Consider these four paradoxes:
- We are more prosperous than ever. And yet, we constantly strive for more stuff: a bigger house, a newer car, or the latest fashion.
- We are living longer than ever before, yet we aren’t necessarily living healthy lives. We’ve eliminated almost all external sources of illnesses that look our lives, like tuberculosis and diptheria but now we’re manufacturing our illnesses that kill us, like stress, cancer, and heart disease.
- We are more connected to the world than ever. Mail from the US to the UK used to take two weeks, but today we can send messages to anyone in the world in seconds. And yet, we are extremely disconnected and divided.
- Technological advances have cut the time it takes to do things by 95%. Booking travel, ordering food, or paying bills used to take hours, even days. Now these actions take seconds, and yet, we feel busier than ever.
These paradoxes mystified me and led me on a quest to find answers. I ended up exploring the fields of spirituality, psychology, and neuroscience—and what I learned blew my mind! The root problem lies in our brains. We are being betrayed by the same brains that helped us reach the top of the food chain, despite not being the largest or strongest species.
You see, our brains evolved to keep our bodies safe. Whenever we sense danger, our brains send out a shot of adrenaline and cortisol to get us ready to fight or flee. And while we face fewer physical threats from dangers like wild tigers today, threats to our ego, emotions, and identity are everywhere.
The problem is that our brains can’t tell the difference between a threat to our ego and a threat to our physical safety, so its response is the same. This mismatch in our fear response to today’s emotional threats is what’s causing the paradoxes that sent me on my quest.
In my book, Hardwired for Happiness, I share nine secular practices that are in almost every wisdom traditions and are backed by neuroscientific and psychological evidence, on their ability to rewire our brains for the better. They are:
- Growing our awareness so we experience reality as it is rather than how we see it.
- Finding our purpose and shaping our life around it.
- Practicing gratitude for what we have instead of focusing on what we don’t.
- Using mindfulness to be present here and now.
- Learning to let go and work through unpleasant emotions.
- Cultivating positive emotions from kindness and compassion.
- Investing in our well-being so we can be ready for what the world throws at us.
- Building a vibrant and supportive community of friends, family and open hearted souls
- Living intentionally rather than living unconsciously.
These practices might sound familiar as people talk about them all the time, but do we actually practice them? I invite you to join me and learn more about these nine stepping stones so we can begin to defy those paradoxes and live healthier, more joyful and meaningful lives.