Our minds can be programmed to keep wanting more

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Experts say mindfulness and gratitude can help quell our brain’s desire to always want more. Westend61/Getty Images
  • Experts believe that the human brain could be ambitious in default.
  • This may have provided evolutionary advantages, but could cause misfortune in the modern world.
  • Being aware of how your mind works can help you find other ways of thinking.

A new outfit. The latest gadget. This next promotion.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting that stuff.

And when we get them, they could make us happier.

For a while, anyway.

New things eventually lose their luster, and then our brain starts looking for what’s next.

According to new research using statistical modeling, these desires may have provided evolutionary advantages to early humans. However, in the world we live in today, this could lead to overconsumption and decreased happiness.

So how can we use these discoveries to bypass our inner workings and learn to be content with what we have?

One of the ways our brains are wired for dissatisfaction is called the “paradox of choice.”

Most people would intuitively agree that they like having options. But experts say too many options, especially if they’re similar, actually make us less happy.

“I have always considered too many choices to be one of the sources of constant unhappiness, because having too many choices makes the choice one has made less happy,” said Dr. Danesh Alam, medical director of behavioral health at Northwestern Medicine. Central DuPage Hospital in Illinois, Healthline told. “There is always something [you] could have chosen it could have been better.

And the dissatisfaction does not necessarily stop once the decision is made.

“You would think that once you’ve made your choice, you’ll move on. But once you’ve made your choice, you’re still stuck on “this or that would have been better,” Alam said.

So what can you do about it?

Sheila M. Dowd, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, told Healthline that “creating a ‘pros and cons’ list might help narrow down some of the options. “.

“It takes time, but it will help you identify and prioritize your own goals and thus help you rank those options,” she said.

Dr. Jonathan L. Kaplan, an assistant professor of psychiatry and internal medicine who is also at Rush University Medical Center, told Healthline it helps recognize that not all decisions are equally important.

“If it is a decision of great importance and great consequences, then [you] should be asked to take more time to consider options,” Kaplan said. “However, if it is a low importance, low consequence decision, then it is less important to consider all options and simply acknowledge that any option is good and likely to lead to roughly the same satisfaction with the result.”

Dr. Alex Dimitriu, a psychiatry expert and founder of Menlo Park Psychiatry & Sleep Medicine in California and BrainfoodMD, told Healthline he’s okay with the practice.

“It is essential to settle for ‘good enough’ in a situation where there are too many choices. In my work with high-performing patients, I always stress the statement that “the enemy of good is the best,” Dimitriu said.

“Indeed, finding peace with ‘good enough’ and actually enjoying it – through gratitude, mindfulness, etc. – can lead to a less than optimal choice, but a significantly higher level of satisfaction,” said added Dimitriu.

What is sometimes called the “hedonic treadmill” is another phenomenon that can lock you into a cycle of sadness.

Essentially, this means that the happiness brought by success is usually fleeting.

“People adapt quickly to life improvements and it becomes their ‘new normal.’ It shows how tricky happiness can be,” Dowd said.

“As the expectations of ourselves about our own…achievement increase, it becomes increasingly difficult to achieve a new level of achievement and therefore more difficult to have the positive feelings of such achievement,” said Kaplan.

“Similarly, the novelty of a new achievement is important. The first time a certain realization is reached, it is very rewarding; however, there is diminishing return for the same type of achievement in the future,” he added.

Experts believe that practicing mindfulness is a way to avoid getting sucked into achievement and overconsumption.

There comes a time when “it’s time to change your aspirations and move from desire to pleasure,” Dimitriu said.

“I think it’s essential to practice using the brake as well as using the accelerator pedal,” he added.

“Part of human nature is to try to improve and that has driven us to success in a variety of ways,” Alam said.

And while this new research sheds light on exactly how some of these mechanisms could be beneficial, know that the consequences have been understood for some time.

“One of the things you have to look at is that [marketers] study our reward systems much more than we realize. The allure of modern marketing techniques always makes you feel like you want more,” Alam said.

So now that you know that somehow your mind can be working on your own misfortune, what can you do to stop it?

“People who are clear about what they want every time tend to do slightly better than those who are constantly uncertain about what they want,” Alam said.

He advised that “preparation around choices, meditation, self-care, and self-awareness of your own limits, coping style, and personality are all important in making sure your choices match who you are.” are”.

“A great way to get things moving is to clarify and connect with your life goals. You can work with a therapist to help you do a values ​​assessment or do it yourself,” Dowd said.

Dimitriu suggested, “mindfulness, more time with family, or more unscheduled time to pursue interests or enjoy and use the things you have.”

“Other important gratitude practices include sharing gratitude with others, asking ourselves what we are grateful for, and maybe even making a list of things, remembering the wonderful things others have done for us, and finally remembering the times in his life that weren’t as good as they are now and grateful for the way things are now,” Kaplan said.

“Or if things aren’t right now, remembering that they won’t always be this way forever,” Kaplan added.

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