My friend Kathy sent me this article you may have seen on 10 simple things you can do to be happier, with the science to back it up. If you’re interested, click here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/belle-beth-cooper/10-simple-things-to-be-happy_b_4241824.html
It’s a good list, a nice list, an informative list, a pretty easy list (except for the one about moving closer to work to cut your commute – moving is itself its own special unhappy horror.) Who, after all, doesn’t want to be happier? And nothing on this list is hard – (except for moving.) But there is one humongous problem with this list: If it were so easy, why aren’t we all doing these simple things and glowing with joy?
In other words, why is it so hard to get off the couch and go for a 7 minute walk outside with family or friends and smile and talk about what we’re grateful for? We’d be nailing 5 of the 10 things just like that! Because our brains lie to us. That’s what living with depression has taught me: Our brains are not always our friend. In fact, our brains lie to us, ALL THE TIME. Yes, all the freakin’ time.
Yes, even your brain – I know you’re thinking, “No, not me!” But c’mon – you cannot tell me you don’t have 7 minutes to go for a walk! So if you believe you don’t have enough time, that’s a lie right there.
It’s not that your brain hates you; it’s that your brain is doing its job: keeping you safe and comfortable this second. It has a hard time with the nebulous future. You have to train it. Otherwise, why would your couch be so irresistable, and why would you brain say things like, “You can do it tomorrow.” “You’re worn out; it’s been a long day.” “Here, have a cookie. Have three. You’ll feel better.” “You’re too tired.” “It’s too hot/cold/windy/sunny/rainy/foggy outside.” “What does the New York Times know – there’s no way only 7 minutes will make a difference, so why go?” “I don’t have the right shoes.” “You can get up in the morning and do it” (never mind that when morning comes, if you thought the couch was hard to leave – try a warm bed.) “I would, but I need to…..do the laundry, check facebook, answer emails, tackle this stack of papers, play angry birds, catch up on The Daily Show, read this blog, think about all the things I could be doing instead….”
Okay, those are the obvious lies. Here’s an example of a more pernicious tenacious seductive one a friend shared with me as we walked together. Her brain told her: “Why exercise? You might lose weight – but you probably won’t – and even if you do, you’ll still be a dumpy middle-aged woman.” Wow. How can you argue with that? But that’s a lie.
The pay-off for, say, exercise, doesn’t come right away, and when it does come, our brains aren’t great at connecting the “feeling better, having more energy” with the sweat we left on the track. So we have to train our minds to look out for us. We have to train our minds to pay attention to the antics of our brains. Since I know, and hopefully you know, that our brains lie to us in their single-minded effort to keep us comfortable and safe this second, I know I can’t trust it. I don’t debate whether or not I’m going to brush my teeth tonight, right? (well, I confess, there have been nights….) But for the most part, I just do it. I don’t ponder the options; I don’t think about whether I am in the mood or not. And so, when my brain starts up, I remember: O, thanks for sharing, but not relevant.
It’s a great list of what to do to discover happiness. But it’s no good knowing the list if my brain is going to lie to me about it. I’d better start training my mind to reign in the instant-gratification seeking lying 2 year old my brain can be some days. (But first – is that leftover Halloween candy on my desk?)