How to Permanently Change Your Misery Thermostat

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In the Mirror Series: How Seeing Ourselves More Clearly Can Make the World a Better Place

Part 1: Misery Thermostat

Have you ever noticed that when you are actually trying to gain or lose weight, your body always seems to drift back to a set point, like a thermostat?

In "The Hungry Brain: Outsmarting the Instincts That Make Us Overeat," Stephan J. Guyenet Ph.D. reveals why this happens and how we can overcome this tendency in order to finally lose weight and keep it off.

This got me thinking about how people, myself included, also have a Misery thermostat. You might alternatively call it a Happiness thermostat.

Think about a person you know that no matter what, is always at the same, miserable level. Good weather or bad, good fortune or bad luck, they always gravitate to a certain level of misery. Take a moment and look in the mirror and you may notice that you do the same thing. Whether our set point is high or low, we always gravitate back to it regardless of life's events.

So if this is true, are we just stuck, Joe? Like our weight, is there anything we can do to move the set point permanently?

Great question!

To change your Misery thermostat, find the joy in your misery and fill it in a different way.

What this means is you must first determine what goal being miserable serves in your life. Once you figure that out, you can replace the misery-related activities with more positive activities, but always in service of the same goal.

For example, let's say a person has a miserable attitude towards school. They place low expectations on how they do in school because they don't want to compete directly with their older sibling, who has always been exceptional in school. So they learn to dislike school and and check out of the competition.

What goal does this serve? The goal is to not be hurt by lack of their parent's approval or love.

So by being miserable in school and not trying they hope to avoid any comparison with their older (in their mind, better) sibling which might negatively affect their parent's love for them.

Once this dynamic is understood, they can then replace the dislike of school with other, more positive activities that serve the same goal of positive attention from their parents. As long as the ultimate goal was their parent’s approval, no amount of other remedies related to making school better or changing schools will matter.

There isn't a single answer here, but instead the person might be instead get more involved in a hobby or interest of their parents, find a specific part of school that they can excel at, or they could even face the competition and do their best with the realization that their value is not determined by the attention of other's, including their parents.

Your Move: What things have you done to move your Misery Thermostat? What do you plan to do?