Haven’t we all, at times, wondered how we can find the “magic happiness potion”? Many of us prefer to experience things on a subtle level of inner knowing, but for you science buffs, what if science could show you how to activate happiness whenever you wanted? Some people work best on themselves and work through their tougher times when there is tangible evidence, and laid out steps to follow.
While in the past human depression, fear and anger were well researched by scientists, the focus these days tends to be on preventing those emotions. We are told to stick only with the positive, avoid anything we (or anyone else) deems negative. I will be the last to tell anyone to ever avoid certain emotions – as in my work, I have seen the denial of certain emotions do incredible damage to one’s psyche and ultimate emotional health.
But one thing I do like to talk about, is embodying our emotions. We need to feel it to heal it. If there are emotions you find unpleasant, try to get to know them. That doesn’t mean this is what you are, it is simply allowing your humanness to shine through. The only way out, is through. Once we clear space in our psyches, much like clearing out our closets, we have more room for fresh thoughts and true presence. In the last few years forward thinking minds like German science journalist Stefan Klein have been breaking new ground in the frontiers of neuropsychology and neuroscience to understand how happiness is created and blossoms in our minds.
The clinical explanation of how and why human beings ultimately become “happy” is far beyond the scope of this article. But suffice it to say that in general terms, there are ways that humans can increase their embodied presence – their happiness – right now. And the even better news is that your brain is malleable. That means it can be soothed and sculpted for experiencing happiness, despite any genetic programming you may have experienced to the contrary.
Start practicing the following 10 ways to increase your presence and focus now on a regular basis, and begin to gently shifty your internal and external physiological terrain.
Practice the Fine Art of the Smile
If you don’t have that many opportunities to smile during the day, it turns out that simply spending time practicing a genuine smile can boost your mood considerably. But don’t fake it! Michigan State University researchers found that employees involved in customer service jobs who regularly employed fake smiles were actually less productive and saw their mood worsen throughout the day. Your mind knows when you are actually practicing a “real” smile. Get your eyes, mouth and entire face involved when you practice smiling, and you can actually reduce stress caused by upsetting situations.
Shorten Your Daily Commute
Yep, as it turns out, the closer you live to your job, the happier you are. And when you think about it, not too much research is needed to be done in this area. There is a reason why the term “road rage” was coined to describe that special kind of anger that driving to and from work in frustrating traffic can provoke in some people. This is probably why so many people who work at home profess fewer health problems.
Two Swiss economists looking into this well-known phenomenon actually found that some people subconsciously compensate for a long commute by purchasing larger and more expensive possessions. But as Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert has stated, “Driving in traffic is a different kind of hell every day,” and owning an expensive car or a larger house does nothing to compensate. Move closer to your job will not make you feel happier, but you may just come to enjoy your work more as well.
When Outside, Pay Attention to Your Temperature
Spending time outside, preferably in the sun or a well lit area, for just 20 minutes can instantly boost your positive mood. One study on the effects of being outside as opposed to indoors even showed that a broader range of thinking and a better working memory are other benefits of hanging out in mother nature. And in case you were wondering, the American Meteorological Society released findings in 2011 that show “happiness is maximized at 13.9 degrees Celsius.” That is approximately 57.02 degrees Fahrenheit, and the current temperature you experience is more important for happiness than the average temperature throughout the day.
Get More Exercise (Naturally)
Exercise has long been professed to be a cure-all for everything from depression to memory loss, unhealthy heart conditions to Alzheimer’s disease. And you probably know that the endorphins which are released when you exercise are what provide you with such a wonderful burst of self-confidence and good feelings.
However, pay attention to this – as soon as you begin to strenuously test your body physically, your brain notices this as a moment of stress. Your heart pressure increases and your brain instantly responds with a “fight or flight” awakening. Now I’m not sure how good this is ultimately for your adrenals… but the science behind it says that Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) is released to protect your brain from what it perceives as stress, endorphins are sent out inside your brain to minimize discomfort and feelings of pain, and you experience a sense of euphoria.
Take a Siesta (or a Cat Nap)
Find yourself the nearest sunbeam and curl up in it! When you do not have enough sleep, your brain actually has a harder time recalling pleasant memories. But the problem is double-sided, because the amygdala – the emotional center of your brain – for some reason still processes negative stimulus very effectively when you are tired. But your hippocampus is the part of your mind which deals with neutral or positive memories.
And when you do not sleep properly, your hippocampus weakens. In one important study, college students were intentionally sleep deprived, and then they were instructed to memorize a list of words. Incredibly, 81% of the words with negative connotations were easily recalled. But only 31% of the words on the list with positive or neutral connotations could be remembered. Take a nap, get plenty of rest, and your happiness will be affected positively.
Try to Find About Two Hours to Volunteer Each Week
It takes less than two hours of volunteer work per week over a year to enrich your level of happiness. That is the magic number purported by The Journal of Happiness Studies to create the perfect level of happiness and self-peace in the average human being. And purchases for activities and experiences created greater feelings of success, happiness and well being than when money was used to buy physical objects. Volunteer your time and personal efforts for two hours a week, and not only will you feel happier for it now, but you can also significantly and positively impact the lives of those less fortunate than yourself.
Hang Out More With Family & Friends
Bronnie Ware wanted to make a difference in her life. So she began a career as a palliative care nurse (caring for patients in the last weeks of their lives). Recording the thoughts of her dying charges, she noticed that one of their top five regrets was not staying in touch with friends and family. And there is even more research which shows the benefits of interacting frequently and regularly with those people you care the most about. George Vaillant conducted a 72 year study of 268 men from all walks of life.
The relationships of the men in the study at age 47 predicted long life and late life adjustments better than almost any other factor. A full 93% of the men in the study who were in great health at age 65 had been exceptionally close to one or more siblings when they were younger. Spend some quality time with your friends and family members today, and you will smile immediately in the short term, and live longer and healthier over time.
Gratitude Goes a Long, Long Way
Everyone has something to be thankful for. And most people have many more things in their life which provide them happiness and satisfaction, than sadness and stress. You can very easily keep a journal listing the things you are thankful for, with a goal to record at least three positive people, places or experiences you encounter every day. You can also verbally share positive events and occurrences each day with your spouse or a friend.
Some people prefer to go out of their way to express gratitude when others help them, and all of these recognitions and professions of gratitude have been shown to heighten well-being and happiness in both individuals and groups. A conscious focus on the blessings in your life can provide emotional and interpersonal benefits which lead to better health and a longer life as well.
Rewire Your Brain Through Meditation
Aside from improving your focus and clarity, practitioners of frequent meditation also refer to a sense of calm and peacefulness they experience during and after meditative sessions. Multiple studies, including one performed at Massachusetts General Hospital, back up such claims. Neuroimages showing the brain scans of 16 people participating in a before and after study of mindful meditation showed startling results.
Those portions of the participants’ brains which are concerned with self awareness and compassion grew noticeably. At the same time, stressful areas shrank drastically. Meditation has for centuries been touted as displaying incredible curative powers. Meditation can be practiced for a few minutes many times throughout your day, and the instant happy and positive result has been proven to last long term.
Keep Breathing, Keep Moving, Keep It Simple
It seems that simply growing older causes you to look at life with a healthier and happier attitude. Startling new research shows that older people remember happier faces and situations better than unpleasant ones. You can impact your happiness positively by practicing healthy habits that will lead to a longer existence.
The Bell Curve seems to be middle-age, so once you are in your 40’s, begin thinking about pleasant memories, experiences and loved ones more frequently, and your hardwired nature to recall positive feelings and forget negative ones will empower a cycle of longer life and happier health.