that you are. When you have this information, you gain the ability to stop the self-loathing, stop berating yourself and start acting differently. With this knowledge you now have the power to stop listening to your thoughts and start choosing something different!
Have you seen the Amy Schumer's "I'm so Bad" sketch on Comedy Central?
Its a genius parody striking back at food shaming in the media. Seriously, if you haven't seen it, go to youtube it... I will wait. Let me recap it for you. 4 women sitting at a restaurant sharing about how "bad" they were with their eating habits....with no mention or issue with the actual horrific things they were doing like "cyberbulling kids on Instagram." Its a perfect play on how women in the media are depicted as feeling guilty (and therefore you should too!) for...wait for it...eating. I know horrific right? How dare a woman engage in a body behavior that is integral for her survival!
Can you imagine if we replaced the behavior of eating with something as natural as going to the bathroom? I'll paint the picture for you...4 women sitting around the table. Three of the women are able to leave their water untouched while another keeps pushing it away and then sneaking a sip! Finally, flushed now, she scurries away from the table to go to the bathroom only to slunk back to the table and cry, "I can't believe I've had to get up to pee three times tonight! You guys, I"M SOO BAD!" Comical right? But the representation is right on point.
Take that a step further to include men. Can you picture a guy feeling guilty about eating? Play around with google for an afternoon and you will see what I mean. I'm not saying they may not feel guilty, but they certainly most do not feel like an immoral human being, who is guilty of punishment in some way. Yesterday I googled "women feeling guilty." The entire first page was filled with article after article about women feeling guilty about everything from success to motherhood to eating. Once I looked at the image results of this google search, it got even sadder. Most of the photos that came up showed women eating food and feeling guilty!
Next, I googled "men feeling guilty." This first article that popped up is an article from PsychCentral entitled," "How to Deal with Women's Emotions." The remaining results primary discussed how men want to leave you but feel too guilty about it, or even more fun, men making women feel guilty about their issues. I then looked at the pictures of this search. *Brace yourselves.* There were zero, I repeat, zero pictures of men with food. In fact, only the first three photos were just men. By picture #4, there were pictures of women feeling guilty while the man looks annoyed and couples in arguments. There was certainly no pictures of men feeling guilty for eating a steak.
The closest I got to an ad with men feeling guilty about food is the photo above, which is honestly almost worse because the guy feels guilty for "not reading the girls mind" when she is PMSing. This is seriously an ad for guys to buy their girls milk in order to "calm her down".
If women are portrayed as enjoying food in advertisements or media, their is typically a sexual innuendo attached to it. Think of the stereotypical Carl Junior ad's Paris Hilton did back in the day...or almost every chocolate commercial you have ever seen. Seriously, I don't know who started this, but every chocolate ad appears to be advertised towards women as a way to feel sexy and "be bad" in a sexualized way. Do you see the ad above? It literally reads "Filthy. Indulge your obsession for chocolate."
Compare this to men. All the photos you find when you google "men eating" show pictures of men "chomping" down on food, or enjoying food with their friends. There is no guilt, there is no hesitation or need to sneak or lie about what they are eating. Also, to be clear, men have their own issues associated with food, body image, and advertisements and men absolutely have eating disorders. However, if you look at the photos of men eating versus women on the whole, men are represented as having a significantly healthier relationship with food than women.
It's no wonder when examining a minute portion of advertisements and social media that women have issues with food and sexuality. Women are taught to feel guilty about their bodies, their sexuality and their appetites. And while I am very clear that there has been a lot of progress, there is a reason Amy Schumer's sketch is so relevant Its one of those sketches that as a woman, you laugh "almost" too hard, as if your giggles may reveal that you relate a little too much. Again, not with the cyber bullying, but with eating so much cake you fear your friends will actually think you're a monster!
So in closing this week, I leave you with one therapy nugget, a "therapy snack " if you will, no pun intended...to take away from this week's #fiveminutetherapy,..
Dear woman, go be YOUR BAD SELF! The world needs you. All of you. The good, the bad and the what you perceive as ugly.