One of the most common phrases I hear from my patients is, “I just want to be happy!”, and it’s completely understandable – who doesn’t want to be happy?! Many people would say “being happy” is their one, most important life goal – and rightly so, it feels great. So if being happy is so enjoyable, why isn’t our brain wired to make us happy all the time?
The reason for this is that unfortunately our brain is not there to make us happy – it’s there to keep us safe.
Back when we were cavemen, our brain developed to do everything it could to stop us getting killed by predators. The better our ancestors became at avoiding danger, the longer they lived and the more children they had. So the brain became super-skilled at being on the lookout for potential threats and, if something threatening came into our lives, it made sure it did not forget it in a hurry. The problem for us is that, although this skill is one of the reasons humans haven’t become extinct by now, being on the lookout for danger all the time isn’t a recipe for happiness.
Unfortunately, our brain isn’t a happiness machine – it’s a “don’t get killed” device!
Another reason why it can often feel so difficult to be happy, is because we often think of happiness as a “destination” we can get to. We imagine that happiness will be like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow that we will eventually find and then live happily ever after. Unfortunately though, happiness cannot be a permanent state. Like all our other emotions, happiness is only ever temporary and will come and go alongside other emotions such as sadness, anger and anxiety. It’s impossible to be happy all the time, so often the best thing we can do is to develop enough awareness of our emotions so that we can notice and enjoy happiness when we experience it, and try to create a life which feels meaningful and fulfilling so that hopefully happiness will show up a bit more frequently!