“For every minute you are angry, you lose sixty seconds of happiness.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

For the most part, most of us are in pursuit of happiness. Some of us have preconceived ideas of what will bring happiness and others have very specific requirements. What I feel we must be on the lookout for is happiness in the form of familiar and “comfortable” situations, behaviors, and thoughts. Ever since I developed this idea of the automatic brain (AB), people have inquired as to whether it is nurture vs. nature (i.e. genetic vs. learned).

In my opinion, our AB is hard wired from hundreds of thousands of years of evolution to flip on—thus leading to fight or flight behavior—from any circumstance that is unfamiliar or unknown. Thus if we stay in familiar, known, comfortable areas, to be sure the AB will not discharge. Since when the AB discharges it feels very uncomfortable (our thoughts become cloudy, we may get a headache, our muscles feel tight and hurt, our heart rate and breath may quicken, our blood pressure may go up), we instinctively flee back to the comfort of feeling physically calmer. Isn’t that happiness? Isn’t that bliss?

My view is that the nurture part comes in, largely, during birth and 12 years of age when we learn what is familiar and comfortable. For example, if you came from a home where verbal abuse was the norm, your brain imprints that behavior as familiar. Trying to seek a relationship later in life that is not verbally abusive, or trying to overcome your abusive nature, is unfamiliar thus triggering your AB to influence you to retreat back to a familiar pattern of behavior. What if you came from a home where worrying about everything, always waiting for the next shoe to drop, was the norm? As a child, if you deviated from this pattern you might be viewed as an outcast. So not only did you potentially face the “danger” of being an outsider to your own family, not worrying became unfamiliar. Now try not worrying as an adult and see what happens. Does the familiar and comfortable feel like happiness?

As an adult, perhaps you have become to expect that with “every laugh there is cry.” (Remember that weekly message a few months ago?). For example, what if you never seem to get over the hump of worrying about your finances? Nothing ever seems to go your way. Just as you seem to be getting over the hump, something breaks down in your home. You live month to month, day by day, in a constant cloud. As discomforting as this is, it has become familiar to you. If along the way, a laugh creeps in (or you get an unexpected check in the mail), chances are your AB will propel you to fight or flee this unfamiliar territory of sunshine and drive you right back to the comfort of your discontent.

Often we find this dynamic going on in relationships. As I was driving to Connecticut last weekend to play with my brother’s band— feeling psyched, pretty darn good— I needed to plug his address into the navigation system, as I always seem to miss a turn on route to his house. When I tried, an error message appeared: No disc available. What? In the 2 ½ years that I have had this car, the disc was never removed. Well, my wife drove this car the day before, so I figured she may have tampered with something. My familiar pattern would have been to call immediately, not angrily (oh yeah), but “inquiring” what might have happened to the disc. I’m not a screamer or a yeller, so that would not have happened, but I would have called just to get information. Really? What would that serve? Why would I really need that information? I wasn’t about to turn around. The fact of the matter, I was angry—and anger ALWAYS represents the fight reaction of a triggered AB. How could she tamper with my stuff? Now I’m flying solo and might get lost? Rapid fire thoughts generated by my primitive nature. Quickly, my AB was removing me from that psyched, good, happy, now “dangerous” place. So what did I do? I took a deep breath in through my nose for a count of about seven, held for a count of one, and exhaled through my nose, evenly and slowly for a count of about eight. I plugged in my Blackberry and accessed Pandora Internet Radio (highly recommend this) and listened to my GAP Band station (Pandora plays music in the genre of music that you pick, this being 80’s “old school” funk). I let go of the automatic, familiar pattern of reaction. Just as I got closer to my brother’s exit, my pager went off. As I answered the call, I passed his exit. Great, I thought, another instance for the familiar reaction to kick in and for me to react with anger. So, did I then call my wife to “inquire” what happened to the navigation disc? No. I did the same as I did before. I got to my brother’s house with time to spare, happy and relaxed, and we had a great time. When I came home the next day, the disc was a distant memory. I later found it in the glove compartment!

Often we repeatedly react in the same way, over and over again, to circumstances in our lives. These familiar patterns of behavior, to a large extent, are controlled by our primitive AB, trying to protect us, instinctively, from the “grave danger” of the unknown; the unfamiliar. These behaviors end up defining us. What is so vital is to bring to the level of awareness—to the level of consciousness—these automatic instincts that lock us, drain us (wonder why I chose the name for my book!?), and keep us from achieving happiness.

If it is familiar for you to get angry easily, or familiar for you to expect every laugh will turn to cry, be aware that your primitive AB defaults you there, because it is comfortable, familiar, and therefore “safe.” Happiness does not reside in this safe place, but rather in an opposite direction. The more you become aware of your AB and its triggers, the more you can begin to create a new safe place. Since the AB does not think but only reacts, when you allow yourself to receive happiness and revel in its authentic safety, your AB will help keep you there. At that point, you will be in the perfect position to begin connecting with your mind—the gateway to your true nature, your personal power, your living soul, and true happiness.

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Glassman began distributing a weekly motivational email message to patients and friends in January 2007. By May 2008, his distribution list had grown so much—as people on the list told others about it—
and interest in his messages had become so high—Dr. Glassman decided to turn his philosophy and advice into a book. That’s how Brain Drain came about. Starting in May 2008, his weekly messages—now distributed to an even larger audience—formed the basis for chapters of this book.
To date, Brain Drain has won in the Spiritual category at the 2009 Los Angeles Book Festival and received honorable mention at the 2009 New England Book Festival. Brain Drain has also been awarded the 2010 Pinnacle Achievement Award for best Self-Help book by NABE and is an Eric Hoffer Award winner.

Through his book, private practice, public appearances, continued weekly messages,and Coach MD (medical coaching practice) Dr. Glassman has helped thousands realize a healthier, successful, and more abundant life.

He lives in Rockland County, NY with his wife and their four children (and dog, Ginger).