The secret to happiness
A few years ago, my upstairs neighbor showed up at my door and asked if I wanted to go on an adventure. I desperately needed a break from writing, so I said yes! And off we went.
We hopped on the train to Bar Jackalope in downtown Los Angeles, where they are known for having the best Old Fashioned in town. I’m not much of a bourbon person, but it was delicious! Later, we found a concert, listened to a great local band, then headed back home.
That spontaneous night brought me more happiness than things I’ve spent months planning. My visit to the Louvre, for instance, where the painting of the Mona Lisa looked tiny and rather unimpressive behind the large crowd of gawking tourists. I was bored.
How on earth could this unexpected adventure be more fun than being in Paris to see the Mona Lisa? One word, expectations.
A little science.
Science tells us that the brain stem, also known as the “lizard brain”, creates expectations to protect us from danger. It’s a built-in survival mechanism. For example, if we burn ourselves on a hot stove, the brain creates a new neural pathway to avoid pain. When we experience emotional pain, we avoid similar situations because they have hurt us in the past. It also works with happiness, to keep us moving towards pleasant situations that have made us happy before. And we tend to make future plans based on the assumption that they will make us happy again.
This works great for an infant or a child that is getting their bearings in an unfamiliar new world, but we are adults now. We have evolved into complex beings that require constant reevaluation of what works and what doesn’t.
When we continue to rely on past expectations, there’s no doubt we will be disappointed. Those expectations are based on an old version of us. One that doesn’t exist anymore. The only person you have to focus on is who you are right now. Right this moment.
To find happiness today, we must be fully present, free of expectation.
“Real happiness comes from a continuous effort to become the best possible version of yourself.”
If we remain in the present, dealing with life as it comes - without expectation - we will grow out of our conditioning. We can then move beyond the lizard brain into the paleomammalian and neomammalian brain. More on those here.
The problem is, we tend to avoid growth because we don’t want to feel the pain attached to it. Our lizard brain is screaming, telling us that pain is bad. That it will hurt us and kill us.
But it won’t. That’s an old you. What about the new you?
Let go of the past, remove expectations and embrace the present. Your happiness awaits.