Whatever you think it is, you're wrong


My friend Matt Church tells me that every feeling we have is because of a chemical. He’s right (and he’s a biochemist, so he should know).

When we feel happy, it’s because a hit of dopamine has been released into a certain part of our brain. When we feel scared it’s because of some other chemical.

Our mind then does something interesting. It labels the feeling, and then it makes a conclusion about why we’re feeling like that.

It goes something like ‘I’m feeling something … yep, that’s fear. What happened recently that could have caused that … had a sip of my water, no, probably not that, the song finished, no not that, that woman just spoke in a loud voice … bingo, that’s what I’m scared of’.

My meditation teacher told me something very interesting about this process. He said 100 per cent of the time our mind is wrong when assigning the cause to how we feel. 100 per cent. Whatever you think it is, you’re wrong.

I reckon he’s on the money too. If I bump into you in the street and I suddenly feel happy, I assume it's because I’ve seen you. But I actually don’t understand what happens in my brain between some light hitting the cones at the back of my eyeball, to part of my brain connecting the pattern of light to a memory of your face, to signals going somewhere else to release some dopamine, to another part of my brain labeling the emotion I’m experiencing happiness.

Even putting all the brain chemistry aside, if I try to answer the question why does seeing you make me feel happy, I’m already a bit lost. Is it because I like you? Or I remember that great conversation we had last time we met. Or is it actually because at some level you remind me of my mum? Or is it just the colour of your hair? Hard to be sure.

And while it can be problematic trying to work this out for ourselves, trying to guess why someone else is feeling like they are is lunacy.