Mind: What Makes Us Happy?
Happiness defined is the emotional state within ourselves and towards others responsible for giving us positive feelings which range from joy to contentment. Although we all have a unique profile of what makes us “happy”, happiness is a common and easily recognisable experience which contributes to a state of wellbeing and optimism.
In general, evidence suggests that happy people:-
- Live longer
- Are healthier overall
- Smile often
- Are sociable
- Are optimistic
- Have high self esteem
There is no one formula for happiness, instead there are a combination of factors which when put together improve the chances of our being happy. Research conducted to identify the characteristics of happy people led to the following conclusions:
Significant relationships such as family, friends and marriage play an important part in sustaining happiness. The greater the opportunity we have to interact and have meaningful relationships with people with whom we can reciprocate positive feelings, the greater our chance of happiness. Predictors of happy relationships include the presence of equity, intimacy, companionship and closeness. Happiness in relationships such as marriage has also been found to increase longevity- by an average of 7 years for men and 4 years for women.
Having meaning in life found through a belief in something beyond ourselves such as religion, spirituality or a philosophy can also increase our happiness. Many studies focussing on the relationship between religion and happiness have consistently found that people who considered God to be important in their lives were happier than those who did not.
The ability to set, achieve and see through long term goals have been found to be a good indicator for a happy life. We also gain satisfaction when we use our strengths and abilities to strive for the goals we set, partly because we identify them as sources of happiness.
The Body’s Happiness Factory
Research suggests that almost 50% of our capability for happiness is determined by our genes. Other factors which influence our capacity for happiness are chemicals in the body, often described as “happy hormones”. Serotonin, endorphins and melatonin are also responsible for maintaining our levels of happiness.
Serotonin is produced by the body during the day and is found mainly in the intestines, although 10% is found in the brain. It is a chemical which enhances the mood and transmits messages of wellbeing to the brain. Serotonin is also associated with regulation of sleep, appetite, mood, sexual desire, memory, learning and temperature. Low levels are associated with anxiety, depression and anger. Melatonin supports the work of Serotonin and is produced at night to enables the body to rest.
Endorphins are mood enhancers which are released in the brain during physical and mental exercise hence the importance of the role of exercise in promoting mental health. Endorphins provide a natural feeling of euphoria, it is a natural pain-reliever and is considered to combat stress. Like serotonin, they too are associated with, appetite control, and the release of sex hormones.
How to Keep Happy
If happiness is so good for us then what can we do to obtain and sustain it? Dr Gary Chapman, author of "The Five Love Languages" uses the analogy of a full or empty “love tank” to describe positive or negative experiences of love. I would like to borrow the description and apply it to happiness. So what can we do to keep our happiness tank full? Set out below are some suggestions:
1. Place value on happiness
2. Choose to be happy
3. Seek opportunities to exercise happiness
4. Build up supplies
5. Share happiness and encourage others
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