If You’re So Smart, Then Why Are You Unhappy?

Most of us are intelligent or at least highly intellectual. [1]

But if we’re supposedly so smart then why are we so often unhappy?

Surely, we should’ve figured out a permanent solution to this problem by age 18. It doesn’t seem particularly challenging either.

Most of y’all know I happen to have two bunnies. Mango and Dino; their default state seems to be peace/being at ease.

Their brain is different, and although it’s hard to quantify how (Molnar & Pollen, 2013), they don’t have the ability to do all of the wonderful things we do.

When we’re in control of our mind we can cure people, change cultures, and come up with equations that describe the workings of the universe.

But when we’re not, things are less swell.

A CONSTANT STREAM OF UNINTERRUPTED THOUGHTS

We have thoughts going in and out; through the mind like an endless stream. Most times we’re so caught up in them that we don’t even recognize that we’re thinking. This is what’s often referred to as ‘being identified with your thoughts’.

When we’re using our mind as a tool that’s perfectly fine. But when we’d like to shut it off, it keeps going. [2] Many of our thoughts are unproductive and repetitive. Or, to borrow Dr. Daniel Amen’s lexicon, ‘ANTs’: Automatic Negative Thoughts.

Recognizing when we’re thinking (negative thoughts but also positive thoughts), and returning our attention back to the present moment gives the mind some relaxation.

It’ll help us be happier and take us out of a reactionary mode which is often unproductive in business. The irony is that in order to be at ease we must stop ‘doing’. It is the doing that creates tension. Trying, thinking, and all forms of effort hinder relaxation.

So the simple advice is: ‘When you’re done using the mind, be effortless. Let go of thoughts, don’t follow them, and bring your awareness back to the present without trying.’

Simple, but not easy.

The hard thing is how sneaky the mind is in trying to undermine you into using effort. If you’re sophisticated enough to recognize non-important thoughts that your mind will suddenly claim are super urgent (Did I remember to send XYZ that document?), then it’ll try to take you out of the present with more subtle thoughts like ‘Am I doing this right?’ or ‘The last meditation was better, I should try harder!’. This is why many yogis talked about acceptance. If you make friends with unwanted thoughts and feelings (physical or emotional), you stop fighting and let go of tension, returning you to the present moment.

BEING HAPPY WHILE BEING USEFUL

Trying to build the future and being happy and appreciative for THIS current moment need not be mutually exclusive.

This is something I struggled with for a long time. I felt like The Buddha wouldn’t develop the assembly line to build cars at scale. He’d simply be content with discontent. The axiom of accepting the present implies he could never innovate. Because in order to make things better, you have to be frustrated with the present enough to feel compelled to invent a way to make the future better.

But I now believe I was wrong. You can still be hungry and also at peace. One just has to practice using their mind as a tool, and ‘putting it away’ when one no longer needs it.

It’s our job to envision the future; how we can make a slice of it better for a subset of people. But identifying with, and clinging to, the thoughts going through our mind about how this present moment should or should not be is what breeds discontent.

It is here that we need to learn to disconnect the two, clinging to our thoughts and accepting the present as it is, and learn to let go.

But as with most important things in life, it’s a skill, a skill one must practice.

NOTES

[1] If you’re reading the kind of relatively dense content YF produces, then it’s not an unreasonable assumption that you’re more intellectual than the average person that prefers more superficial content. So I was taking the selection bias into account when I said ‘most of us’.

[2] In order to want to stop ANTs, you need to first recognize that you’re thinking. Recognize the thoughts. That already brings you back to the present because at that moment you recognize you’re thinking in this exact moment at this exact location. Unfortunately, few people ever realize that they can disassociate with their thoughts.

REFERENCES

Molnar, Z., & Pollen, A. (2013). How unique is the human neocortex?. Development, 141(1), 11–16. doi: 10.1242/dev.101279

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