The Con of Happiness

Happiness has become a trillion dollar industry. Motivational gurus, fad diets, apps, books, you name it, there is something out there that has a price tag on it that all but guarantees your happiness. It is all a con and here is why. The brain did not evolve for us to be perpetually happy. There are no happy circuits that exist in the brain. Like every other feeling that exists it is a conditioned element. The brain’s only biological imperative is survival and happiness does not play into that. If evolution or natural selection required happiness, humans would not exist today because we are so obviously bad at it. The brain evolved mechanisms and processes like emotions and consciousness but there is no neurological circuit for happiness. It is a subjective social construct. Being miserable or unhappy is also a conditioned element. Allow me to explain.

Prior to the invention of the television most people were entertained at home by a radio. But humans are visual animals. Our adaptive subconscious processes eleven million bits of data per second and ten million of those bits are processed by our visual cortex. We visually take in information that never consciously registers….all day everyday except when we are sleeping. The television became the perfect medium to sell us the things we don’t need because it was visual. Only films shown in movie theaters had this reach but now it was in the home with the presence of the television.

Fast forward to 2021 and this mechanism is in the palm of everyone’s hand at every age twenty-four hours a day three hundred and sixty-five days a year. I make the argument that it is also far worse today because celebrities, actors, and musicians are no longer the only people who endorse things to make you want them and by extension their lifestyle. Your peers can now fill that role and many do.

People are led to believe that happiness is something ‘out there’ as a tangible thing. It isn’t. It is just like every other label you apply to interceptive bodily sensations that we call feelings. What is ‘out there’ is pleasure and it has been coopted for so many things, happiness just being one of them and it is incredibly powerful.

I have a newsflash for many of you, people and things do not make you feel anything. They influence emotions and feelings you create but you ultimately create them. When you outsource your ‘happiness’ to a person, a situation, an item, activity or experience you are not taking responsibility for being the creator that you are. You are empowering extrinsic forces which essentially sets the table for you to blame and be a victim.

Our lives are not about feelings. Not in the way we have been conditioned to believe. It is about the behavior you do to create the feelings along the way and down the road that result from your behaviors, your habits. This is how you synthesize the balanced and transcendent feelings and create balance in your life both in the immediate and the long term. Unbalanced perceptions in the moment create polarized emotions and feelings. This is not the ideal homeostatic state our minds, brains and bodies desire. And it is not only ok to be polarized and imbalanced, this is what it is to be human, but mindfulness and awareness of this helps us to adjust and get back to our baseline and become balanced faster with practice. This is where we can create for ourselves our gateway to our thrive state and exit the survive state and access our infinite potential.

There are real obstacles to living in a homeostatic state that result in genuine hardships. Conditions like lacking clean water, electricity and refrigeration, living under oppressive regimes, war condition, struggling for food and shelter are the minimum things many people the world over lack. This puts them in perpetual states of survival that are not easily overcome by mindset training. For those of us blessed with randomness, we are better situated to optimize mindset training to reframe things and to take advantage of empirical cognitive mechanisms to optimize our existence. For us it is more clearly a choice.

Elliot is a personal development author. His latest book, "The Bitter & The Sweet: Benefits of a Balanced Perspective in Life, and How to Achieve It" out now.