Your brain is not wired to make you happy. Your brain is wired to have you survive.
Read that one more time: YOUR BRAIN IS NOT WIRED TO MAKE YOU HAPPY. YOUR BRAIN IS WIRED TO SURVIVE.
Generally speaking, we are taught and conditioned from a very young age that being happy all the time is "normal" and represents a standard of "good health". What I am about to share with you right now may cause some cognitive dissonance, but please try to keep in an open mind: there is no survival value in being happy. You aren't more likely to be successful. From my experience and observation as a mental health professional, I notice fear and anxiety steering the wheel for my clients, driving him her to get things done. Having fear and anxiety driving the vehicle towards completing tasks and obligations is actually pretty normal and healthy. And really, it is not all that bad if we are looking at these motivating behaviors through an evolutionary lens. Why? Your brain is programmed to get things done under the assumption he or she may have to confront an unknown perceived danger or threat.
So you might be asking, how does this have to do with happiness and survival? As our human ancestors evolved over time, they began colonizing into groups, forming communities of hunters and gatherers. Humans who would have most likely hesitated when they saw something in the woods or came across unfamiliar terrain on a hunt, were more likely to survive. Over time, this specific trait began appearing more frequently in the genetic material passed down to future generations.
Over time, the need for a higher volume of food supplies, weaponry, shelter, and children increased as a result of our human ancestors focusing more on safety and its positive impacts such surpluses would provide, ultimately ensuring the continuation of passing on the strongest genetic material to future populations. The more successful these early humans were, the stronger the genetic material would be, ensuring the continuation of a species that would evolve and continue to evolve over time to survive and adapt to changing environments and climates.
Here we are today in the modern world. Being careful often hurt us, and "threats" are not typically life threatening. This is where anxiety tends to show up in our lives. Our brains are programmed with the unique ability to process information so that we can survive. Survival includes connection, communication, and community. Your unique genetic material does not have the data to compute beating yourself up emotionally for not being a happy person.
In the experiment of life, survival is the Independent Variable (IV). Happiness is the Dependent Variable (DV). The DV is assumed to be affected by the IV, hence the term 'dependent' (its value depends on the state of the IV).
Amy Pope-Latham, LCSW is a clinical psychotherapist in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL. Amy specializes in working with high performance athletes and adolescents. Amy is a certified EMDR therapist and also works with a variety of issues including: grief, anxiety, depression, panic, obsessive compulsive disorder, and perfectionism.