We think fear will protect us, when fear actually leads to distorted thinking.

Happiness is your natural state.

We were designed to be present, reactive in the face of potential threats, and consistently seeking pleasure, all for the sake of our survival and wellbeing. However, when maladaptive behaviors, severed connections, trauma and mental obstructions are normalized in a toxic culture, our mental health — and happiness—deteriorates.

The reason we are increasingly less happy is complex, and has ties to our culture, our neurobiology, our upbringings and our environment. However, there’s another element that is so absolutely essential, and so often missed. The majority of the happiness we experience in life is dependent on our habits, behaviors and decisions. It first requires our willingness to allowourselves to feel good.

Why wouldn’t we want that? Well, there are a few big reasons, and they are illogical but widely held beliefs that hold us back.

1. We think fear will protect us — therefore, make us happier—when fear actually leads to distorted thinking.

One of the first and most essential ways people resist feeling good is that they think if they are more attuned to the negative possibilities in their lives, they will be better able to prevent them. While being able to think ahead and plan for the future is an essential part of being a responsible, functioning person, sensitizing yourself to fear has the opposite effect than what you want.

Fear, much like anger, is an inherently irrational emotion. It leads to more distorted thinking than it ever gives you clarity. It makes you overemphasize what’s wrong, overreact to those possibilities, and over time, conditions you to see problems where they are not. Allowing fear to govern you like a defense mechanism weakens your psyche over time.

Nothing can “undo” progress in your life. When you take a step forward, you become better equipped to handle the future. Every step forward sets you free.

2. We think that if we allow ourselves to be happy, we’ll run a higher risk of losing that happiness, when happiness is actually a practice.

Another common fear is the idea that if you simply allow yourself to feel grateful, be present, and relax into life, you’re going to become unaware of potential threats, and lose everything that matters to you. In short, if you let yourself be happy, you’re going to lose that happiness.

Happiness is not something you’ve given, it’s a practice. It is a matter of training yourself over time to appreciate what’s good, address what’s not, and rebound from stress and failure in a healthy way. Learning to feel good is actually a consistent practice, one in which you condition your mind to think a certain way. The more you do this, the better you will get at it. The more you allow yourself to be happy, the easier it will be to return to that state over time.

Life does not get good when we’re given good things. It gets good when we learn how to create a good day for ourselves.

3. We believe that if we allow ourselves to feel good, we’ll fall into bad habits, when bad habits are actually a survival mechanism in response to pain.

Many people resist allowing themselves to “feel good first” and trust what instinctively seems right, because they assume that if they just let themselves be happy they’ll also lose control of their lives, fall into their worst habits, and never be able to come back.

But our worst habits are actually a response to pain and unhappiness. We don’t overeat and over-consume and make enemies and do a poor job at work when we’re happy. Our worst habits are not the product of loving something too much that we can’t resist it. They perpetuate when we become reliant on them to make us feel better.

So much of what we have come to understand as common knowledge and wisdom in regard to our mental and emotional wellness is simply incorrect.

Happiness is not something we lose if we experience it more. It’s a consistent practice that improves over time, because we become more and more capable of returning to a healthy homeostasis, and addressing problems as they arise. Fear does not protect us, it weakens us and makes us susceptible to more irrational thinking and reactiveness.

But most importantly, happiness is not something that deteriorates our health. We don’t fall into our worst habits when we’re happy, we lean on them when we’re in pain.

Happiness is not the end-goal, it’s the thing you have to work on first. Nothing in your life will bring you sustained stability and wellness other than your own habits, and nothing will make you as productive, effective, rational, capable and responsive as letting yourself feel good first.