We are not born happy so it’s easy to be unhappy. We are born to survive and raised to live happy. Our survival instincts develop before we are born and include the emotions fear, anger, contempt, followed by shame and guilt. These are our life preservers. Without them, our lifespans would be shorter.
We Are Naturally Selfish
While our instincts secure our existence, they also make us impatient, greedy, intolerant, unsympathetic, and demanding – traits we demonstrate at birth. And, since our thinking brain isn’t developed at birth, newborns cannot distinguish themselves from others. Their world is all about them. I summarize a newborn’s attitude as, “I exist and want to continue to exist. Therefore, I need… and I want…, so make it happen for me right now.”
We are, by nature, self-centered, self-oriented, and selfish, which are defined as, “being concerned primarily with oneself and especially with one’s own desire, needs, or interests; lacking consideration for others, mainly concerned with one’s own profit or pleasure.” These are our natural qualities, but they do not create happy individuals or a healthy society.
Values for Happiness
Happiness and a healthy society require us to be accountable, respectful, honest, generous, charitable, selfless, self-giving, and self-sacrificing. While we know these values are right, we might have been given the wrong definitions. Our parents and other influential people in our young lives defined them for us by the way they behaved. Parents who consistently practice responsibility, respect, honesty, generosity, and selflessness understand what these mean and live their lives accordingly. They teach their children by example, and therefore, give their children a good moral foundation and a healthy view of the world. Adults who abuse children and parents who neglect, abuse, or overindulge their children distort the definitions of these values and show their children an unhealthy view of the world.
If you were abused, neglected, raised in an insecure environment (including households where parents aren’t committed to each other or their family), raised in a chaotic environment due to a family member’s illness, addiction, PTSD, death, or parents’ divorce, or have parents who never healed from their childhood wounds, you grew up relying more on your life preservers than learning the real meaning of generosity and the other values. When you are raised in distressing conditions, your instincts remain heightened and you remain focused on yourself. Stressful situations can lead to thoughts such as, “I have to save my siblings,” “I have to fix my parents,” “I have to make everyone happy,” “I have to keep myself safe.” Your world is centered on you – how you are affected by the actions and decisions of the people you depend on and how to survive.
If you had overindulging parents, who gave you everything you wanted (under the guise of generosity, but in reality it was because of their unhealed childhood wounds), who made sure you got what they wanted you to have, and were permissive, they kept you at the center of your world – and theirs. You’ll be conditioned to expect that from others.
Being raised in a stressful environment does not make you bad. It just gives you a bad way to view the world.
Note: Not everyone who’s had a less than ideal childhood remains the center of his/her world. Those who have learned to trust and rely on God more than their survival instincts put God in the center and live from that vantage point.
Focusing on Yourself
Inarguably, keeping yourself at the center of your world limits your world view and distorts your reality. It is how you stay unhappy. Let’s look at what happens when people focus on themselves.
When you focus on yourself, you:
- Do not have a genuine interest in others → don’t connect well → have unfulfilling relationships → are lonely → are constantly searching for fulfillment
- Are consumed with yourself → determine how life should be for you and how others should treat you → are viewed as “bossy” and are frequently disappointed → feel a lot of anger and contempt
- Are the center of your world → have a narrow view of the real world → acquire less information → have less knowledge → feel insecure and fearful
- Measure how much you should have by what you see other people have → compete with and compare self to others → are more inclined to see what you don’t have → are more aware of the negatives in your life → feel more like a loser than a winner → feel shame
- Consider self over others → don’t consider other people’s situations or points of view → don’t put yourself in other people’s shoes → lack empathy → hold grudges → avoid forgiveness → maintain guilt
Notice the outcomes are the same as our instincts (anger, contempt, fear, shame, guilt).
Live Naturally in Survival Mode or Live Spiritually in Happiness
Conclusion: when you focus on yourself, you perpetuate your natural instincts and live in survival mode. Living in survival mode results in anxiety and depression. God did not intend for us to just survive. He wants us to live and be happy. “I came so that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance.” John 10:10.
It takes no effort to live in survival mode. You wake up and you’re already there. Focusing on yourself assures your stay. To be happy and live better, you must leave survival mode. This means you have to go from your natural self to your spiritual self. You do this by being consciously aware and thinking over your feelings.
Gain awareness by paying attention to yourself – what you think, how you talk, and your behaviors. Make decisions by thinking first then include your emotions. You’ll make better decisions and you’ll be happier.
Live in the natural and live unhappy. Live in the spiritual and live happy.
Stay tuned to learn more on how to live spiritually and be happier.