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Why Humans Aren’t Designed To Be Happy

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

In America, happiness is big business. Industries put billions of dollars into marketing and selling the concept of happiness to the public. But what is happiness, really? And why is so much effort put into the “attaining” of it? In this episode of The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast, the Amens discuss how our evolutionary hardwiring predisposes us to anxiety, and why in some cases this is actually a good thing.

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Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.
Tana Amen: And I'm Tana Amen. In our podcasts we provide you with the tools you need to become a warrior for the health of your brain and body.
Dr. Daniel Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way podcast is brought to you by Amen clinics where we have been transforming lives for 30 years. Using tools like brain SPECT imaging to personalize treatment to your brain. For more information visit amenclinics.com.
Tana Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way podcast is also brought to you by BrainMD where we produce the highest quality nutraceuticals to support the health of your brain and body. To learn more, go to brainmd.com
Welcome back. We have been talking about mental health days, what you like to call brain health days in schools, and should we have them and I think it's a really interesting idea. I think it's every bit as important as physical health days because it is physical health day. It's been really interesting. I've loved this week. And this episode we're going to talk about why humans aren't actually designed to be happy. So really interesting. Stay with us. Because at the end I want to hear from you. I know that sounds weird, why humans aren't biologically designed to be happy, but we're going tell you what you can do to basically negate that. How you can change that and take control of it.
Dr. Daniel Amen: How you can redesign-
Tana Amen: Absolutely.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Your mind.
Tana Amen: Yes.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Oh, I like that. That'd be a good-
Tana Amen: Redesign your mind. Yeah, that's good.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... title for a book. But let me read a testimonial first, and we want you to submit them because we put all the testimonials, or the reviews, even the bad ones, into a drawing for a free book.
So hi, Daniel and Tana, I wanted to let you know how you changed my life. I have always been a solo mom. I was single handedly putting my daughter through Azusa Pacific and I wasn't able to make ends meet. I'm trying to save money by eating whatever my employer offered me as a lunch buffet and trying to eat as cheaply as possible outside of that. And definitely not paying attention to what I was eating. I was just trying to get calories in without checking the quality of those calories. I went to my doctor with several health concerns, eczema, gaining weight, lackluster feeling, sleeping poorly, et cetera, that I was experiencing and she did some blood work.
The results were devastating. I was clearly not getting what my middle age body needed and my results reflected this immediately. I started looking for solutions and through Saddleback Church I found the Daniel plan. Because I was so enthralled by the results from members I read and watched everything that you two had available online and participated in the Brain Warrior's Way group before the book and cookbook came out.
That was so much fun...
Tana Amen: It was fun.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... for us to do.
The Brain Warrior's Way really changed my life. I signed up for the book and cookbook before they were published. I went back to see my doctor. She did the same blood work and she was astonished at the improvement. She asked how I turned my life around. So I told her about the Brain Warrior's Way and how it made such a difference in my life. I keep up with you both by listening to your podcasts and following you on the websites. I take Brain and Body Power vitamins, ProBrainBiotics and Restful Sleep. With all the improvements in my life, thanks to you two, I am now on my way to earning a master's degree in counseling psychology. I couldn't have done it without you. I'm so thankful you changed my life.
Tana Amen: Is that not the coolest story? That's amazing. Thank you so much for sending that in. That's, and I have to tell you, we've written a lot of books. You've written insane number of books. I've written nine plus a journal, and the Brain Warrior's Way was my most, that was the most fun for me. I loved it. So thank you for that. I love that.
So let's talk about why humans are not designed to be happy. So there was a huge happiness and positive thinking, so the industry for happiness and positive thinking estimated to be worth $11 billion a year. But it's creating this fantasy that happiness is a realistic goal. So chasing the happiness dream is a very American concept that most other countries don't even follow. Exported to the rest of the world through popular culture, indeed the pursuit of happiness is one of the US's unalienable rights. Unfortunately, this has helped to create an expectation that real life stubbornly refuses to deliver.
So interesting. Let's talk about this because there's a biological reason this is true, but it doesn't mean you have to follow this, right? We are designed-
Dr. Daniel Amen: What's the question we want them to ask themselves now? Is it what makes you happy or is happiness important to you?
Tana Amen: For me, I think it would be, am I happy? And if not, how could I be happy? But I think by the end of this-
Dr. Daniel Amen: How could you redesign?
Tana Amen: Yeah, so by the end of this-
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... Your mind.
Tana Amen: ... we want you to be able to answer that, right? Because humans are not biologically hardwired to notice what makes them happy or to notice what is good. We are hardwired to notice what is wrong, right? Especially those of us who have been through any kind of trauma in the past. You definitely notice what's wrong, right? Because we've had to for survival. We're hard, our survival instincts are to notice what's scary, what's threatening, what's wrong. And if you've lived that way as a child, you're even more conscious of it. So let's talk about it.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, from an evolutionary standpoint, we were made or we evolved-
Tana Amen: Running from Tiggers.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... in at the time that was dangerous.
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And there was, whenever you would wake up in the morning, if you woke up, it's what's going to eat me? What's going to hurt me? What's going to be the trouble today? So humans are incredibly resilient. But when you wake up, and so many of my patients, they wake up with fear and there's a biological reason for that, is that when you're just waking up, your brain is actually pretty sleepy.
Tana Amen: So you go back to that-
Dr. Daniel Amen: But your cingulate is active. It's the most active part of your brain. So your worry center is active, but you're more thoughtful brain-
Tana Amen: Isn't awake.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... is on vacation. And so you wake up with Huh.
Tana Amen: So that's a super interesting idea that we used to be that way. So this is going to be weird. I would love to actually get your feedback on this. Males versus females because I got to tell you, most females feel that way everyday anyways, right? Not maybe not every day, not when you're at home, but we have to be more conscious, right? We are more conscious.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Women have anxiety and depression double. Yeah.
Tana Amen: But I'm talking about regarding safety, right? If we're walking somewhere and it's night, you're paying attention because it's, we're just, we're bred that way from the time we are a little kids. Be careful. Look around, pay attention. Who's around you? Because it's, women are, it's just easier to overpower us, right? Or it's easier to be put into situations. So just as just as a whole, women have to be more careful. And so we've been raised to think that way anyways.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So there's probably a genetic memory part of that, that, and we've talked about the mouse study a bunch of times. That they made mice afraid of the scent of cherry blossoms. And they found their children were afraid of the scent of cherry blossoms. And their grandchildren were afraid of the scent of cherry blossoms. So we just go back, even a couple of generations, if you think of the Holocaust or you think of World War One and then World War Two and then Vietnam, there's a lot of trauma that is housed in our genes. That the trauma you experienced as a teenager, unless you take care of it, you may in some ways donate that to the next generation.
Tana Amen: But I think as women, we do that intentionally to our girls because we want them to be paying attention. So I mean, I would love to hear from our listeners if they, I certainly did, because I was attacked at 15 walking to school. I've made sure that my daughter pays attention. She takes martial arts. She's able to pay attention, look around and protect herself.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So how do you, so yes, we are wired-
Tana Amen: Male, female.
Dr. Daniel Amen: We're wired for anxiety and low levels of anxiety, just to let you know, are bad for you, right? If you don't have enough anxiety, you give your phone number to the first guy you meet in the bar, which may be a bad thing.
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: You drive 125 miles an hour down the freeway in the rain-
Tana Amen: That's my point. Right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So some anxiety's absolutely essential, but we promised you that we'd teach you to redesign your mind.
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: I like that title a lot. And how do you do it? You wake up every day and you say to yourself, "Today is going to be a great day."
Tana Amen: Yup.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And when we do that as part of our ritual in the morning, you know, why is your day going to be a great day? Your unconscious mind finds it and then will focus on it. If you just wake up and you allow your designed brain to be unhappy, then you're going to be unhappy. So wake up every day and change your focus.
Tana Amen: For me, one thing that I do is I don't focus on being happy as much as I focus on being grateful for what I have. And so I have to tell the funny story about the game. Do you remember the game? You were trying to get me to play the brain game to notice the happy faces and? Do you remember that?
Dr. Daniel Amen: Unfortunately.
Tana Amen: Yeah.
Dr. Daniel Amen: I use this story a lot. So when you take WebNeuro, so those of you that are Brain Fit life members, which is our online and mobile app, you can take WebNeuro. It measures 17 areas of cognitive function. Well, two of those areas are how good are you recognizing faces and do you recognize happy faces faster than sad faces? Well, my partner in crime, Tana has the CIA pattern where she's really good at recognizing faces, but she recognizes the bad guys way more than the good guys.
Tana Amen: And we got into this like, I won't call it an argument, but debate, let's call it a heated debate. Because you were frustrated with me. You're like, "You need to do this game every day. And like start focusing on the happy faces cause you'll be happier." And I'm like-
Dr. Daniel Amen: We have games to train happiness.
Tana Amen: And I thought it was the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. I'm like, "I don't want to notice the happy faces. I want to notice the terrorist. I don't care about people walking past me that are smiling. I care about the guy that's a threat. I care about the guy that's going to attack my kid, that's going to like, you know, shoot someone. Those are the ones I want to notice." And we were just having this like heated debate. So just a little side note away from my, that's why I don't really focus on happy as much as I focus on gratitude. Because there's a certain part of my brain, I know that's always going to be that way. You think of it as me being sometimes paranoid and I don't, I think of it as me being prepared. So based on-
Dr. Daniel Amen: You know I'm a clinical psychiatrist.
Tana Amen: I know, but-
Dr. Daniel Amen: So I can diagnose paranoia.
Tana Amen: Yeah. But I'm not buying it so... For me what helps me is being prepared.
Dr. Daniel Amen: All right, so gratitude-
Tana Amen: Gratitude.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... has been associated with happiness for sure.
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: If you just write down three things you're grateful for every day,-
Tana Amen: Absolutely.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... you'll notice a significant increase in your level of happiness at the end of each day. What I do, I say a prayer before I go to bed, and then I just think, "Well, what great thing happened today?"
Tana Amen: Yes.
Dr. Daniel Amen: "What went well today?"
Tana Amen: That I'm willing to do.
Dr. Daniel Amen: That's training happiness. And happiness I don't think is actually a great goal. I think a great goal is purposefulness.
Tana Amen: Yes.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Why am I here and what did I do today to make the world a better place?
Tana Amen: And I like that because happiness is sort of the fleeting thought or feeling. Whereas when you're purposeful, it's this deeper sense of joy that it brings you. And that's different to me.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And if you're not about yourself, I think this is one of the reasons suicide has gone up so much in teenagers. Because of social media. It's all about me, my likes and my fans and what other people say about me. And I think that's dangerous.
Tana Amen: Right?
Dr. Daniel Amen: Where when we get testimonials, like the one we got today with a woman who's getting a master's degree in counseling psychology and our work's been important to her, that makes me happy.
Tana Amen: You know, and there's a-
Dr. Daniel Amen: But my goal's not happiness.
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: My goal is-
Tana Amen: Helping.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... usefulness-
Tana Amen: Yes. It's purposefulness and helping. And there's also a reason that people say that religion is the opiate of the masses, right? But if you stop and think about it for a minute, why is that a bad thing? Right? Your prayer, meditation, communication, fellowship, those are all very good things. So bio-psycho-social spiritual, we talk about those four circles, when you talk about things like religion, which involves prayer and community. And we think of prayer and meditation being very similar, right? So you're focusing on something very positive. Those are things that help you to be happier.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, science actually says it's not a bad thing. That people who go to church,-
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... that they live longer.
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... or synagogue or to the mosque, they're part of a group of people who want to do good things in the world.
Tana Amen: Right. It's not a crutch, it's a hospital.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Yes, religion has, there's been lots and lots of bad things-
Tana Amen: Of course.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... done with religion. But there's been lots and lots of bad things done without it.
Tana Amen: And there's been lots of good things done too.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And then I think the opiate of the masses actually came from an atheist cocaine addict.
Tana Amen: Right?
Dr. Daniel Amen: [crosstalk 00:14:59]
Tana Amen: I wasn't going to say it but...
Dr. Daniel Amen: And who came up with ideas like penis envy. It's like really, I just never sort of got it. I mean he had lots of great ideas, but some of them were insane.
Tana Amen: So there's like-
Dr. Daniel Amen: Humans aren't designed to be happy, but you can redesign your mind.
Tana Amen: There's a really great saying that I love "Success is having what you want and happiness is wanting what you have." So it's learning to be satisfied.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Well then I'm like a super happy person because I have you.
Tana Amen: Me too. Me too.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Me too? You have you too?
Tana Amen: No. I have you too.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So what's the one thing you can take away from this episode? Write it on your social media channels and hashtag Brain Warrior's Way podcast. We'd be so grateful. Also leave a review on iTunes or brainwarriorswaypodcast.com and we'll enter you into a drawing for free book. We love giving books away.
Tana Amen: If you're enjoying the Brain Warrior's Way podcast, please don't forget to subscribe, so you'll always know when there's a new episode. And while you're at it, feel free to give us a review or a five star rating as that helps others find the podcast.
Dr. Daniel Amen: If you're considering coming to Amen clinics or trying some of the brain healthy supplements from BrainMD, you can use the code podcast10 to get a 10% discount on a full evaluation at amenclinics.com or a 10% discount on all supplements at brainmdhealth.com. For more information, give us a call at (855) 978-1363.