One of my closest friends started a happiness movement on the social media by posting pictures of the little things that make him happy for 100 days. It’s called the happiness challenge or as many of you like to express yourselves the #100daysofhappy #challengeyourself #behappy movement. I was so inspired by him that (1) I started my own personal happiness challenge and (2) did some scientific digging into the subject. Its goal is pretty obvious, to become a happier person after 100 days. It may seem silly but there is a lot of scientific evidence backing up why this is such an important goal. Being happy is more than the American Dream, happiness is something that has the power to change our brain cells, our neurological connections & even influence our productivity levels. Hence the hidden purpose of the happiness challenge is actually to REWIRE YOUR BRAIN CELLS. Say whattt?!??! Yes this is actually possible.
The Science of Happiness:
Happiness is produced by a mixture of brain chemicals that process signals and drive actions in our brain. Some of the main chemicals responsible for happiness include Dopamine and Serotonin. Imbalances between these chemicals lead to both psychological and neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, Schizophrenia and Major Depression.
I’ve written a lot about disease prevention, but this if my first post on Happiness. Happiness is a key component of overall health (hence the mention in our blog title), yet it is often neglected by healthcare workers. As part of my HHW goal, I want to HELP YOU PREVENT DISEASE and… FIND HAPPINESS through your personal health achieving journey. Health is not merely the absence of disease but it is also the place were we are at peace with ourselves and our lives. Only in that place is were we can find happiness. This may seem silly to some of you, but I will break down how we accomplish this through simple actions.
According to recent scientific studies ONLY 10% of our happiness is influenced by our surrounding, 50% is based on genes & the remaining 40% is up to you.
The underlying principle is similar to that applied to the muscles in our body. It is based on a “use it or lose it” philosophy. The brain is like a muscle. The more you exercise it, the more you can trick it into avoiding disease. How? By rewiring some of its neurological pathways and producing more brain chemicals necessary to avoid the development of diseases. Did you know that we are slowly losing both Dopamine and Dopamine receptors as we age? Moreover, unhappiness can actually accelerate this process! So how do we prevent disease AND unhappiness?
Here are 10 steps for positively transforming your brain (and becoming a happier person):
- Start off by finding NATURAL ways to increase the Dopamine levels in your brain. Studies have shown that aerobic exercise is one of the best ways to accomplish this, especially if you do it in novel ways. Ever heard of gorilla costume races? It’s a thing in some US cities like Denver, Seattle & Austin.
- Acknowledge that there is no such thing as pleasure without pain. Your nervous system is a differential engine that is constantly looking for contrasts and integrates information according to differences.
- Look out for what scientists call “Hedonic adaptation”, this is the main enemy of happiness. The hedonic treadmill theory states that whatever level of wealth or material goods you have, you adapt to it, and always want more. Greedy people are we?
- Cooperate with one another. This may seem silly but in certain circumstances this can directly increase dopamine levels in the striatum region of the brain. In a social exchange cooperate instead of competing. Actual “joy” comes from creating a connection with one another.
- Every Sunday night, spend 5 minutes thinking about 5 blessings in your life or 5 happy moments you enjoyed during the week.
- Make spontaneous random acts of kindness. Help a neighbor with their groceries, put a quarter into a meter, etc. Be creative. Be kind.
- Care about things bigger than yourself.
- Spend time cultivating intrinsic goals in your life. These fall into three categories: personal goals, relationship goals (either with friends or family) and community goals (the desire to help out). Studies have shown that people who foster intrinsic goals suffer less from stress, anxiety and depression than those who seek out extrinsic goals only (such as money, status or image goals). The latter only provides fleeting happiness once accomplished and tend to lead you into the Hedonic treadmill perpetually. Most of us experience this when we buy something new (a phone, a shirt, or anything…the joy usually lasts minutes or hours then we move onto the next object we covet).
- Think of happiness as a skill, that must be practiced in ordered to be mastered.
- Happiness is contagious. The more you have, the more you can infect onto others.
Still need more convincing reasons to become happier? (Other than disease prevention of course…)
Numerous studies show that happy individuals are successful across multiple life domains, including marriage, friendship, income, work performance, and health. The authors suggest a conceptual model to account for these findings, arguing that the happiness-success link exists not only because success makes people happy, but also because positive affect engenders success.
So happiness does not only have intrinsic benefits but will also help you all around! If you are interested in this topic, read about positive psychology. It’s an increasingly growing field. Not much of a reader? Catch “Happy” the 2011 documentary by Academy Award nominated film-maker Roko Belic. It explores human happiness through the latests findings from positive psychology research and through interviews with people from all walks of life. It takes your on a journey through 14 different countries and will leave you feeling like you want to change your life.
Start today by setting a happiness goal and finding little things that bring you joy each day. Dare to challenge yourself? Become part of the happiness movement today! As the evidence shows, happiness can pave a road to a healthier & more successful version of yourself. And something extra to get you started… Watch this music video for 4 minutes and start thinking about what makes you HAPPY: forhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2CIOVvEh69s
PS – What “little thing” makes you happy? Comment below!
Lambert, C.. The Science of Happiness: Psychology explores humans at their best. January-February 2007 http://harvardmagazine.com/2007/01/the-science-of-happiness.html
Lyubomirsky, Sonja; King, Laura; Diener, Ed. The Benefits of Frequent Positive Affect: Does Happiness Lead to Success? Psychological Bulletin, Vol 131(6), Nov 2005, 803-855. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.131.6.803
On Happiness and Human Potentials: A Review of Research on Hedonic and Eudaimonic Well-Being. Annual Review of Psychology. Vol. 52: 141-166 (Volume publication date February 2001). DOI: 10.1146/annurev.psych.52.1.141
Seligman, Martin E. P.; Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. Positive psychology: An introduction. American Psychologist, Vol 55(1), Jan 2000, 5-14. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.55.1.5