Last Tuesday I took a break from work to eat lunch. Nothing was special about the day or the lunch—in fact, I was eating the same kind of sandwich I’d eaten for three days in a row. As I ate, though, I noticed that every single bite was magically the perfect balance of crunchy toast, savory egg, and salty bacon. That alone would have been enough to make lunch great but I had a trifecta of awesome going on. The book I was reading was making me feel so hopeful and empowered that I was nodding along enthusiastically and I had an upbeat song on loop in my head so I was bopping around happily in my chair.
I was in a state of pure joy. It was amazing…until I noticed how happy I was. As soon as I realized that I was so happy I thought “Shouldn’t I be worried about something?” Really brain, really? You want to ruin this moment for no reason? What a dick move.
I’ve written extensively about the asshole in your brain. That part of your brain has an important job, which is to keep track of every threat to your survival and constantly remind you of them so you stay alert.
Unfortunately, our brains haven’t evolved as quickly as other aspects of our lives have changed so they constantly ping us with a never-ending list of worries, significant and not, all with the same urgency. It’s a necessary survival mechanism but it’s also like a mousetrap, waiting for you to take one too many blissfully unaware steps so it can snap, instantly delivering the pain of your worries.
The ever-growing list of worrisome things, both personal and global, can overpower the list of happy-making things in your life. This imbalance means that being happy can feel wrong but, you need to know that it’s okay to be happy. Being unhappy won’t ease any of your worries. If anything it will make them affect you more.
Having things to worry about does not mean you have to be sentenced to a lifetime of anxiety and distress. You can find a balance. You can give yourself permission to be happy.
You will still worry but you can find moments of joy—escape the weight of life for a few fleeting moments if that’s all you can manage right now.
So sure, I could have started worrying about something instead of going back to blissfully enjoying my lunch. I’ve got plenty to worry about, like anyone else. I could have listened to that part of my brain that wants me to stay alert and anxious, but stressing in that moment wouldn’t have made anything better. I couldn’t change any of the things weighing on my mind while I was sitting there eating. Worrying wouldn’t fix anything and would only ruin my lunch, making it less likely that I’d have the mental or physical energy to actually do something about the things weighing on my mind.
So, I acknowledged that yes, there were things I could worry about but there was nothing I should worry about right then. That acknowledgment plus a deep breath and very intentional focus on the food and book in front of me brought my awareness back to the joyful present. My worries would wait.