Connections: Why Your Brain Has No Idea What Actually Makes You Happy

Updated: Oct 30, 2018

by Karen Banes

In the article “Why Your Brain Has No Idea What Actually Makes You Happy,” author Karen Banes talks about things our brains do to fool us and really get in the way of us being happy. It seems counter intuitive that our brains can be actively fighting against our happiness, but at least in the examples Karen gives, this seems to be the case.

The first way our brains get in the way of our happiness is that it’s flawed in imaging a future. We can imagine the good things about a future life, but forget to add in all the real everyday stuff. In essence, we see our possible future wearing rose-colored glasses.

Karen uses career as an example, but we can fall into this trap as photographers by imagining what it would be like to quit our jobs and become a professional photographer. We imagine infinite time for photography and the money to travel around the world on epic trips. But what Karen’s article suggests is that our mind is leaving out some things – some very big things. Being a professional photographer means marketing and business and all the hard work that comes from running your own business. Pros often have less time to photograph!

Karen also notes that our brains “miswants” things - things that don’t actually improve our happiness. These are the “if only s” of life. “If only I had more time to photography” or “If only I had that new lens.”

She talks of income in her article. It seems that there is a sweet spot (in the U.S. it’s $75,000) after which a rise in income doesn’t do much for our happiness.

Camera gear is probably the most relevant example for photographers. We want that new camera or lens, but in reality the gear we have now (including our smartphones!) works just fine. We think we will be happier with our photography if we have the new piece of equipment, but in reality our joy of photography isn’t related to the gear, it’s related to the experience of seeing the world.

Camera gear also exemplifies Karen’s last point. Our brains do something called ‘Hedonic Adaptation.’ Simply, our brains get used to the way things are. If we do purchase that high-end camera or lens, we will initially feel a surge of excitement, but this will fade and we'll start to forget the specialness if the item. Then we’ll start wanting more. It’s a vicious circle.

As Karen puts it, “Our brain has fully adapted and we rarely think about how fortunate we are.”

To fight these tendencies Karen gives some advice:

  • Be aware – know the tendencies of our brain and balance future imagination with real world expectations.

  • Express gratitude - Focus on what you already have. You already have some way of taking photographs (yes, even if all you have is a smartphone) and that puts you ahead of many people. You can see beauty in the world through your photography. Appreciate this gift.

  • Imagine life without what you currently have - This may help you appreciate what you do have.

  • Buy experiences not things - This is perfect advice for a photographer. Stay away from GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) and instead spend the money on a photo trip. The brain doesn’t have time to become bored on a 2-week trip, but the excitement of buying a new lens will fade. Look for new experiences close to home, festivals, skydiving, anything that’s different from day-to-day. Keep your camera with you always and live each day as if something new and interesting will happen that you can photograph. Go out with this mindset and you might be surprised at how much you see.

  • Turn off your Facebook – Really. Karen suggests stepping away from social media in order to appreciate life more fully

In her article, Karen Banes brings up some very relevant reasons why our brains have no idea what actually makes us happy. So ignore your brain and get out there and shoot!

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#photoyogaconnections #photoyoga #behappy #zen #wellbeing

Article Written by Jennifer Mishra

Jennifer Mishra is an American travel photographer born in Colorado and based in the St. Louis metro area. -- And she's a member of the St. Louis Women in Focus group. She has a background in classical music and academia. She is the founder of PhotoYoga. Her photos are published at Wits End Photography or follow her on Facebook or Instagram.

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