24 Jul Why it’s so hard to be happy all the time. And why trying too hard might make it harder!
via QZ.com by Rafael Euba
A huge happiness and positive thinking industry, estimated to be worth $11 billion a year, has helped to create the fantasy that happiness is a realistic goal. Chasing the happiness dream is a very American concept, exported to the rest of the world through popular culture. Indeed, “the pursuit of happiness” is one of the US’s “unalienable rights.” Unfortunately, this has helped to create an expectation that real life stubbornly refuses to deliver.
Because even when all our material and biological needs are satisfied, a state of sustained happiness will still remain a theoretical and elusive goal, as Abd-al-Rahman III, Caliph of Córdoba in the tenth century, discovered. He was one of the most powerful men of his time, who enjoyed military and cultural achievements, as well as the earthly pleasures of his two harems. Towards the end of his life, however, he decided to count the exact number of days during which he had felt happy. They amounted to precisely 14.
Happiness, as the Brazilian poet Vinicius de Moraes put it, is “like a feather flying in the air. It flies light, but not for very long.” Happiness is a human construct, an abstract idea with no equivalent in actual human experience. Positive and negative affects do reside in the brain, but sustained happiness has no biological basis. And—perhaps surprisingly—I reckon this is something to be happy about.
Nature and evolution
Humans are not designed to be happy, or even content. Instead, we are designed primarily to survive and reproduce, like every other creature in the natural world. A state of contentment is discouraged by nature because it would lower our guard against possible threats to our survival.
The fact that evolution has prioritized the development of a big frontal lobe in our brain (which gives us excellent executive and analytical abilities) over a natural ability to be happy, tells us a lot about nature’s priorities. Different geographical locations and circuits in the brain are each associated with certain neurological and intellectual functions, but happiness, being a mere construct with no neurological basis, cannot be found in the brain tissue.
In fact, experts in this field argue that nature’s failure to weed out depression in the evolutionary process (despite the obvious disadvantages in terms of survival and reproduction) is due precisely to the fact that depression as an adaptation plays a useful role in times of adversity, by helping the depressed individual disengage from risky and hopeless situations in which they cannot win. Depressive ruminations can also have a problem solving functionduring difficult times…
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