In the 1970s a scientist called Bruce Alexander wanted to show that living conditions cause addiction and not the drugs themselves. So he built Rat Park – 200 times the size of a standard laboratory cage with lots of food, toys and rats of both sexes. Experiments were performed to test the rats’ willingness to consume morphine laced water over straight water.
These experiments showed that when the rats were happy, they were substantially more likely to choose water and reject the morphine. And when the rats were unhappy they were substantially more likely to choose the morphine laced water over straight water.
So. I have some friends heading off to Hawaii for 2 weeks soon. And I realised I actually can’t remember the last time I took 2 weeks off work.
Why? Because I’ve been too busy creating my very own “Rat Park”. That’s the amazing thing about being human (in developed countries anyway) – we have the power to make our OWN Rat Park. Ever since I realised how miserable I was doing the traditional 9-5, I quit my job, retrained as a life coach and moved to Canada – I have been creating my very own Rat Park!
Great stuff. Oh yes, I’m walking my talk as a life coach: I have big goals. I take action. I make stuff happen. And now I live on a 5 acre property on a beautiful island off the coast of Vancouver Island. I have a great hubbie, we grow our own vegetables, make jam, go for scenic hikes with our wonderful doggie Dexter, I have a job where I help people, have great friends and am in the process of securing a pool table for our games room – where we have regular Friday night hangouts with friends!
And it is. But I still have anxiety (although it’s much better!). I still get sad, disappointed, frustrated, upset, angry.
My point? Even people who have everything they want – money, friends, recognition still get upset, unhappy, angry, lonely. People who live in luscious Hawaii still have crappy experiences, days, weeks.
So, do unpleasant feelings and experiences go away once we’ve created our Rat Park?
Because it’s not Rat Park (our physical environment) that makes us happy – or unhappy.
In fact if you live in a developed country you’re ALREADY IN RAT PARK!!!
You get the irony right? We’re all striving to CREATE Rat Park – but we’re already IN it.
Instead what turns our Rat Park environment into a laboratory cage is how we FEEL and what we THINK ABOUT our life.
Your THOUGHTS and FEELINGS are not the truth – they’re just thoughts and feelings.
What makes life hard is when we BELIEVE our negative thoughts and feelings. That’s when life stops being Rat Park.
We live in a CONSTANT stream of unsatisfactoriness.
Growing up we were told “We love you when you do a good job, behave nicely, smile, do as you’re told”. In the media we’re advertised at, “This is what a good dad looks like with the right watch, clothes, car, house, wife”. Films and books tell us that “Happiness is finding the right person, house, settling down, having lots of money – and living happily ever after”.
We’re told how we should be, what life should be. And we’ve absorbed it all.
But it’s ALL lies. Happiness is NOT conditional. Your Rat Park exists right here and now. You’re in it. You ARE it!
What turns our Rat Park environment into a cage is what we think about:
- Ourselves eg. I’m not attractive enough, am lazy, not good enough, boring, annoying, unlovable, worthless, stupid – or I can’t do X
- Others eg. they’re lazy, scary, can’t be trusted, are selfish/thoughtless/mean
- Life eg. life is hard, tiring, overwhelming, unfair, a constant struggle, out of my control, I don’t have a choice
- Environment eg. it’s too rainy, not warm enough, messy, dirty, not good enough, being ruined
What we think OTHERS think about us! Eg. they don’t love me/like me/respect me/appreciate me enough/they think I’m stupid/selfish/ugly/uninteresting/annoying
Ever noticed we can handle anything when we FEEL good? That we can turn a good situation (ever got angry, sad or frustrated on holiday?) into an unpleasant one when we FEEL bad?
We can live in the BEST Rat Park in the world and still be unhappy!
So, if you want to enjoy life, stop automatically believing your thoughts. STOP believing the lies. You are not your thoughts OR your feelings. They arise – but you don’t need to believe them.
Easier said than done. I know that all too well.
However. Awareness is the first step in change. And now you know.
By all means create your perfect life, your perfect Rat Park. But remember, it’s your THOUGHTS and FEELINGS that ultimately dictate whether you enjoy it or not.
Just because you think or feel something does not make it true. It’s your thoughts and feelings that cage you…
Your mission (should you choose to accept it!), is simply to get better at noticing your thoughts, choosing what you focus on and taking care of your feelings!
If you liked this, you may also like:
- The 3 As – A Simple 3 Step Model to Deal With Your Difficult Feelings and Emotions
- How to End Your UNhappiness
- Want To Enjoy Life More? Send Your Inner Critic on a Vacation!
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