UNDERSTANDING THAT PEOPLE FEEL HAPPINESS DIFFERENTLY, scientists, nevertheless, are actively studying this issue. And every year it becomes more relevant because the level of stress that affects our subjective well-being (read: happiness) is steadily increasing . Perhaps, it is just the constant stress overload that became the reason for the doctors to talk about Cherophobia , the fear of happiness, as a really existing form of anxiety. According to experts, this can happen for various reasons, but more often because of the belief in the everyday theory of “life like a zebra”, which suggests that if you are happy now, then something bad will surely happen to you.
Recently, Harvard professor Ashley Willans made the shocking statement that every day we lose our five minutes of happiness, believing that nothing particularly good will happen in such a short period of time. We suggest that you promise yourself not to do this again. And how happiness generally works – let’s figure it out right now.
What Happens to the Brain When We Are Happy
The part of the brain that processes and regulates emotions is called the limbic system. It was here that are four main types of chemical substances , which provide sensations and emotions that we call happiness.
First, there are endorphins , opioid neuropeptides that are primarily produced by the nervous system to reduce physical pain when needed. One of the easiest ways to get them, by the way, is sports. Secondly, serotonin , one of the main neurotransmitters, also known as the “happiness hormone”. Third, dopamine, which is part of the brain’s reward system. It is its development that makes us perform certain actions over and over again, and it is on it that any addiction is based – from romantic to narcotic . Finally, oxytocin , also known as the “attachment hormone”, is produced in large quantities during childbirth and breastfeeding, providing a bond between mother and baby, and during orgasm, promoting attachment to a partner.
Can the feeling of happiness be prolonged
Scientists think this is quite possible. For example, if someone strives not for certain manifestations of happiness, but for happiness in general, he, as a rule, feels better – in this matter, specific goals (like “meeting friends on the weekend and going to a bar”) are less effective than abstract (just “have a good weekend”).
In this context, the results of another study are interesting , where shopping and travel were considered as two alternative ways to feel happier. It turned out that people who get positive emotions from experiences, be it going to the zoo or jumping with a parachute, feel happiness more intensely. But buying a skateboard, jeans, or a new couch can bring more happiness in the long run.
The paradox of “absolute happiness”
Each person has acquaintances who claim that they are perfectly happy with what they have and being where they are. If this is really the case, then they are lucky – according to scientists, the majority of people are not very good at feeling absolute happiness here and now. Due to the peculiarities of our psyche, the present is, as it were, squeezed between a happy past and a happy future: for example, most people are characterized by an ” optimistic bias ” – the tendency to think that their future will be better than the present.
The ” hedonistic treadmill ” associated with attempts to run after a new goal and new happiness, since the previous one did not bring the happiness that was expected, makes the situation even less rosy. On the other hand, many of us share the Pollyanna Principle , named after the cheerful heroine of the book, Eleanor Porter. Its essence boils down to the fact that people tend to remember good things from the past, ignoring troubles – that’s why memories, if it’s not something out of the ordinary, are usually filled with warm sadness. We add that according to the researchers of the London School of Economics, each of us has a chance for absolute happiness at 23 and 69 years old.
Is it true that happiness is in our hands
One cited 1996 study says that about 50 % of the happiness in our lives is genetically determined – this has been shown by experiments with identical twins. Sounds pretty hopeless. However, modern scientists criticize the work for a limited sample (36 pairs of twins from Minnesota), noting that on its basis it is strange to draw conclusions about the entire human population. It looks like genetics doesn’t really solve that much.
In 2005, the University of California published its findings on the topic, stating that life circumstances, such as income, social status, and having a loved one nearby, determine the level of happiness in our lives by only 10 %. But 40 % of happiness depends on everyday experience: your favorite song in a coffee shop, the smile of a stranger, and other little things.
How the pursuit of happiness (sometimes) spoils everything
The pursuit of happiness can sometimes get in the way of being happy. There is an assumption that when a person really wants to be happy, he feels the lack of time more acutely, which ultimately makes him unhappy. In addition, the pursuit of happiness is often associated with a focus on personal gain, which can damage connections with others and lead to loneliness . Harm the inner well-being can and setting high goals, which, as we seem to lead to happiness, but that it is difficult to achieve. Because it has long been known that it is precisely small and specific goals that help achieve impressive results.
You can write a separate text about the benefits of happiness for the physical and emotional state. Let’s not go into details, but just note that, according to research, feeling happy helps us to eat well and stay physically active, strengthens immunity and helps to cope with stress, reduces the risk of heart disease and increases life expectancy. Simply put, it provides all the possible bonuses.
Happiness is not about money
No matter how immutable this truth may seem, happiness can still be measured in monetary terms. After analyzing the responses of almost two million volunteers from different countries, scientists from Purdue University found that for happiness a person needs about 95 thousand dollars (a little more than 6 million rubles at the current exchange rate). But this, in fairness, is for all-encompassing happiness. To experience emotional well-being, $ 60,000 is enough.
There is something more real about buying happiness. If your billionaire uncle is in no hurry to rewrite a villa in the suburbs of Paris for you, you can buy happiness through the purchase of time . Being able to pay professionals to do some must-have but time-consuming tasks (like cleaning an apartment or making dinner) really makes people happier. The idea of a food delivery subscription has never been so tempting.
Smiling doesn’t always mean happiness
A smile makes a person more attractive in the eyes of others, but it does not always act as a marker of happiness. A new study confirms what psychologists have talked about before: smiling is not about joy, but about being involved in the process. Moreover, as the experiment with a computer quiz showed, this also works when a person interacts with gadgets (which is why we smile so often when looking at the phone).
The cultural aspect cannot be ruled out. It is no coincidence that foreigners are surprised that people in Russia hardly ever smile. It’s all about cultural norms , which in our country do not connect a smile with an attitude towards a person, while in the USA it often signals a positive assessment of the interlocutor.
Does happiness have a dark side
Have you heard anything about Schadenfroyd , happiness at the failure of another? Despite the fact that the German word has an adequate translation (“gloating”), it is rarely translated. Perhaps because schadenfreude itself is only one form of the phenomenon, conditioned by rivalry. Two more forms are explained by the desire for social justice (for example, the joy of the news that an official was imprisoned for bribes) and the strengthening of their position as a member of the group.
As for the harm to health to happiness, there is little data on this matter. A 2011 review mentions the ability of too much happiness to block creativity, as well as linking it to a lack of negative emotions in life that contribute to emotional stability.
Can a person not experience happiness at all?
While this sounds strange, it is possible. For example, this can happen during a depressive episode, when a person is completely absorbed in negative emotions (meaning a situation when the state has not been corrected by drugs and psychotherapy). A rarer option is alexithymia (emotional color blindness). People with this condition have difficulty expressing emotions and may not experience them at all.
Happiness alone is real
While scientists acknowledge that we need social contact to be happy, not being romantically involved does not make a person unhappy or even less happy. Friendship is more important than family in this sense , so all you need is a few close friends.
Recent research on the topic has shown that happier lives for those who are free from love commitments boast more time for social contact and personal growth. Although people in relationships have many reasons to feel happy. Simply put, complete freedom of choice.
Five easy ways to be happier:
Friendship with the Optimists: Research shows that happiness, like the flu, spreads in groups of people. Moreover, not only friends are infected with it, but also relatives and friends of friends. Best of all, this effect lasts up to a year. Most surprisingly, sadness spreads much more slowly this way.
Moving to a small town: Happiness can also be related to population density, as people in small towns tend to be happier than in metropolitan areas. The secret, as an option, is the ability to quickly get to work (and home) and affordable housing prices.
Healthy eating habits: Since scientists have discovered that adorable gut influences to one degree or another everything that happens to us, it has become clear that the diet is even more important than previously thought. According to research , the focus should be on fruits and vegetables, small amounts of dark chocolate and coffee, and even probiotics.
The habit of sitting upright: One Norwegian study found that in people with mild to moderate depressive symptoms, posture-control exercises improved their mood in the here and now. And at the end of the day, they felt less tired and happier.
Body positivity: As scientists from the University of Bristol found using the genetic data of the British Biobank, people with a higher BMI are less stressed, calmer and happier in general.