3Grief Is Addictive
Think about how much of our entertainment is based around negative emotions. Why do we like scary movies? Or sad songs? Why do we watch movies about disasters or obsessively follow morbid news stories about sensational murder trials? If something horrible happens to us, why do we find ourselves constantly thinking and talking about it?
"You weren't there! All that tanning lotion ... String cheese was everywhere ..."
If you were trying to come up with some kind of logical explanation, you could maybe say that it's because focusing on terrible things reminds us of how good we have it. But the science says that we actually take pleasure in the negative emotion itself. We willingly dive back into misery again and again for the same reason we willingly board a roller coaster or go bungee jumping: We get a rush from it. That is, the pleasure/reward centers of your brain light up and release dopamine. And you can get addicted to whatever causes your brain to release dopamine, whether it's chocolate or fistfights.
And just as with any addiction, there are some people who can handle it better than others -- we all respond differently. And what researchers are finding is that some people get addicted to grief.
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"Oh yeah, that's good grief ..."
They think this may be why some people can just pick up and move on after a trauma, while others never do. They just keep reliving it, refreshing that feeling over and over. Because of the jacked-up way your brain is wired, even the most horrible thing that's ever happened to you gave you a rush. Don't get us wrong -- that chronically grieving person you know isn't enjoying it, any more than the junkie "enjoys" being an addict. They just get trapped in a feedback loop because they're subconsciously afraid to let go of the one strong emotion that makes them feel alive.
And when it comes time to try to break us out of that cycle, something else comes into play, which is the fact that ...
2You'd Rather Be Unhappy Than Uncertain
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To all the teenagers reading this: You are lovely people. Thank you for reading Cracked. But holy frijoles, you do some completely idiotic things. Don't worry -- it's completely normal. Thanks to evolution, the teenage brain is all about taking risks, like attacking a woolly mammoth with flimsy spears and having lots of sex with multiple partners, all for the continuation of the species.
God help the poor dyslexic caveteens whose brains got those directions mixed up.
For that decade of life, young people don't have a "NO" switch in their brains, and while it meant that a lot of them fell off cliffs while chasing the woolly mammoths, overall it has been beneficial to the species. In fact, you could argue that the people who are successful later in life are the ones who never gave up their lust for taking stupid risks.
But for the most part, as you get older, your brain wants you to stop taking those risks. You already did all your kid-having, now you need to settle down and stay alive so you can raise those children. Forget mammoth hunting; you're picking berries. You are less likely to quit your job and start a garage band at 50 than you were at 17, and that's a good thing.
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"Screw house payments. We're going to build a city on rock and roll."
The problem is that most people grow so scared of risk that they are more likely to stay in situations that make them miserable than take a chance at happiness. Sure, you only drew a three of hearts out of the deck of life, but if you ask for a new card, you might wind up with a deuce. You stick with the misery you know.
And even worse, it actually gets to the point where a change that works out for the better can be scary because it's better. In other words, even if you take the risk and the risk pays off, if you're not used to happiness, then it just feels weird, or phony. Studies have found that taking depressed, self-critical people and trying to make them think positively about themselves just confuses the shit out of them. Make them stand in front of a mirror and shout compliments at themselves and they just think it's weird and pointless. "What is this? Are you making fun of me? This is stupid." It actually takes a whole different type of therapy for those people, because they see warmth and happiness and can only think, "What the hell is this shit?"
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"The real reason they threw a party is because they're one year closer to being able to legally abandon me."
Some of you think that's absolutely bizarre, and some of you know that as your everyday life. Ask yourself: When you're sitting in a bar or coffee shop and there's a group of friends next to you just laughing and having the time of their lives, how do you react? Do you find yourself annoyed by that? Do you hate them just a little? There you go.