Photo by Lisa D. Warren
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Dr. Lee Warren in brain surgery

Finding true happiness is harder than brain surgery. And I should know.

You might think that it’s hard to learn how to be a brain surgeon.

It is. I was in school without a break from the day I started Kindergarten at age five, until I finished my neurosurgery residency at age thirty-two. 

That’s right: twenty-seven consecutive years of school. 

That’s a long time, and some of it was difficult. But I have a secret to share with you:

There are five reasons why learning how to find true happiness is harder than brain surgery:

5. There’s no school for happiness. We’re supposed to know how to be happy on our own. Brain surgery school is structured, and there are all kinds of books, professors, and proven techniques to learn how to do it safely. Happiness is supposed to be learned in the school of life, but a lot of the lessons we learn are anything but happy.

4. In brain surgery, it’s understood that some problems aren’t fixable. It’s sad, but it’s true. Some tumors can’t be removed safely, or they keep coming back. Some accidents cause too much damage. 

Facing unsolvable problems does not invalidate the overall profession of brain surgery. Brain surgeons understand that, and we keep trying for every patient. 

In life, we believe that if there’s an unsolvable problem, or one that keeps returning, it means we can’t be happy. If brain surgeons practiced under that rule, none of us could stay in practice very long.

3. In life, we tend to think happiness can only happen when things are easy. But in brain surgery, nothing’s ever easy. In fact, some of the most difficult, dangerous, and complex operations we perform turn out to be the most rewarding. During the procedure, it’s pretty stressful. But after, when the patient is okay and living their life again, we realize that the difficult time we had in surgery was worth it.

2. In brain surgery, there’s a well-defined beginning and end. Every operation starts when I put the scalpel on the patient, and it ends when I put the bandage on the patient’s head. It’s finite, it’s concrete. I don’t have to wonder when it’s over. In life, we don’t remember much about the beginning, and we have no idea when the end is coming. That can create a sense of uncertainty that makes us uneasy. And uneasiness can make it hard to be happy.

1. In life, we often have a sense of wondering how much we matter. We don’t always know if our lives are important or if we’re making a difference. It’s hard sometimes to feel happy when we wonder if we’re insignificant. In brain surgery, we have all kinds of scans and tests to run. We can see that we’ve removed the tumor, that the patient is walking better, that their memory is improved after surgery. I don’t have to wonder if my surgery helped the patient. It’s easy to see. In life, sometimes we have to wonder.

Finding happiness isn’t brain surgery. It’s harder. The good news is that true happiness is actually easy to find once you know the secret.

Billions of dollars and centuries of time have been spent in the pursuit of happiness. But modern neuroscience has finally discovered the number one secret to feeling happy, and it turns out to be incredibly simple.

If you want to feel happy, decide to be happy. How we feel is mostly set by what we decide to feel. Tweet That!  

This concept is one of those “easy to say, hard to do” ideas. But trust me, it’s true.

We know now from countless functional brain imaging studies that positive thinking changes your brain chemistry, your body’s electromagnetic field, and even how other people perceive you. Literally, how you think changes how you feel. And how you feel changes the way you perceive your life, your importance, your impact on others, and your happiness.

Take a look at Dr. Daniel Amen’s book, Change Your Brain, Change Your Life for more on this.

Earlier, I wrote the five reasons why learning how to find true happiness is harder than brain surgery. Put those all together in the light of now knowing the true secret that happiness is mostly a decision:

If you look at your life as a school, it’s mostly a series of object lessons to teach you that life isn’t easy. It’s the School of Hard Knocks for most of us. So, if you want to be happy you can’t expect to wait until life is easy. You’ll be waiting for life to be easy until the day you die. It’s never easy. If you want to be happy during your life, you can’t wait on circumstances. That’s the lesson of the school of life: it’s hard, be happy anyway.

Some people think they’ll be happy as soon as they’re rich, married, taller, thinner, or at some other time AFTER which they’ve solved all their problems. But remember: graduation day from the School of Life is too late to wait for to start being happy.

Uneasiness and uncertainty can be scary, but as soon as we admit to ourselves that they’re an inevitable part of life, we can be set free from their power. Sure, nothing’s ever certain, so stop waiting for it and start living now. Be happy now. Start today.

Worrying about how much impact we’re having, how much we matter, or how other people perceive us is guaranteed to keep us stuck in unhappiness. Instead, worry about doing your best, and decide you are going to feel happy now, then, and every day in between. 

The surprising thing is, the more we allow ourselves to be happy for the sake of being happy, the more impact we find ourselves having on the world. Our work is more effective, we’re more influential, and more inspiring to others.

Life isn’t brain surgery. It’s harder. But it’s easy to be happy- it’s only one decision away.

Let’s talk about it. What do you do when you feel unhappy? Have you ever just decided to feel a certain way? What happened then?

Leave a comment below, and tell us what you think. 

And, while you’re composing your comment, here’s a little video about why brain surgeons aren’t the best party guests. Enjoy!

Online Brain Surgery

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