Part of your brain, the limbic system, has the ability to create thoughts like hunger, thirst, fear and reproductive urges. These are the results of basic neuro physiological urges that create appropriate changes in the balance of your endocrine system (hormones, neuro-transmitters, endorphins, etc.). We share the ability to create ‘Thought’ with other mammalians, and even reptiles.
The difference between ‘higher mammals’ and reptiles, is the ability to be consciously aware of the feelings of these chemical changes: Noticing the increased heart rate, for instance, or feeling the ‘stomach turn over’.
I remember the actor Nicholas Lyndhurst, on a nature documentary, talking about the sense of humour displayed by the primates he was observing. He related, with humble astonishment, how the ‘head chimp’ had hurt his leg and walked with a limp. When that ‘alpha male’ was not looking the rest of his group would mimic his limp – even after his leg had healed! So it is not just the human brain that experiences emotions. You only have to look at an abused dog to know that they have depressed function in what might be called their ‘jump around and have fun’ system. If a particular brain function has depressed activity the medical profession refer to it as “Depression”.
The distinction we humans have, over all other life on earth, is that we have a complex language we can use to give these feelings labels. In addition, we can use language, to give meaning as to why we have these feelings.
What makes things worse for us is the fact that feelings of fear include a reduction in cognitive function. This is because in a dangerous situation a person needs to react, not analyse.
To understand that our feelings come from our thinking, and not from our circumstances, must come as a real relief to many people who thought it was the other way around!
I can’t stop a thought from coming into my mind but, if it is not helpful, I can decide to let it go and think about something that creates good feelings instead.
Happiness is just one thought away…