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5 Ways Your Brain Is Tricking You into Being Miserable

#2. You'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.

Mauricio Anton/PLoS
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.

Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images
"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?"

Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images
"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.

#1. Being Happy Takes Effort

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Imagine a happy person in your mind. Maybe you're picturing a kid diving into a swimming pool, or an athlete hoisting a trophy, or Richard Branson parasailing with a naked supermodel on his back.

Stephane Gautronneau
"But deep down are you truly happy?"
"Yes."

Now imagine a depressed person. You picture him sitting on the sofa in the dark, maybe drinking alone, staring at infomercials at three in the morning. Maybe he just never got out of bed.

The primary difference there is that the former person is actually doing something. It's ridiculous to imagine the roles reversed -- there aren't any sad ballads about people snowboarding.

Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images
"Going downhill together is just the start
The snow cold and heavy just like my heart."

So despite how much cocaine Sigmund Freud did, it appears he was right when he said that unhappiness was the default position of our brains -- meaning that happiness takes effort. As one study put it, having the right genes and being surrounded by the right people are a part of the equation, but the rest is doing things that make you feel good.

And if reading this made you roll your eyes and say, "Well, duh," then you have to stop and realize how many people never do this. How many people do you know who say their ideal vacation would be to just kick back and do nothing at all? All of the "doing" in their lives comes at the job or at school -- all the stuff that they're forced to do by other people. So they think that relaxing means doing nothing at all, rather than doing the stuff they like.

Jupiterimages, Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images
"Man, it's so great not to be at work and have to sit at that computer all day."

They fall into the trap of thinking that happiness is simply the absence of doing unpleasant tasks instead of actively doing pleasant ones ... and the human brain just doesn't work that way. And this isn't going to get any better as time goes on; among seniors, their satisfaction with life didn't correlate with the state of their health or anything else -- it was based on whether or not they had friends and hobbies.

Of course, it's never harder to go out and make friends or start a new hobby than when you're in the throes of depression, and at that point, all of the above cycles that keep you in that valley start coming into play. Hey, when we said your brain was a dick, we weren't kidding.



Kathy wrote a very funny book called Funerals to Die For that is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. She is also on Facebook and Twitter. Dieter Melsens is a Belgian psychology student.



For more evidence that your brain clearly hates you, check out 5 Ways Your Brain Is Messing With Your Head and 6 Ways Your Brain Is Sabotaging Your Sex Life.

And stop by LinkSTORM to discover the best way to extract your gray matter without losing any motor skills.

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