Your mind plays a crucial role in determining your state of happiness. It is in your mind that unhappiness occurs, and therefore it is very important that if we are to sort out unhappiness in your mind, that we try and understand “how your mind thinks”. However, I do not mean that you need to become a brain scientist, as even they struggle to understand the complexities of the mind ! Rather, for our purposes, we only need to understand in a superficial way, how your mind “thinks” without going into the finer details of how it actually happens in your brain. It’s sort of like, to drive a car, you don’t need to know exactly how the engine inside the car works. So in this section, I will explain to you in a simple way, a bit about “how you think”. This information will then help you to better understand the techniques of how to stop the thinking that causes unhappiness, which we will discuss later on this website.
You are of course aware that your mind does a lot of “thinking”. However, there is more than one type of “thinking” that occurs in your mind. I would like to now introduce you to two types of thinking that happens in your mind. One type of thinking I will call “conscious thinking” and the other type of thinking I will call “subconscious thinking”. I know that these names sound rather complicated, but do not worry as I will explain everything simply to you. Understanding these two types of thinking is important, as they will become relevant when we discuss what causes unhappiness.
The first type of thinking, which I call “conscious thinking”, is the thinking that happens in your mind where you are well aware that that thinking is taking place. A simple definition of the word “conscious” is “to be aware that it is happening”. Conscious thinking is quite simply, the thinking that happens in your mind that you know is happening. For an example, please now think of a strawberry ice cream! Imagine the cool texture of the pink ice cream ( sorry if strawberry is not your favourite flavour !). Perhaps you can also imagine that the ice cream is on a cone and is starting to melt a little bit.
If I now ask you, “What are you thinking about ?”, hopefully you will answer, “I am thinking of a strawberry ice cream on a cone”. As you are completely aware that your mind is “thinking” about a strawberry ice cream, this is an example of “conscious thinking”. Basically “conscious thinking” is the type of thinking that you have been aware of all your life.
Now let me explain to you the second type of thinking your mind does. You may be surprised to know that a lot of thinking in your mind happens without you even being “aware” that this thinking is happening. This type of thinking, which happens in the background, I will name as “subconscious thinking”. The word “subconscious” sort of means “under conscious”. Unlike conscious thinking that we talked about earlier, subconscious thinking happens on its own, without you being aware of what that thinking is about. You will not know if, right now, your subconscious thinking is about strawberry ice cream or cats or cars or anything else. Both, “conscious thinking” and “subconscious thinking” happen in your mind at the same time, but you will only be aware of the former.
Subconscious thinking plays a very important role in your day to day life. The subconscious thinking that happens in the background frees your mind to focus on using conscious thinking on important things needing attention.
Let me give you a simple example. Right now I am sitting in front of a computer and I am typing on a keyboard. My “conscious thinking” is focused on what words to type while my “subconscious thinking” is guiding my fingers to the correct buttons on my keyboard. My subconscious thinking is also working out the spelling of the words that I am typing. I also, a little while ago, put some clothes in my washing machine and those clothes will be ready to be taken out in about two hours. My subconscious thinking is probably keeping a rough track of time and will at some point remind me “you need to take clothes out of the washing machine”. All this subconscious thinking happens in the background, freeing my conscious thinking to focus on what I am writing.
The above was only a small example of subconscious thinking. It is capable of much more complex thinking tasks. For an example, say your grandmother’s birthday is coming next month. You spend an hour thinking about what to buy, and then give up as you can’t come up with ideas. Then three days later, while you are in the shower, suddenly you get an idea out of the blue, that your grandmother once mentioned that she was looking for some comfortable shoes to wear. You immediately realise that this would be a good thing to buy for her. To you, this great idea seemingly came out of nowhere, while you were thinking about other things in the shower. However, in reality, without you even realising it, your subconscious thinking in your mind may have, over days, thought about the problem of what to buy your grandmother. Once your subconscious thinking found an answer to what gift you should buy, it would have “suggested” the answer to your conscious thinking. Your conscious thinking then would have “thought” about the suggestion. Since it was a good suggestion it proceeded to accept the idea.
As you can see, your subconscious thinking plays an extremely important part in your day to day life. Without it, your conscious thinking would be overloaded and you would not be able to focus on anything.
Sometimes it is convenient to think that you have two separate “minds”, where conscious thinking and subconscious thinking happens. While at times, I too may describe it in this way, in real life, it is unlikely that your brain actually has two such specific areas. However, as I said at the beginning, we do not have to know exactly where these things happen in the brain. What is more important is to understand the basic concepts.
Now you may be wondering what all this has to do with stopping unhappiness ! Unfortunately, the reality is that your conscious and subconscious thinking does not always work perfectly. Each of them can work in faulty ways and result in unhappiness in your mind. I will explain how this can happen in the next section of this website.