The overwhelming pressures of life often propel us into actions directed toward completing our endless tasks – commonly in a distracted state of mind. We typically remain disconnected from our emotional state – forgetting to pause and reflect on whether we are happy or not. This awareness is imperative for our emotional wellbeing – we must check in with ourselves periodically and remain in touch with our feelings. In this endeavor we need to try to understand what happiness means to us personally, as it has a different meaning for different people. Furthermore, happiness is not just a momentary feeling of joy but, it is a state of well-being. It is living a meaningful life with a sense of deep contentment.
First let’s address the question, why is happiness important? There is vast scientific research indicating that negative emotions or unhappiness can cause harm to our biological systems that eventually lead to inflammation and illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Happiness helps us view life positively and keeps negative thoughts at bay. It enables us to move forward, to be more productive, and to be a positive encouraging influence on others.
Laura Kubzansky, a Harvard School of Public Health associate professor of society, human development, and health found in her 2007 study that people who had certain positive personal attributes like the following will be able to avoid coronary heart disease:
- Emotional vitality – a sense of enthusiasm, engagement and hopefulness
- Optimism – the view that positive things will happen in our lives and that we need to work towards enabling these
- Having the ability to self-regulate – to be able to recover from stressful situations and be confident that things will be good again
How do we ensure that we have happiness in our lives and that we develop these positive personal characteristics? One way is to enhance the ‘happiness chemicals’ in our bodies as these influence our feelings of positivity, engagement, satisfaction, happiness and optimism. These ‘happiness chemicals’ are dopamine, serotonin, endorphin and melatonin.
For instance, the chemical ‘Endorphin’ increases in the body through exercise, music, eating chocolate, expressing love and laughter. ‘Melatonin’ on the other hand is a chemical that winds you down and makes you lethargic and sleepy. It is at it’s highest levels at night starting at 9 pm and stays elevated for 12 hours. This allows the body to rest and wake up feeling refreshed and in a positive mood. We need to ensure that we get enough sun to produce more melatonin and to eat foods that have notable amounts of Melatonin, such as tomatoes, olives, barley, rice and walnuts.
In order to remain positive we need to determine what makes us happy and to actively work on doing the things that enhance our happiness. Tal Ben-Shahar an author and lecturer who taught “Positive Psychology” at Harvard University gives 6 tips for happiness:
He says that we should :
- Accept our negative emotions so that we can gradually overcome them rather than rejecting them.
- Try to engage in activities that are meaningful and enjoyable and if you don’t have such activities then make sure you have moments throughout the week that provide you with pleasure.
- Happiness is dependant on our state of mind not so much our circumstances. It’s the mindset of seeing the glass half full or half empty.
- We need to simplify our lives and should try to add on as much as we can in the limited time we have in a day. This way we will be able to appreciate what we are doing instead of just rushing through everything we do.
- How we treat our bodies he says, affects our minds. Like regular exercise, healthy eating and adequate sleep have a profound effect on our state of mind.
- Lastly, pause and reflect on the good things in your life and express gratitude for them. It reminds us that we have happiness in our lives and that we need to focus on it.
The importance of pausing and allowing ourselves to reflect on our emotional state is vital for our well-being. An honest chat periodically with a close friend or a partner about one’s state of happiness can be most valuable. These self-reflections help ensure we continue to lead a productive and engaged life, one which instills us with happiness and supports our mental and physical well-being.