Happiness can have many different meanings, depending on who you talk to. Each person has their own vision of happiness and what it means to be happy. Psychologists, for example, understand happiness as an emotion that is produces when someone believes to have reached a goal. We tend to define happiness as subjective well-being (self-perceived) that someone feels, divided into two basic aspects: how satisfied we are with our own lives and the amount of positive or negative emotions that we feel.
So, what are the actual parts that make up happiness, according to neuroscience? We’ll talk you through it step-by-step.
1. Having a positive attitude
This is understood as looking on the bright side, or seeing the good in others. In studies with depressed and healthy patients, we have seen that the activation pattern before positive stimuli is the same in both groups at first, but the depressed group lose this activation and lose enjoyment. From this and other studies, we can conclude that psychological well-being doesn’t depend solely on external circumstances. The good news is that having a positive attitude is something that we can develop by reinforcing the neural circuits that are implied in happiness.
What can I do? Try some meditation and mindfulness exercises, they’ll activate and strengthen those circuits and you’ll feel better.
How fast we are able to recover after facing adversity. We can’t keep bad things from happening to us, but some people are better at recovering from these situations than others. The brain circuits implies are the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala (related to anxiety and fear).
What can I do? Meditation and relaxation exercises can help improve resilience, too. However, to be fair, you would need between 7,000 and 10,000 hours of meditation practice. It’s a lot of time, but I’m sure it’s worth it.
Although it may surprise you, attention is a key factor in our happiness- think about it. Being present, connecting to the people around you, being in the moment, it’s all part of being happy and it’s all connected to attention…and it’s all a little difficult at times. In a famous study conducted by Killingsworts & Gilbert, they saw that people spent 47% of their time wondering, which caused them to be unhappy. Another study looked at how hard it is for us to be alone with ourselves and our thoughts, because most people prefer to be with their phone or talking to someone than they want to sit without doing anything.
What can I do? Mindfulness decreases the activation of some of the “problem” brain regions that cause us to constantly crave outside stimuli (like the prefrontal medial areas and the anterior cingulate cortex).
4. Empathy, altruism, and generosity
Pro-social behaviors are very important for determining well-being and the quality of social relationships that we have. In fact, when subjects are forced to live in social isolation, the same areas of the brain that react to physical pain are activated. The behaviors that most created social links between people is altruism and pro-social behavior. Altruism doesn’t only affect happiness and well-being, but actually leads to longer, healthier lives across culture, age, and sex.
What can I do? Training compassion (like is trained in some western medicine) have affects on the brain circuits implied in happiness and positive thinking.
Balance is all about have a consistency within yourself that promotes peace and psychological balance. This inside stability helps one to retain their important beliefs and values over a prolonged period of time if not forever. Balance is about feeling content and calm with different aspects of your life and not feel like one or the other side of you is taking over.
What can I do? Be grateful. Always try to find something to be thankful about be it something small or big. Reflect about your day and think of everything that you have done and what are the consequences of your actions. Regulate your breathing in order to try to minimize stress. Be conscious and mindful of your actions, it will help you achieve balance in your life.
It is important to evaluate yourself correctly and be mindful of what you do and what your actions reflect. Negative self-reflection can lead to very negative consequences, so you want to avoid that as much as possible. Self-esteem is the way we perceive ourselves and how we view ourselves and how we think others view us.
What can I do? Make realistic expectations and strive for them. Carefully evaluate your accomplishments and be proud of them. Do not compare yourselves to others. You do not know the struggles that they are going through. Learn more about yourself – take every day to find something out about yourself that you didn’t know before!
7. Relationship with yourself
Your relationship with yourself ties in quite heavily with your self-esteem. The way you view yourself highly reflects on the actions that you make and the actions that you make get back to you and perpetuate that image about yourself that you have. It’s a cycle and it is up to you whether it’s a positive or a negative one.
What can I do? Do not feel scared to try and explore new things even if they seem a bit out of your comfort zone at the start. Exploring yourself is important. Take a moment out of each day to do something that you truly enjoy. Participate in activities that make you calm and relaxed and help you achieve peace (yoga and meditation)
8. Socializing/ interaction with others
Humans are social beings. We thrive on our social interactions and our views about ourselves, the world and the future rely heavily upon socialization and interaction. Our experiences shape us and how we view the world. It is highly important to socialize. A lot of people do struggle with socializing, we do have social anxiety disorder and agoraphobia and it can be very hard to achieve personal accomplishments if we aren’t able to interact with others.
What can I do? Try to participate in more social activities, be it pot lucks, book clubs or just walking around the park. If you are scared of communicating, these activities might be hard for you. Try to desensitize yourself to them by starting small and building up to a full interaction. There are many ways to socialize in the modern world, so find one that is the easiest for you and start there. Step-by-step you will see yourself improving and being able to interact on a daily basis.
Sleep is very and highly important to our physical health. It lets our body relax and repair. It heals and repairs our heart and blood vessels and if we don’t get enough sleep, we might be in a risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and a long list of other problems.
What do I do? Avoid eating right before you go to sleep, and try not to have heavy meals at night time. Establish a sleeping routine: know when you are waking up and when you are going to bed and try to stick to that. Participate in activities that regulate your breathing and make you calm, like meditation and yoga. Do exercise, however, don’t exercise right before going to sleep.
We all know that eating well is important for our physical health, but it’s also essential for our brains and bodies to work well. Anything that we put into our bodies affects us. Healthy diets bring good results, whereas, unhealthy eating habits (be it undereating, overeating, or just eating poorly) can cause some unwanted side-effects. Undereating may cause fatigue, fainting and dizziness, dehydration, low blood pressure and irregular heart rhythms, not being able to withstand cold, and abnormal blood count…the list goes on and on. Overeating isn’t any better for our bodies. Body pains and difficulties with physical activities, breathing problems, coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure… Unhealthy diets not only cause health problems, but deep emotional problems including negative self-esteem and self-image, depression, anxiety and other mental disorders
What do I do? The first thing you need to do is recognize that the way you are eating is unhealthy and might bring you some very severe consequences. After recognizing the problem, try to think of ways to get rid of the problem and think of the root of the problem – why do you have it? Start adding healthier choices to your diet step by step. It can be small changes but they will go far. Eat a well-balanced diet with all types of nutrients. Do not shy from others, your loved ones will be able to help you.