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What makes you happy? 5 Amazing Scientific Facts Of Happiness You Must Know

Updated on July 8, 2016


Everyone wants to be happy in life. It possible, most of us would like to re-experience our childhood days, when everything around us was simple, pure and cheerful. In this stressful world, happiness can make a big difference. Happy people are less likely to get sick, and they usually live longer.

Happiness is not merely the sum of our happy moments minus the sum of our angry or sad ones. Happiness does not just come from chasing pleasure or positive experiences.

Happiness is a choice. We must have a reason to be happy or else we should find one.

Happiness is a precursor to, rather than the result of, success.

From a young age, most of us are taught that if we work hard, then we will be successful; and once we are successful, we will be happy. This is one instance of happiness myth. People who start off happy are more likely to succeed; people who start off unhappy are more likely to fail.

Studies in psychology and neuroscience show that happiness fuels success, not the other way around. Shawn Achor said that “The brain at positive is 31% more productive than at negative, neutral or stressed.”

Researchers have also found that the type of work we do is key to happiness: engaging in meaningful activity is a big indicator of happiness. As Tal Ben Shahar says, “Happiness lies at the intersection of pleasure and meaning.”

People thrive in environments where their strengths are emphasized. If we are actively involved in trying to reach a goal, or an activity that is challenging but achievable, we experience a joyful state or what Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, well-known psychologist calls “flow.” The experience of flow leads to increased positive effect, performance, and commitment to long-term meaningful goals.

When we feel positive, our intelligence, creativity, energy levels, resilience and productivity rise. Dopamine, which floods the brain when we are positive, not only makes us happier, but also activates all of the learning centres of our brains.

The secret to happiness lies in our head

People with positive attitudes are better equipped to handle unplanned and stressful life events. But what if a person is not naturally happy?

Science says it is possible to retrain the brain in order to create genuine long-lasting happiness. We can actually wire our brains for happiness by focusing our attention on positive experiences and emotions, says neuropsychologist Rick Hanson. When you linger on a positive experience, it becomes encoded in our neural networks. Linger on many of these experiences, and the connections become strengthened over time and easier to retrieve.

Researchers from around the world have confirmed that the human brain has a negativity bias. This means that negative events affect our mood more than positive ones.

"When the brain is negative, it splits resources between the problem you have in front of you and the negative emotions you’re feeling,” says psychologist Shawn Achor. This partitioning has served an important evolutionary purpose: the fight-or-flight response. This primal instinct that kept us safe is now a huge impediment because negative emotions stifle creativity and restrict a person’s ability to come up with different options or reach our goals.

But the amazing fact about human brain is its neuroplasticity; the brain’s capacity to rewire itself in response to new experiences. The human brain has the ability to form new neural connections throughout a person’s life.

Positive emotions trigger the release of the brain chemicals serotonin and dopamine, which play a significant role in motivation, motor control, and executive functions like memory, solving problems, paying attention and simultaneously thinking about multiple concepts (creativity).

The brain works like a muscle: it gets stronger with training. There are ways to train the part of the brain related to happiness. Positive journaling (writing new things for which one is grateful every day), meditation, random acts of kindness and maintaining strong social connections are found to be useful in retraining the brain.

Try to identify and recognize the good things around you and have a positive outlook on the future.

Is happiness partly inherent and partly intentional?

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Social connection is the key to happiness

Social connectedness is a great predictor of happiness. Happiness is collective. Our happiness depends on the happiness of those we are connected to. Science shows that through practicing happiness, we make those we come into contact with happier.

After conducting thousands of interviews and a thorough analysis of data, Dr. Brené Brown concluded that at the root of social connection is vulnerability. Vulnerability does not mean being weak or submissive; it is the courage to be your authentic self.

When we embrace an authentic and vulnerable stance to life, people will meet us with openness, allowing us to experience true connection. Forgiveness is a by-product of living authentically and vulnerably.

Human beings are social creatures, and the quality of our relationships is inextricably linked with our physical and mental well-being.“The joy of being connected to other people is really fundamental to who we are as humans, and the brain is powerfully organized around supporting those connections,” says Yoni Ashar, who studies the neuroscience of compassion at the University of Colorado Boulder. “Being connected to each other is a major source of wellbeing, physical health, mental health [and] positive emotion.”

One of the most consistent findings in happiness research is that social relationships and spending time with others makes us happy. Socialising is one of the activities that makes us the most happy.A 2002 study conducted at the University of Illinois by Diener and Seligman found that the most salient characteristics shared by the 10% of students with the highest levels of happiness and the fewest signs of depression were their strong ties to friends and family and commitment to spending time with them.

People who were surrounded by happy people were more likely to become happy in the future. So if you want to discover more happiness in your life, make a point to surround yourself with joyful people.

Say “yes” to a few more social invitations with your friends and colleagues. Better yet, arrange something yourself. Throw a party from your end.


Gratitude leads to long-term happiness

Len Dykstra, or dubbed as ‘Grati-Dude’, social worker from Bridges Community Health Centre, Niagara, coined the term, Vitamin G, a prescription for happiness. G is for Gratitude, a state of thankfulness and / or appreciation that offers positive health benefits.

One of the greatest contributing factors to overall happiness in life is how much gratitude we show. A noticeable difference can be experienced with as little as saying such token of gratitude as 'Please', 'Thank You', etc. Neuroeconomist Paul Zak explains the simple act of eight hugs a day can increase internal oxytocin levels and result in a happier you and a better world.

Studies have shown that performing simple random acts of kindness for other people can actually increase your own happiness. An act of kindness can be as simple as holding a door, clearing up for someone or making them a drink. This is something that people who do volunteer work have long known.

One of the most fundamental finding from the science of happiness is that it make people feel more connected to others. "Almost every person feels happier when they're with other people," observes Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. "It's paradoxical because many of us think we can hardly wait to get home and be alone with nothing to do, but that's a worst-case scenario. If you're alone with nothing to do, the quality of your experience really plummets."

Science supports that an attitude of gratitude is good for us. When practiced, gratitude contributes to one’s overall sense of wellbeing, improves emotional health, and leads to deeper relationships to better sleep and less physical pain.

"Giving makes you feel good about yourself," says Peterson. "When you're volunteering, you're distracting yourself from your own existence, and that's beneficial. More fuzzily, giving puts meaning into your life. You have a sense of purpose because you matter to someone else."

People who are kind to others are more well-liked. This contributes to their own personal popularity as they help other people.

Helping others may also be an effective way to combat feelings of disconnection in our increasingly online lives.

Think of gratitude as a happiness activity and everyday life an opportunity to exercise it. There are a myriad opportunities throughout the day to exercise gratitude.

Start journaling what you are grateful for, things big and small, and writing three or four of them down every day.If you find difficult, start at the basics. Do you have friends? A roof over your head? Are you generally in good health?

Spend some quiet time contemplating and reflecting on the good stuff going on in your life

You can also practice an attitude of gratitude by thanking others when you see them

Send an e-mail or thank-you note. Writing a short email to different people each day praising them for something specific makes the sender happier and boosts their social connection.

Have some fun and start a gratitude jar with your family. Use colourful paper to record daily or weekly things you are thankful for and revisit them once in a while.

Being kind to others is a fast track to happiness. Volunteering makes people happier and boosts their longevity. Evidence suggests volunteering benefits mental health and even, survival. Donating time to causes you believe in not only improves well-being and overall life satisfaction, it is also linked to decreased depression and a lower risk of dying early.


Mindfulness is a gateway to happiness

Mindfulness is the ancient practice of focusing non-judgmental awareness on the present moment. It is a form of attention and emotion regulation training.In simple words, mindfulness is the moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, and external circumstances.

It is increasingly recognized in today’s scientific community as an effective way to reduce stress, increase self-awareness, enhance emotional intelligence, and effectively manage painful thoughts and feelings.

Studies have shown that meditation boosts positive feelings and psychological well-being, in addition to warding off stress, depression and anxiety.

An analysis of various studies found that mindfulness is “especially effective for reducing anxiety, depression, and stress.” Research shows that mindfulness also increases activity in the areas of the brain associated with positive emotion.

It also improves several cognitive functions that are conducive to effectiveness in the workplace, such as memory, attention, empathy and communication skills.

Research shows that people who participate in meditation and mindfulness training programs (some as short as two weeks) tend to display changes in key areas of the brain connected to memory, perspective, and self-awareness. Recent studies have found a link between experiencing a sense of awe and feeling happier and more satisfied.

The mind is highly trainable through various mindfulness practices like meditation. Mindfulness is quite similar to exercise in that, despite the known benefits, it is a difficult habit to maintain.

Our busy modern lifestyle is often characterized by stress, sleep deprivation, multitasking and digital distractions. Hence, any one could benefit from cultivating the skills of mindfulness.

We seem to be happiest in the present. Hence we will be happier in the future, if we learn to be present.

In sum: Happiness is an antecedent to success. Happiness fuels success and not vice-versa. The secret to happiness lies in our brain. Our brain can be re-wired for happiness by focusing our attention on positive experiences and emotions. Social connection is the key to happiness. Socialising is one of the activities that makes us the most happy. Gratitude leads to long-term happiness. Being kind to others is a fast track to happiness. Mindfulness is a gateway to happiness.


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