How is everybody doing out there? Is everyone still making it through the quarantine alright? I’m thinking about everyone, sending out big virtual hugs and high-fives. Everything is going to be okay.
And even if it’s not, you’re going to be okay.
You, me. We’re all going to be okay.
How do I know this? Well, as I mentioned in my last post, I signed up for an online Yale course, The Science Of Well Being, and it turns out that the human brain is actually wired to make us feel okay again.
When things in life go sour—our manuscript got rejected, the world is under quarantine, our best friend died in a car accident, the house caught fire, we just got dumped—our minds tell us we’ll never be happy again, we’ll never get through this. But little by little, day by day, things do eventually get better. Wounds heal. Hurts fade. Sunny days return and suddenly we find ourselves smiling again.
Think back to all those times in your life when you felt like things would never get better; when you felt like your whole life was in shambles and you’d never get over it. It’s almost definitely happened. And chances are, you did mostly get over it. Your whole life didn’t stay in shambles. It might’ve taken some time and left some scars, but you got better.
Each and every time, the brain is designed to make you feel okay again. It won’t let you stay sad, mad, angry, or scared forever. So why, then, does it always feel like the opposite?
Well, that’s because the human brain is also kind of an asshole.
Although we’re naturally wired to survive heartache and hardships, our minds send us different, conflicting signals. These signals are what Yale professor Laurie Santos has aptly termed “Annoying Features of the Mind”.
These annoying features are all of the dumb ways our mind is set to mess us up. Often times, our brains deliver signals that are factually incorrect when it comes to our happiness. Like optical illusions, our minds are fooled into thinking one thing when reality is far different.
I won’t go through all the Annoying Features with you — instead, I highly recommend you sign up for the course (it’s free and rolls at your own pace) — but I do want to touch on two of them:
Hedonic Adaptation and Our Mind’s Inability To Realize We Have Hedonic Adaptation.
Hedonic Adaptation is just a fancy term to say “our brains get used to stuff”. Whether you win $50 million in the lottery or get hit by a car and become paraplegic, over time, you will get used to it. You adapt.
Take The Walking Dead, for example. The whole world got wiped out by freaking zombies and yet Rick Grimes still managed to find love again. If that doesn’t teach us a valuable life lesson about happiness, then I don’t know what does!
That initial emotion you feel at the start of something fades and normalizes over a certain period of time. All y’all married folks out there are nodding your heads. You know the honeymoon phase doesn’t last forever, no matter how much you love your partner.
This is just a fact. Studies have been done to prove this. No matter how good or how bad a situation seems at first, your brain will eventually adapt to it. Your level of happiness normalizes over time. This means that J.K. Rowling isn’t necessarily happier than any other writer, or that a woman living with HIV is less happy than her next door neighbor.
But the most annoying part about our brain’s Hedonic Adaptation is our inability to realize we have it! No matter how many ups and downs we’ve lived through, we still think our lives would be ruined forever if, say, we woke up permanently paralyzed one morning. Or that we’d be happy for the rest of our lives if we won a bunch of money. Neither of these statements are true, yet we believe them to be.
All this to say that this will pass. Things will get better. The sun will shine again.
To all my friends, my family, my fellow writers, my fellow quanrantinees, as Bob Marley once sagely said, “Don’t worry about a thing ’cause every little thing gonna be alright.”
I love you all. Stay safe. Stay healthy. Don’t neglect your well being. Eat right, get outside for some fresh air, go for a walk, hug your pet, check in with your loved ones, set up a video call with friends. You can also leave me a private message here if you feel alone or just need someone to talk to. xxoo
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