With all of the amazing advances in technology, the increased awareness of our mental health, and apps, shows, programs, and therapists at our fingertips, why is it so hard to be happy? Tony discusses the "surprising psychology of why dissatisfaction is hardwired" from the article "Why You're Never Going to Be Satisfied With Life," by Nir Eyal https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/automatic-you/202207/why-you-re-never-going-be-satisfied-life
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[00:00:22] Hey, everybody, welcome to episode 330 of the Virtual Couch. And I'm going to start today with a reading from one of my favorite books of all time. That book is The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris. So why is it so difficult to be happy to answer this question? Let's take a journey back in time. The modern human mind, with its amazing ability to analyze and plan and create and communicate, has largely evolved over the last 200,000 years or so since our species, Homo sapiens, first appeared on the planet. But our minds did not evolve to make us feel good, so that we could tell jokes and write poems or say, I love you, how our minds evolved to help us survive in a world fraught with danger. So imagine that you're an early human hunter gatherer. What are your essential needs in order to survive and reproduce? There are four of them food, water, shelter and sex. But none of these things matter if you are dead. So the number one priority of the primitive human mind was to look out for anything that might harm you and avoid it. The primitive mind was basically a don't get killed device and it proved enormously useful. The better that our ancestors became at anticipating and avoiding danger, the longer they lived and the more children they have. And you can, quite frankly, thank them right now for the fact that you are here listening to this podcast.
[00:01:38] So with each generation, the human mind became increasingly skilled at predicting and avoiding danger. And now, after 100,000 years of evolution, the modern mind is constantly on the lookout, assessing and judging everything that we encounter. Is this good or is it bad? The safer is a dangerous. Is it harmful or helpful? But these days, according to Dr. Russ Harris, it's not. The saber tooth tigers or wooly mammoths that are mine warns us about. Instead, it's losing our job, being rejected, getting a speeding ticket, embarrassing ourselves in public, getting cancer or 1,000,001 other common worry. So as a result, we spend a lot of time worrying about things that more often than not never happen. Now, another essential for the survival of any early human is to belong to a group. So if your group, if your clan boots you out, it will not be long before the wolves find you. So how does your mind protect you from rejection? By the group? By comparing you with everybody else in the group. Do I fit in? Am I doing the right thing? Am I contributing enough? Am I as good as the others? And am I doing anything that might give me rejected, kicked out or booted? Does that sound familiar? So our modern day minds are continually warning us of rejection and comparing us to the rest of society. Here's the part where I want to insert old man social media rant right here.
[00:02:52] But no wonder that we spend so much energy worrying whether people will like us. No wonder we're always looking for ways to improve ourselves or we're putting ourselves down because we don't measure up. 100,000 years ago, Dr. Harris said that we only had a few members of our immediate clan to compare ourselves with. But these days, we only need to glance at a newspaper. Remember those kids, magazines, television or online on the phone that we hold in the very palm of our hands. So we might even be listening to this podcast on to instantly find a whole host of people who are smarter, who are richer, who are slimmer, sexier, more famous, more powerful, or even more successful than we are. And so when we compare ourselves to these glamorous media creations, of course we're going to feel inferior or disappointed with our lives. And to make matters worse, our minds are now so sophisticated that they can also conjure up a fantasy image of the person that we'd ideally like to be. And then we compare ourselves to that. So what chance do we have when I'm basically comparing myself to the version of me that has the six pack abs and is just doing everything that I always envisioned in life that I'm a pirate astronaut, professional baseball player, living overlooking the beach in my giant mansion. So if I'm not measuring up, then what is wrong with me? So we compare ourselves to everyone, including ourselves.
[00:04:08] So what chance do we have? We'll always end up feeling not good enough. Now, Dr. Harris says for any Stone Age person with ambition, the general rule for success is get more and get better. The better your weapons, the more food you can kill, the larger your food stores, the greater chance of for survival. In times of scarcity, the better your shelter, the safer you are from weather and wild animals. So the more children that you have, the more children you have, the greater chance that someone will survive into adulthood. So it is no surprise that our modern mind is continually looking for more and better, more money, a better job, more status, a better body, more love, a better partner. And if we succeed, if we actually do get more money and a better car or a better looking body, then finally we are satisfied for a while, but sooner or later, and he says, usually sooner we end up wanting more. So Dr. Harris says that evolution has shaped our brains so that we are hardwired to suffer psychologically, to compare, to evaluate, to criticize ourselves, to focus on what we're lacking, to rapidly become dissatisfied with what we have, and to imagine all sorts of frightening scenarios, most of which will likely never happen. So no wonder humans find it hard to be happy. Now he talks about two different definitions of happiness, which I keep on speed view on any device that I have.
[00:05:32] He talks about what is happiness? We all want it, we crave it. We strive for it, he said. Even the Dalai Lama said the very purpose of life is to seek happiness. But then what is happiness? There are two definitions that I love to share with clients that are sitting across from me repeatedly over and over again the word happiness. Here are the two different meanings. The common meaning of the word is feeling good. So in other words, feeling a sense of pleasure, gladness, gratification. We all like these feelings, so it's no surprise that we chase them. However, like all human emotions, feelings of happiness do not last. So no matter how hard we try to hold on to them, they will slip away every time. And so then, as we see, a life spent purely in pursuit of those good feelings, is in the long term, deeply unsatisfying. And in fact, the harder we chase after pleasurable feelings, the more we are likely to suffer from anxiety and depression. I work with a large number of people that turn to things like pornography or gambling or their phones or food for coping. Because when they don't like the way they feel, they want to feel better. And those things may give them a temporary bump in their feel good brain chemicals, but that does not leave them feeling happy in the long term.
[00:06:39] So Russ Harris gives another he says it's another far less common meaning of happiness, which is living a rich, full and meaningful life. So when we take action on the things that truly matter deep in our hearts, when we move in directions that we consider valuable and worthy, clarify what we stand for in life, and then act accordingly. Then our lives become rich and full and meaningful, and we experience a more powerful sense of vitality. And this is not some fleeting feeling. It is a profound, deep sense of a life well lived. And although such a life will undoubtedly give us a lot of pleasurable feelings, we'll have some good times. It'll also give us plenty of uncomfortable feelings, such as sadness and fear and anger. And this is only to be expected because he says, if we live a full life, we will feel all the full range of human emotions. So why is it so difficult to be happy? I think that we can see that we're hardwired for survival. We're hardwired to look to things that may be frightening or scary and then do all that we can to avoid them, including feelings. And in the last few weeks, I've been doing a little bit more of a deep dive in feelings. If you haven't caught the theme, where since we have been children, we've been told for so, so many years that our feelings are more of a hindrance or a nuisance, even by the most well-meaning of parents I know.
[00:07:57] I've said this to my kids plenty of time. Oh, he didn't mean it. They didn't mean it, or you need to get over it at some point. Or Why are you crying? There's no need to cry, just tough. Toughen up. The sooner you can get over it, the faster that you can get back to doing all the things that you want to do. Basically, I'm teaching my kids, Hey, ignore those feelings and get back to looking for happiness. Kids, I know you don't really listen to the podcast very often. My bad. I'll take ownership and accountability for all of that. So today we're going to talk more about the way the brain works. And I want to normalize so much. So if you are struggling at times or often, or even if most of your day you're struggling to feel happy rather than playing out the What's Wrong with me scenario? Let's start with the hey, you're normal. You're absolutely normal. Because when you are not actively trying to be in that present moment and taking advantage of the opportunity that is in front of you, then our default is to go back to this feeling of impending doom or anxiety or worry or fear, because that is what has helped your ancestors and you get to this point in your life. So again, it doesn't mean that I'll have to do is pursue my six pack abs all day because that may be cool for a moment, but it is not going to lead to lasting happiness.
[00:09:09] Now, sure, I might have a little bit more fun around this time of year at a family reunion, but even that is not going to bring this long lasting happiness. So I'm going to read a couple of different articles today. There's one from Psychology Today. That is what got me started down this path. It's called Why You're Never Going to be Satisfied With Life. Sounds like a very inspiring title. I am being very facetious with that, but I wanted to build on this concept of why it is so difficult to be happy and to let you know that is absolutely normal. So we're going to talk about why you are never going to be satisfied with life. But first go to Tony over Bakam workshop. I still have a $19 hour and a half. Here's what you don't know, that you don't know about marriage and relationships. And I think that that would be a great place to start as far as just having some conversations with your spouse, with your kids who maybe are about to get married, but just so that you can have a framework to operate from what a relationship could look like in marriage, a very healthy, thriving marriage. And so while we're talking about very healthy, thriving marriages, I am curious, have you ever just thought to yourself, you wonder what Tony would say about my marriage or my relationship I give you.
[00:10:23] For that. When I run into them out in the wild and they find out that I'm a marriage therapist, that they will often say, Oh, man, I would love for you to follow me around for a weekend. Or I wish that you could camp out inside of my house and give me some advice. And honestly, I would love to do that too. If you ever heard me say something on here on the podcast and thought, okay, oh man, that's nice in principle, but how would that work in real life when there are two people involved? When I start getting on my soapbox and talking about my four pillars of a connected conversation and interdependence and differentiation, and you must become two individuals before you can become one united partnership, all of those things. Have you ever thought, What is this guy talking about for real? It sounds great. He sounds pretty excited, but what does that look like? What does that look like in his office? Well, now is your chance. It is a chance to get a look at your relationship, from my perspective. And at this point, I think I'm sitting at about 12 or 1300 couples later, over 15 years. And I absolutely love couples therapy. I love couples coaching. So I am excited to announce the Magnetic Marriage Podcast. We're talking real couples, real conversations, real coaching, nothing scripted.
[00:11:27] This new premium podcast experience is going to give you access inside of my office, working with real couples in real situations, not hypothetical anymore. Like a lot of the things that you've maybe heard or read, you are going to be able to tap into a full year of life coaching, life changing and marriage saving conversations for a fraction of the cost of even one private session with me, which admittedly isn't even available because I'm booked out right now until about mid 2023. So the podcast subscription is going to be available shortly. But if you are interested in being featured on the show as an anonymous couple, I would love for you to email my assistant at info. I info at Tony Overbay and put it in the subject podcast guest and we will see if you would be a candidate to be a guest on the show and receive free relationship coaching with me in exchange for allowing it to be a part of the show. Absolutely. Anonymous, of course. So again, if you would like to be featured on the show as a couple, please email my assistant at info at Tony over eBay.com with the subject podcast guest. I cannot wait. So with that said, let's now get to this article that I mentioned earlier, which is called Why You're Never Going to be Satisfied With Life. And this is by near trial and near trial.
[00:12:40] I did a little bit more reading after I went through this article the first time, but the near I all. He is a technology entrepreneur who blogs about the intersection of psychology, technology and business. And I feel like this is an area that I'm pretty fascinated with. I have an opportunity, very fortunate to work with entrepreneurs, CEOs of companies. And there is such a correlation that happens between the things I'm working on with between a couple in a marriage or in a relationship and the way that an employer is working with their employee. So I think there is a real intersection of psychology and business and technology. So I am going to be quoting a lot of nir I all today and nir has compiled not only does it have some funny thoughts about why it can be so difficult to be satisfied with life. But then he points to a lot of fascinating research that I can link to in the show notes as well. So he has a couple of key points that he notes out. This is from a Psychology Today article. But he says researchers have found that feeling contented isn't good for the species because it keeps us from seeking further benefits or improvements. The next key point is, he said, there are psychological factors that make satisfaction temporary, and those include boredom, a negativity, bias, rumination and then really fascinating that we'll talk about a little bit later.
[00:13:59] Hedonic adaptation. Sounds exciting. And then his third key point is discontent is not a reason to give up on success. Rather, it's a reason to introduce this opportunity for frequent and meaningful victories. So take a look at some of the small victories throughout your day and then not catastrophizing when things are not going well. Because again, that's part of just the human process being normal. So Nir says similar to how we started today's episode, he said, Why are we perpetually restless and unsatisfied? Because, he said, we arguably live in the safest, healthiest, most well educated demographic time in history. And yet some part of the human psyche causes us to look for an escape from things that are stirring inside us constantly. He quotes the 18th century poet Samuel Johnson saying, My life is one long escape from myself. So near says, the truth is we are not wired to feel content or satisfied ever. And he says there's a simple reason for that, as expressed by researchers in the review of general psychology. If satisfaction and pleasure were permanent, then there might be little incentive to continue seeking further benefits or advances. So he says, in other words, feeling content wasn't good for the species. And as we laid out earlier in this podcast that our brain has evolved as a don't get killed device. And while that can feel absolutely overwhelming at times anxious, depressed, worried, these feelings of comparison.
[00:15:21] But if you can embrace or accept the fact that that is the way that we are wired now, we're not arguing with ourselves constantly of why, why am I feeling this way? What is wrong with me? Nothing. You're human and you feel that way because that is the way that you have evolved. And when you can then lean into some of that feelings of discomfort, then that is what is going to help you advance. Advance individually, advance in your relationships and my marriage course. I often say that we are so afraid of contention that we avoid tension altogether and tension is where the growth occurs. It's so much that where the growth occurs in relationships because that tension, that area of tension is when we start to really feel like we can express that we have a different opinion than our partner, than our spouse, and we do so from a place of courage and authenticity. And that goes back to that definition of happiness that I talked about earlier, where if you're living more true or in alignment with your values, then you are going to feel more satisfied with life. And then when you can show up more emotionally mature in a relationship and express your opinion or values, even if it makes you feel uncomfortable, then that is where you start feeling like you are more in control of your life and you're not trying to express yourself in a way so that people will like you.
[00:16:34] Because if you can really figure out who you are as a person and really, I know this sounds clichéd, but start to like yourself now you're just showing up. You're not showing up trying to figure out who. If I say this way, they might not like me. Or if I say it this way, then everyone will like me. Instead, I am saying the things I'm saying because this is how I'm saying them. And if somebody else says, Oh man, I don't feel that way, then we get to say, Oh, okay, tell me more about that. Not Oh yeah, I don't really feel that way either. So we are coming from this place of defense. We're coming from this place of more feeling like we are understanding who we are so we can show up more confident in relationships. So again, feeling content wasn't good for the species. And he also near I'll also says similar to Russ Harris, that our ancestors worked harder and strove further because they evolved to be perpetually perturbed. And so we remain perpetually perturbed today. So he talks about four components of dissatisfaction. So he says for psychological factors make satisfaction only temporary and fleeting. The first is boredom. The links that people will go to, he says, to avoid, avoid boredom are shocking, literally, he says in a 2014 study published in Science Observed He sounds like I'm saying in the field of science, but it is a journal called Science.
[00:17:48] But in a 2014 study published in Science, they observed that participants who were asked to sit in a room and simply think for 15 minutes, that was the study. Sit in a room and think for 15 minutes. Room was empty, except for a device that allowed participants to mildly but painfully electrocute themselves. Now, why would anybody want to do that? You might ask. Well, when asked beforehand, every participant in the study said that they would literally pay money to avoid being shocked. However, when left alone in the room with the machine and nothing else to do. And before I even give you the statistics, I guarantee you I would be one of the people that would do this. 67% of men and 25% of women shocked themselves, and many did so multiple times. You can insert your joke there. 67% of men, 25% of women shocked themselves. So the study demonstrated that people dislike being alone with their thoughts so much that they'll prefer to do anything else, even if that activity is negative. So it is no surprise, therefore, that most of the top 25 websites in America sell escape from our daily drudgery, whether through shopping or a celebrity gossip or bite sized doses of social interaction. So the second psychological factor driving us is a negativity bias. So this has been defined as a phenomenon in which negative events are more salient and demand attention more powerfully than a neutral or a positive event.
[00:19:14] And so in near talks about the one study in particular that concluded, it appears to be a basic, pervasive fact of psychology that bad is stronger than good. And I think we see this in some of the cognitive distortions where somebody can tell you a lot of good things about the presentation you gave. But then if they say, but, you know, you might want to tighten up the time a little bit, then we walk away and all we hear was, okay, I went too long. I must have rambled. We don't hear all of the good, so we are wired to go to this worst case scenario. Near said that such pessimism begins very early in life and the data behind this is so interesting. Babies begin to show signs of negativity by us starting at just seven months of age, suggesting that this tendency is somewhat it's inborn. Okay. And can I just take you on my train of thought? I paused the recording because I really wanted to go find the study that talked about how can they test a baby seven months of age? And I found the study and it's fascinating. I'm going to come in on it here in a second. But then I sat here for about two straight minutes trying to come up with a funny joke of what that would look like or how that would show up with a baby and what they would be negative about.
[00:20:19] And I'm still drawing a blank, so I just want you to know if you can come up with something funny, please send it to me. And I don't know, I'll send you some virtual couch t shirt or something like that. But I did find the study. So the study said that research suggests that this negativity bias starts to emerge in infancy. Very young infants tend to pay greater attention to positive facial expression and tone of voice. But then this begins to shift as they near one year of age. Brain studies indicate that around this time, babies begin to experience greater brain responses to negative stimuli. So this suggests that the brain's bias, this negative bias emerges during the latter half of a child's first year of life. And there's some evidence as well that the bias may actually start even earlier in development. And then another study found that infants as young as three months old show signs of the negativity bias when making social evaluations of others. So I guess maybe here's where I can throw the joke in and the baby becomes very judgmental about someone's wardrobe or someone who is not keeping up with the latest fashion trends. Okay, not my best work. Now, researchers also believe that we tend to have an easier time recalling bad memories than good ones. And studies have shown that people are more likely to recall unhappy moments in their childhood, even if they would describe their upbringing as generally happy.
[00:21:34] So this negativity bias almost certainly gave us an evolutionary edge Near said that good things are nice, but bad things can kill you. And I think this is the key. That's why we pay attention to the bad stuff first and remember it better because it's, it's useful for the species, but it really can be kind of a bummer. I had Nate Christensen, my associate on a podcast not too long ago, and he talked about this the way the brain cannot get something wrong because there's a chance that if you get it wrong, you may die. And he gives the study or he gives the example of ancient hunter gatherers looking across the plane and they see an Impala that is frolicking around the field. This hunter says, If I can kill that Impala, then my entire village is tonight. But then if he sees out of the corner of his eye lion that is stalking the Impala, and he says, okay, if that lion, though, jumps out and kills me, then none of us eat. So I think I'll just do it tomorrow. So that I felt like that was one of the best examples of just showing how we are wired to look for the negative. Because in doing so, in that scenario, that allows us to look for the Impala on another day.
[00:22:48] So we really do go back to this negativity bias. So the third factor in why we are never going to be satisfied with life according to Near Il, is the concept of rumination. And I talk about that often on the podcast because I feel like rumination is when we have this tendency to keep thinking about bad experiences. And I know I've done several episodes where when we catch ourselves ruminating, we're trying to basically make sense of things that don't make sense or ruminating, hoping that we can figure something out, that something will have will click. And I often talk about how the brain knows what it feels like to get, let's say, a math equation wrong, right? Correct. So if the brain knows that it feels very satisfactory when it puts together two times two is four, then the brain says, I can also do that with complex emotion and thought, so I'm going to ruminate until I can feel better about something. So he said, If you've ever chewed on something that you did or that someone did to you over and over again, then you've you've experienced rumination. This passive comparison of one's current situation with some unachievable. Standard can manifest in self critical thoughts such as Why can't I just handle things better? Again, it's as if I have to figure this out. And near said is one study notes by reflecting on what went wrong and how to rectify it.
[00:24:09] People may be able to discover sources of error or alternative strategies, ultimately leading to not repeating mistakes and possibly doing better in the future. So that's another potentially useful process, but it can really make us miserable because oftentimes we get caught in this cycle of rumination and we will just continually ruminate and ruminate until it can just absolutely put us into a negative spot. The fourth factor, and he says this is the cruelest of all, it's hedonic adaptation. So this is the tendency to quickly return to this baseline level of satisfaction no matter what happens to us in life. He says it Hedonic adaptation is Mother Nature's bait and switch. So all sorts of life events that we think would make us happy actually don't. Or at least not for very long. He quotes an author named David Meyers. David Meyers wrote In The Pursuit of Happiness Every desirable experience, passionate love, a spiritual high, the pleasure of a new possession, the exhilaration of success is transitory. So, of course, as with boredom, negativity, bias and rumination, there are evolutionary benefits to hedonic adaptation as well. He goes on to say that, as the author of one study explains, as new goals continually capture one's attention, one consistently strives to be happy without realizing that in the long run, such efforts are futile. So taken together, these four components add up to a lot of dissatisfaction in life, even if your circumstances are really good.
[00:25:34] So near closes up by saying humans may be wired to pursue happiness, but we're not very good at being equipped to experience happiness. So he says, Can we cue the sad trombone music now? Because that means that futility is our fate? Absolutely not. He goes on to say that dissatisfaction is not defeat. If you find yourself feeling unhappy with life, that doesn't mean that you've been defeated. So the takeaway here is that if you're unhappy, guess what? You are normal. You're a human being that is living the human experience. Dissatisfaction can be responsible for our species advancements. And if you have never felt dissatisfaction, you'd probably be at a big disadvantage. Discontent is not a reason to give up on success, but it's rather a reason to introduce the opportunity for frequent and meaningful victories into your life. So he goes on to say that it is important to understand that struggle and that hard times are just part of being human. And you may feel then at times like you are not one of those that is pushing yourself enough. And sure, we can take a look in. There are people that may seem to be these high achievers and there is some truth or wisdom in the fact that they may push themselves through the discomfort and discontent rather than turning to distraction. But if we really dig deep into that, I would guarantee that if you were finding more of your own sense of purpose or you were living more along the lines of the values that are actually important to you, that I feel like you would probably be much better equipped to deal with more of this discomfort.
[00:27:08] I really feel like at the bottom of all this, if we are not living a life of value based life, as I talked about in the definitions of happiness at the beginning of this episode, then we're going to lean more into this concept of experiential avoidance. And what that really means is that then we are going to do other things because we don't really feel that connected with the things that we're supposed to do in our life. Do we feel connected in our relationships? Do we feel connected as a parent? Do we feel connected in our health or in our faith, or do we feel connected in the jobs that we do? Because if not, we are going to turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms, or we're going to do this concept again of experiential avoidance, where if I don't feel connected in life, I am for sure going to do anything other than that because I'm just trying to seek this temporary happiness. So to wrap things up, honestly, just know that if you find yourself returning back to this baseline of the blahs or feeling like you just don't have it in you and you want to wait until tomorrow to start whatever the project is, just know that you're normal.
[00:28:10] And one of the keys to being able to start making more progress is to take action on things that matter, because we are literally all going to have ups and downs throughout the day, throughout the hour. It could even be throughout the minute. But just know that when you notice that you are starting to feel flat or you're starting to feel down, that just give yourself a little bit of grace except that you're a human being. And then if you can turn to value based goals, things that matter to you, then you are going to feel more of a connection, a connection with yourself, a connection with others, a connection with the universe. And that is going to lead to more of a life well lived, one that's going to feel more satisfying, and you're going to feel like you are truly making a difference or having a connection with others. All right. He as per usual. Thank you so much for taking the time to connect on the podcast. Feel free to send me your questions and comments. And if you have show ideas or if you want to be a part of the upcoming Magnetic Marriage podcast, which again, I cannot wait to to get those out there. And if you're interested to send a note to info at Tony over Macomb and just put podcast guest on the title and taking us out per usual, the wonderful The Talented Ruth Florence with her song, It's Wonderful and I'll See You Next Time.
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