Happiness is not natural.
EMMA'S NOTES #40
Naturally, you are not predisposed to happiness.
Let that sink in.
Your brain is not optimized for happiness. It's optimized for survival. And you don't need to feel happy in order to survive. Our brain is full of mechanisms that undermine our happiness. The negativity bias for example, as well as hedonic adaptation that makes sure that we never feel satisfied for too long, to ensure that our species doesn't get lazy and continues to survive. Happiness, therefore, is something you have to work on, rather than something that appears naturally.
I've been in therapy on and off since I was sixteen, meaning I'd do short bursts of one on one sessions with a psychologist or coach until I either felt 'better' again or I concluded that the treatment wasn't getting me where I wanted to be.
This spring I decided that I needed something more consistent. Just like working out whenever I feel like it doesn't work for me, working on my mental well-being when I felt like it didn't work for me either. Why not? Because I don't feel like working out that often. And because I have quite a big tolerance for feeling not great but good enough. As I'm writing this e-mail I'm not sitting up straight, my back is hurting, I'm quite hungry, feeling cold and pretty sure I have to pee. Well, why don't you do anything about those things Emma? GOOD question. Because I'm not feeling great, but good enough to keep writing apparently.
You could say that being adaptive is good. And it is. But you can have too much of a good thing. It's kind of like dating: it's great if you're flexible and adaptive. It will make it easy to be around and will probably let you experience things you haven't experienced before. Sometimes, however, you have to conclude that you're bending over backward for your lover, and not in a sexy way.
This spring I concluded I was alright, but not in a truly happy way. I was doing fine, meaning my life was filled with warm friendships, endless ruminating, a loving family, a hard time falling asleep, an inspiring worklife, and the occasional panic attack.
Since then I've been going to therapy every week. I doubted whether I should share that here for a while. At first, I didn't feel the need to share something so private. Until I started getting questions from the people that did know:
Are you unhappy?
When will you be done?
Isn't that scary?
How do you find a therapist?
Can anyone go to therapy?
And I realized that there is a lot to gain still in the way we talk about mental wellbeing. Going to therapy does not mean you're sick or broken. Just as going to the gym doesn't mean you're ill or malfunctioning. It means that you want to get better, stronger, feel more energized, and deal with the fact that your brain might not be optimized for happiness, you still want to be happy.
Have a great week,
Recommended sources to read more on this topic:
If you want to read more about how our brain is not optimized for happiness, I recommend reading chapter 4 of Indistractable by Nir Eyal.
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Tune written to:
Favorite crime by Olivia Rodrigo
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