Where does the word happy come from? It comes from the Middle English word “Hap” meaning “good fortune. This term dates to the 1500s. Have you ever looked at portraits of people in the 1500’s? Obviously, we have been getting wrong for an exceptionally long time!
What do most people today equate with happiness? The response today primarily is money and fame. So, let’s face it, if that is what most people are striving for, they may find happiness eludes them!
“We need to learn how to want what we have not to have what we want to get steady and stable Happiness.”
Most children can access happiness without money or fame! Children find joy in innocent, simple pleasures. The other morning, I was running with my little dog when I heard uncontrolled giggling. As I came over the crest of the hill, I saw a young girl jumping around, chasing an abundance of bubbles from her new bubble machine. Each bubble contained a beautiful rainbow from the sunlight shining through them.
She became so excited when she saw me, although she did not know me, children accept everyone with an open heart, she said: “look at all the bubbles”! Her joy was contagious; it made me begin to laugh. I looked over to see her parents sitting on the porch; I said, “why aren’t Mom and Dad chasing bubbles?” They laughed and said, “We found a babysitter.” I laughed; I understand that as parents, sometimes we need a break. When was the last time you savored a moment such as looking intensely at a bubble sitting on your hand before it pops, or did something that filled you with children like laughter and the feeling of being carefree? I feel that way when I bike ride; I take my hands off the handles when I am coasting downhill and ride with no hands when I swing off a rope swing into the lake. I am 57 years old, and I do not ever plan on stopping. Why does this feel so good because most days I am a “responsible adult’! I go to work during the week, pay my bills, and take care of my adult responsibilities. It is a matter of doing something out of the ordinary. As “adults” we have “Happy hour” is it really all that happy? Why do we need alcohol to laugh and be silly, finding our childlike nature? If those same parents sitting on the porch were having a few cocktails, they might have been chasing the bubbles too! These day’s Happy hour is not even an option. We are not gathering in social places, filling our needs as social creatures. So, what do we do? Sit home and scroll on Instagram? Does this make you feel carefree, joyful, and happy? There is scientific data on the recipe for happiness, and as you might guess, most of us are building a recipe for disaster! We need to feed our and our body nutritiously, feed our mind nutritiously, and make healthy relationships.
“Happiness is a butterfly, which, when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.”
People need the necessities to feel happy, such as food and shelter. But what happens when we rise above that? Are we happier? A study shows that a 10% increase in pay, whether making $20,000 or $100,000, has the same happiness increase. Earning more than $75,000 a year does not bring any more happiness or enjoyment. What seems to be most important is that you feel satisfied that you are doing well in life.1
“Man’s desire is not to be rich but to be richer than other men.”
John Stuart Mill
An eighty yearlong running study found that Close relationships, more than money or fame, are what keep people happy throughout their lives.2
Everyone appears to have a baseline that they will return to after events such as heartbreak, job loss, death, etc. Likewise, there is nothing that will make you feel incredibly happy or joyful without returning to this baseline. We just get used to things. 3
“Since these conveniences by becoming habitual had almost entirely ceased to be enjoyable, and at the same time degenerated into true needs, it became much more cruel to be deprived of them than to possess them was sweet, and men were unhappy to lose them without being happy to possess them.”
Jean-Jacques Rousseau 1754
Think about that outfit you just had to have, and a year later, you are dropping it off to goodwill! The same holds for new relationships. Think about it, the butterflies in your stomach, your heart beating faster at the site of your new love interest, and then flash forward after two years of living together… what was once endearing can actually become annoying! Going through the same day in day out, routines together makes the excitement of seeing your partner not so exciting! But it is those ups and downs in a relationship with someone that enriches and deepens the relationship.
Not Letting Our Brain Sabotage Our Happiness
Happiness is a little more complicated than the song “Don’t worry be happy now.”
There is a class at yale on happiness called The Science of Well Being by Laurie Santos. I will sum up this class and the keys to basically outwitting our brain.
Savoring things bring your awareness to how beautiful this moment in time is. Whether you are laughing with a friend or eating your favorite ice cream. Pay attention!
Deprive yourself of things you love, try going without them to regain the appreciation. Think about a storm that makes the electricity go out, and you cannot shower or make your morning coffee! There is a strong feeling of appreciation when you can once again switch the lights on!
Do for others; studies indicate that happiness derived from leading a life full of purpose and doing meaningful things, seemed to protect health at the cellular level. While happiness derived from pleasure or self-gratification did not. several studies have found that volunteering increases longevity.5
“The best way to find yourself, is by losing yourself in the service of others.”
Breakaway from the routine, everything we do all the time begins to lose its “fun” factor. This is especially true in a relationship, plan new adventures with your partner.
Spend money on things like vacations, think about how the last few days of vacation you start fearing it is coming to an end! You want to make the most of every moment. This has much longer-lasting happiness than buying something new. Even reflecting on pictures from a trip can make you smile and relive the happiness.
Play the “what if” game, what if I did not have this job tomorrow, what if I never saw this person again? Thinking about how we would feel at these losses helps us have an appreciation for what we have to be grateful for. Some studies indicate that gratitude directly activates brain regions associated with the neurotransmitter dopamine. This is the reward center, and also dopamine initiates action. Which makes us more likely to continue to be grateful.4
Avoid comparing yourself to others. Other people’s lives are never as great as our mind convinces us they are! Control your feeds on social media! The more we look at people that seem to “have it all,” the worse we feel! Rationally we know that how we look and what we have does not bring happiness! Think of celebrities that have addictions and that have even taken their own lives. Maybe part of their unhappiness was their illusion that when they got it “all,” they would be happy.
“If we only wanted to be happy it would be easy; but we want to be happier than other people, which is almost always difficult, since we think them happier than they are.”
Charles De Montesquieu
Do our bodies play a role in our happiness?
It appears that hormones and glands can affect our happiness. Studies suggested that some released hormones (Cortisol, Adrenaline, Oxytocin) have fundamental roles in happiness and mood regulation. 6
Nutrition’s role in happiness and mood
Studies indicate that a higher intake of an unhealthy diet by a mother during pregnancy, as well as an unhealthy diet being given to a child, was an indicator of a child’s behavioral issues to come, such as being aggressive, and defiant. These children were also more likely to be withdrawn, lonely and fearful.7
These days the standard American diet lacks essential vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids in the general population. Some research indicates that supplementation of vital nutrients may aid in alleviating symptoms of depression. 8
A Happy Gut Contributes to a Happy Mood
“Current research on gut microbiota and mood disorders is still at its early stage. Growing evidence shows changed gut microbiota in patients with mood disorders” 9
Approximately 90% of your body’s serotonin is produced in your gut; a healthy gut may correspond to a good mood. It is essential to support the health of our gut with prebiotics, fiber, and probiotics.10
There is evidence that exercise may also be beneficial for mental health. Getting physical activity may reduce anxiety, depression, and negative mood. 11There is also evidence that getting a good night’s sleep also relates to our mood.12
Choose the people you surround yourself with wisely
Mirror-Neurons are cells that fire in our brains responding to actions that we observe in others. 13Therefore, it is vital to surround ourselves with happy people who rewire your brain towards a positive outlook and happiness. Not only does hanging out with your negative thoughts rewire your brain for negativity, hanging out with negative people does much the same! 14
Mind your words
There is a man in my neighborhood that I say hello to when I go for a walk with the dog. I always smile and say, “Hi, how are you today”? He always says something along the lines of “Same crap, another day.” I also knew someone that would say, “If it were not for bad luck, I would have no luck at all.” Are we dooming ourselves into unhappiness?
Numerous studies show that happy individuals are successful across multiple life domains, including marriage, friendship, income, work performance, and health.15
“The joyfulness of a man prolongeth his days.” —Sirach 30:22
Many of us have encountered negative people, that is how these names came about like about, “killjoy,” “negative Nancy” and a skit that was on Saturday night live called Debbie Downer. The opening song may remind you of someone you know!
“When I was five years old, my mother told me, happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grow up. I wrote down, “happy.” They told me I didn’t understand the assignment; I told them they didn’t understand life.”
What I have personally learned, leave behind what has happened in the past. The heartache and regret. It does exist in this time unless we keep it alive. Make peace with yourself if you feel you could have done things differently. You did the best you could at the time, and if you see now a better way you could have handled it, well, then it served its purpose for you to grow into a higher awareness! Staying in the present moment can be difficult, but remember the future is all unknown, anything you think or worry about is a story you are telling yourself and believing as if it is true. Tell yourself a better story, ask yourself, is this a story that makes me feel good? If not, change the channel! Picture a better story, Mark Twain said it best….
“I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.”
So I guess the song “Don’t worry be happy now” actually had a point, worry is a waste of time and a real happiness destroyer.