Life is supposed to be a blissful experience; our brains are hardwired to seek pleasure and avoid pain. In fact, when we’re happy, our brains release specific neurochemicals to encourage us to stay in a constant state of happiness.
A number of studies have examined the components of life which equate with happiness. Here we talk about a few ways you can live your life to stimulate the production of these neurochemicals, and live a happy life.
There is one characteristics which is the most prominent in happy people – strong social ties.
The happiest 10 percent of Harvard Undergraduates reported having strong social support. Good relationships were a stronger predictor of happiness than student’s university grades, family income, SAT score, age, gender and ethnicity .
This finding was not only limited to university students but in the GRANT study, which followed men throughout their entire lives.
Indeed, the researchers of the GRANT study wrote that “connecting with and helping others is more important than obsessing over a rigorous exercise program”. Indeed, the capacity to love, and be loved, is a single strength most clearly associated with subjective well-being at age eighty.
If you’re feeling a bit blue today, spend time with friends. Not spending enough time with the people we love is the one thing we regret the most later in life.
Plan Your Happiness
We value happiness so much, but when we’re happy we usually put it down to good luck. It’s not luck.
Just waiting for happiness to come is not a recipe for success. Happiness needs to be worked for.
What to do? Regularly schedule happiness appointments. Love a yoga class but often lack the time? Find the time and put it in your calendar. When we schedule something, we’re more likely to do it, because the decision to do it has already been made. It’s just about following through.
Don’t Confuse Instant Happiness with Long-Term Happiness
Happiness can be a vague word. What we need is meaning in life, which then leads to happiness.
At Tohoku University in Japan, a 7-year study of 43,000 adults aged 40 to 79 were asked if they’d had a meaningful life, and then tracked what happened next .
People who’d had a meaningful life were much more likely to be alive 7 years later. Lives not lived meaningfully were associated with death, most commonly due to cardiovascular disease.
Studying is boring. Completing a degree with first class honors is awesome. Running a marathon hurts. The feeling that comes with crossing the finishing line cannot be compared.
Happiness right now is not everything. Being able to say that you’ve living, and have lived, a happy life is.
Stay Busy, But Don’t Run on Stress
The happiest people are those who feel busy but are not frazzled by their full schedules.
Surveys show that too much spare time is a burden. People who are less happy tend to have the most excess time.
So what should you do to fill in your time? Do things that you’re good at – use your ‘signature strengths’; the things that you’re uniquely talented at, and give back something to the community. Do things that are useful.
People who use their signature strengths on a daily basis become significantly happier, and the sensation of happiness can last for months.
The Secret to Happiness
Given everything we’ve just talked about, it becomes apparently clear that living a happy, fulfilling life where you do things that you want to do and enjoy, leads directly to happiness.
When we’re happy, our bodies release dopamine (the reward molecule driving pleasure seeking), oxytocin (the bonding molecule that comes with fulfilling relationships), endorphins (the natural pain killers), and many more other neurochemicals that contribute to a feeling of general wellbeing which we enjoy so much. The more fulfilled we feel in our everyday lives, the more likely we will be happy, and that happiness can last for an indefinite, prolonged period of time.
 Sone, T., Nakaya, N., Ohmori, K., Shimazu, T., Higashiguchi, M., Kakizaki, M., Kikuchi, N., Kuriyama, S. & Tsuji, I. (2008) Psychosomatic Medicine, 70(6): 709-715.