"90% of our happiness is predicted not by the external world, but by how our brains perceive the world."
I watched a TED talk today that opened my myopic eyes up to a simple truth: if we simply change the lens we view life through, we can change our happiness and use so much more of our potential as the human race (yes, there is only one genetically and anthropologically defined race and that is Homo sapiens). Why do inspiring people like my Mom survive living with all the terrible ugliness that is cancer for over a decade longer than the docs said she would? Why do some people have family and friends and community who readily reach out to help in times of need, yet they still feel alone and unsupported? The power of active optimism sounds like it's too good to be true but positive psychology works its magic without us understanding exactly why. It all seems like handwaving and "black box" phenomenon oftentimes, but try biting a pen in between your teeth for 5 minutes. Does your mood feel a little better? Using your body to carry out emotions actually tricks your brain into believing it! That's also why exercise gives you a mood lifting kickstart - because your endorphins teach your brain that your actions matter.
I am still a person guilty of stressing out, getting bogged down by the little details, placing value on things that in the big picture don't matter, setting unachievable sky-high goals and not wanting to settle for lowering my standards. Success --> happiness, catalyzed by coffee, complaints, and cortisol, right? We as a society have been chasing the wrong carrot. The speaker notes, "If happiness is on the opposite side of success, your brain will never get there." So as counterintuitive as it sounds, we shouldn't slave away for this moving target called success, and we shouldn't work to be happy, but rather be happy while we're working. I can speak to the truth of this after this first block of medical school, because I realized that just because I don't freak out and stress and worry about something does not mean I don't care about it - it just allows me to focus for once on the plate in front of me - not the plate, the desk it's sitting on, the carpet under the desk, and the walls that intersect the carpet. So I'm going to take on the little quest of journaling 3 new things I am grateful for every day for 21 days until I can teach my brain to see the good before the bad and truly believe it. It took years and years to learn to starve myself of gratification for a job well done for the constantly F5-refreshing goal to do even better, to the point that even a 100% or A+ seemed limiting. I am sure many of you can relate, as we tend to be high-achieving people. The problem is when we turn our heads towards the next achievement without pausing to celebrate and acknowledge the path we laid out behind us.
Life never gets any easier. There is not one day you can wake up and everything will be perfect in the world and you won't have a worry. So it's time to write ourselves some prescriptions for rose-tinted glasses because the principle behind the nostalgia from "the good ole days" can very well be what makes today the best day of our lives, every day.
This is your brain on happiness :)
P.S. I miss writing these reflective posts: just opening up a fresh page and typing away about a topic that I feel passionate about at this very moment in time. Working on the "just do what you feel" resolution. I also voted in my second election since I became of age today. What makes you unapologetically happy?