I have known many people in my life that went from being happy, busy and engaged to depressed, inactive and disengaged…and yes, very unhappy.
On the other hand, I have also worked with many people who had every right to be unhappy because of their life situation (treated unfairly, bad things happened, lost someone or something very special, started life in a very rough way) who climbed out of that unhappiness by being curious, focusing on learning and growing.
In my own mind I have always known I am most happy when I am both…
- In control (of how I spend my time, what I focus on, the ultimate direction of my effort)
- Learning, growing, taking risks and moving forward
I suspect the same is true for you.
We are at an exciting point in Neuroscience (the scientific study of the brain, how it works and how it impacts emotions), even at this very early point in its history.
Indeed, philosophy has long dealt with the complex concept and emotional state of happiness, but science – led by the study of the brain – is a relatively new approach to answering some of life's most complex questions – including: what makes us happy.
In his book Affective Neuroscience, Jaak Panksepp calls out "Seeking" as the most important of all human instincts, and for good reason given our evolution and dependence on finding everything from food to mates, from shelter to safety.
What this, and other studies, really tell us is that we are all programmed to seek and learn just as birds are programmed to migrate and mothers are taught to protect their young.
What happens when we ignore or act against our instincts?
- We become stressed
- We feel like a failure
- We lose confidence
- We substitute fear for action
- We look for escape in other directions even though that will not help
A good portion of our population struggles with high levels of stress, low self confidence, incredible levels of fear and anxiety and substitutes destructive behavior to try and fill the gap that exists between doing what we were programmed to do (seek, learn and grow) and what we are REALLY doing (procrastinating and ignoring the instinct to seek and grow)
I recall growing up seeing a neighbor's dog that was caged all day long, unable to seek, explore or learn about their environment…they substituted destructive behaviors such as biting their own legs, destroying their environment and barking because even though these were painful, the instinct to SEEK was so much stronger than any other instinct.
It stands to reason in your own life that you will be happy when you are learning, growing and seeking…especially if you have a degree of control over the direction of that learning and seeking.
If you are sitting at a crossroads in your life where you want to take the next step forward, then jump in and start learning and seeking…even if you don't find answers right away, the act of seeking will bring you in tune with your inner instincts and will make you happier, give you more energy and fuel your breakthroughs that you so badly seek.