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06/12/2014 09:28 am ET | Updated Mar 12, 2015

The Powerful Head Games Only Your Own Brain Can Play

By Leigh Newman

Here are the ways we silently -- and secretly -- discourage ourselves from doing the things that would make us the happiest.

  • 1. We focus on the positive.
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    This happens when we spend a lot of time thinking things like, "Our rent is half the market value for this neighborhood! We have free cable! We live in this supercool neighborhood with two parks!" In other words, you, and me, we convince ourselves how happy we are in our current situation (because we are grateful and we do want to be happy), so much so that we don't realize we could be even happier someplace else. Like someplace in a different supercool neighborhood but with equally inexpensive rent…and one more bedroom.
  • 2. We make up logical-yet-illogical rules.
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    Such as: If I earn this amount of money, I get to quit my job and paint beautiful strange flowers on glass. Or: If I don't eat six stuffed bagel-holes this morning, I get to quit my job and paint flower on glass. And when those somehow don't work out, we replace them with logical-yet-illogical laws. Such as: Only wildly talented, cool people get to paint flowers on glass. These laws are like gravity. They uphold the running of the universe and can't be broken. Until one day, we get a logical-yet-logical idea...and pick up a brush and start painting. Which, when you think about it, not only makes sense but also takes way less time.
  • 3) We call the correct wrong (or right) best friend.
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    Every best friend has a life-experience resume that you're intimately versed in. So when you are both dying to skydive -- and AFRAID!!! VERY AFRAID!!! -- of actually doing it, you dial up your acrophobic college roommate who will list every possible accident that might occur including a broken parachute and hitting your head on the wing of the airplane and falling for 500 feet to your death. Why we do this is a mystery. But the consequences of it can be rectified by calling your other friend, who has skydived five times, and who will text a photo of her flying in Hawaii with her arms outspread by a rainbow.
  • 4) We surrender to who we were.
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    Most of us got to be the "fill-in-the-blank" one in our families. We were the funny one, the sad one, the crazy one, the bratty one, the one who ruined Christmas. Having grown up and moved away, we shed these historic roles. We've learned how to have a tough conversation with love, honesty and respect. We enjoy holidays and behave kindly to siblings when they call. And yet, when we want to do something wonderful, like move to Buenos Aires, we somehow revert in our old familial role. We make a joke about it, the way we used to about everything. "What would we do in Argentina?" we say, "Tango for a living?" And people chuckle -- confirming, yet again, this as a laughable idea. But moving to Argentina will probably produce actual laughter, as well as excitement and a few new fill-in-the-blank "ones" for the family to mull over. "Oh, her," they will say, "the happy one, the wild one, the one who does just what she wants."

Leigh Newman is the books editor of Oprah.com and the author of the memoir Still Points North.

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