Why does it seem so difficult to be happy? Why are we constantly worrying about everything? Is there a way we can train our brains to worry less and be happier?
The existentialist philosopher Søren Kierkegaard said that life is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be lived. And still, it is rather hard to stop our brain from constantly worrying and fearing everything. Kierkegaard wasn’t wrong, but we are designed to survive, to find and solve problems. Living a fulfilling life is not useful for the purpose of keeping us alive, so if we want to be happy, we need to override the default mode of the brain and make an effort.
An out-of-date brain in a modern world
Why is that? We are functioning in a modern world with a brain that hasn’t developed as fast, a brain that is still trying to solve the problems our ancestors had when those don’t exist anymore. In the past, our brains had to be very alert to any possible threat, as around the corner there could be a lion or any other risk that could kill us. Being constantly alert and seeking for trouble was useful because that would allow human beings to detect the danger and react quickly.
Nowadays, these mechanisms are not useful, because we have evolved and we don’t have such dangers and the problems we face today won’t kill us. However, our brain functioning hasn’t had enough time to adapt and it will keep alert 24/7 to spot any possible danger that could threaten us. Our brain is still constantly working to find and solve risky situations, that in our modern life, means worrying about any big or small situation we need to solve, whether it is a presentation we have to do at work, a job interview, a discussion with our partner, our children failing to pass an exam, etc. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have big problems at the moment, the brain will create them if necessary. That is its way to keep you alive. And we should thank him because he does a great job.
We live in a world with problems that won’t kill us, but with a brain that believes they might. That is why we are designed to constantly worry and try to find solutions to situations.
Changing patterns to be happy
The good news is that our brain is plastic, and we can change the way it works by shifting our patterns of thought. Let’s consider the issue a problem of focus/attention. We worry so much because our brain focuses on the problems. By intentionally changing the focus, we can change our life. It sounds easier than it actually is. Because our brain has done the same thing for so many years, overriding its pattern is rather difficult, it requires a lot of time and effort, but it is possible!
Train the brain to focus on the amazing things you have in your life. Make less room to think about the problems. Some practical ways to do this:
It is scientifically proven that writing down three or more things you are grateful for every day improves the levels of happiness and well-being. It can be anything, from how grateful you are to have an amazing family, to more specific things like how much you enjoyed a walk in the park or a coffee with a friend.
We live a too fast life. By stopping and enjoying our moments more often we increase our inner peace. Drink that cup of tea slowly, paying attention to how much you like it, and making that moment special. Enjoy that walk, don’t rush, just slow down and focus on the pleasant feelings that arise from the little things.
The human being is a social being by nature. This means we are designed to work together, helping each other. Because of this, helping others is a great source of happiness. You don’t need to do great things, just smiling at someone can make a big difference.
- 8 strategies to overcome the negativity bias
- Problem-solving methodology: the solution focus approach
- How to stop ruminating thoughts: tools used by therapists
- CBT techniques: tools for cognitive behavioural therapy
- Why having a healthy mind is essential to a fulfilling life?
- Five different breathing techniques to alleviate anxiety