Why is happiness elusive?
Apparently, we have never had it so good. We have a higher standard of living than ever before. More people have access to education and medical treatment that previously. We also have better food, better housing conditions, imporved sanitation, career opportunities etc, yet people today don’t seem very happy. Why is happiness elusive?
Human unhappiness doesn’t seem to be decreasing, it appears to be increasing and the statistics are staggering: in any given year almost 30% of the adult population will suffer from a recognised psychological disorder. The World Health Organisation estimates that depression is currently the fourth biggest, costliest and most debilitating disease in the world and by 2020 it will be the second biggest. Not great is it?
Clearly, lasting happiness doesn’t seem normal!
Why is it so difficult to be happy?
Think back over the last hundred thousand years or so, our brains developed and evolved in order to keep us safe from danger. We had basic needs: food, water, shelter and sex. With each generation, the brain became better skilled at coping with danger and looking out for threat. Nowadays, that threat takes a different form – it isn’t a bare toothed lion, it’s the threat of rejection, losing our job or getting cancer. As a result we spend a lot of time thinking about things that may never happen.
Another essential survival skill many many years ago was belonging to a group. Your chances of survival were much higher if you were part of a group. If your clan booted you out it wouldn’t be long before predators found you and ate you. So how does your mind protect you from rejection these days? It meads you to worry about whether you fit in, whether you are normal…am I contributing enough? Sound familiar?
Our modern day minds are continually warning us of rejection and comparing us to the rest of society, No wonder we spend so much time worrying whether others like us. Hundreds of years ago we only had to worry about our immediate group accepting us, now we have to worry about a whole bunch more – especially with Facebook and social media on the rise. We are also constantly aware of how celebrities have so much and we have so little which can leave us feeling inadequate. Society is structured to make us compare and always want more.
Thus evolution has shaped our brains so that we are hard wired to suffer psychologically – to compare, evaluate, analyse, anticipate threat and imagine all sorts of frightening scenarios that may never actually happen.
Being aware of how you are ‘wired’ can help you to compare less, dismiss those ‘what if’ thoughts more and learn to live more in the moment.
Photo by Robert Couse-Baker