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Why are we unhappy? 

Reframing our negative bias

Do you ever feel that there’s something wrong even when everything is fine? Somehow it feels easier to see the glass half empty and it takes us a good amount of effort to see the positives. 

An important lesson from evolutionary psychology is that our brains did not evolve to make us happy, but to keep us safe. The default purpose of our brain is not happiness, but survival. This brought us to be excellent problem-solvers. However this goes to extremes because often we can see problems even when there are none. Our ancestors have evolved to be more attentive to ‘problems’ and ‘what doesn't work’. We can call this a negative bias. It is something we all have as humans. 

Despite the negative bias of our thoughts, we have another tool, which is self-awareness. Put in simple terms, this is the ability to ‘think about the way we think’. This ability is the main instrument for us to challenge and re-frame the negative bias. We can ‘detach’ ourselves from the content of our thinking and observe the patterns of our thoughts. 

Some patterns are helpful, some patterns are unhelpful. Rather than thinking ‘what’s right and what’s wrong’, we can use the criteria of ‘helpfulness’ (is this thought helpful to me right now?). Sometimes the negative bias will help us to see a way out of problems, but other times it won’t. The more we develop this ability to see patterns and work on self-awareness, the better we can disentangle ourselves from the negativity.