The keys to happiness according to science

According to science, being happy is possible. There is more and more evidence of this. Despite being a relatively young field of study, there has been a great deal of research published suggesting this humans have the ability to achieve happinesseven in difficult circumstances.

Indeed, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we can feel very distant from the concept of well-being. However, even in life’s most complicated situations we can find moments where we celebrate our existence and feel closer to the idea of ​​being happy.

What exactly is happiness?

Happiness is an abstract concept that many researchers have been studying for decades. Each of them has given its own definition and we can find dozens of them.

Some focus on experiencing positive emotions and states, and instead others are more focused on the equivalence of happiness to the absence of fear or adversity.

A very interesting vision is the one proposed by the engineer Mo Gawdat. This former Google worker experienced a particularly difficult situation: his son died in an operation for appendicitis due to medical negligence.

As a result of his own suffering, Gawdat established a mathematical formula in which he explained our unhappiness. According to his approach, happiness equaled the events of our lives minus expectations of what they should be like.

This means that we suffer when we reject what happens because we think it should be otherwise. For example, in the current confinement situation, people who resist complying with the ordered measures suffer much more than those who accept what is happening.

And the same goes for any other difficult situation in life: not accepting that our partner has left us, a layoff, an illness or the death of a loved one, they transform the pain of the event into excessive suffering. Something that, without a doubt, takes us away from the concept of being happy according to science.

woman-worried-sofa
When we reject events that happen to us or resist because we think it could be otherwise, then we suffer.

Effects derived from being happy according to science

Second Barbara Fredrickson’s Expansion and Construction Theory (1998, 2001), experiencing positive emotions facilitates more flexible behaviors and helps to have a wider repertoire of behaviors. Thus, we are better able to adapt to the environment and function better in different areas of life.

Some effects derived from experiencing positive affective states are as follows:

  • Our thoughts are more creative.
  • We are more tolerant with ourselves and with others.
  • Our answers are more adaptive.
  • It is best to counter negative emotions.
  • We are more selfless.
  • We tolerate physical pain better.
  • We are more resilient in the face of adversity.

Positive emotions have a strong stress-absorbing effect (Fredrickson, Mancuso, Branigan, & Tugade, 2000), as various laboratory studies have shown, for example, on cardiovascular reactivity (Fredrickson & Levenson, 1998).

Moreover, science has discovered it positive and negative emotions are not exclusive, but are relatively independent (Avia and Vazquez, 1998). Therefore, we can experience negative emotions in situations that appear to be positive and, conversely, experience positive emotions in particularly difficult moments such as anxiety or traumatic situations.

How to be happy according to science?

Although we experience complicated situations throughout life, human beings can do a lot to get away from suffering. Here we describe some proposals to be happier according to science:

feel gratitude

Being grateful for everything positive that happens to us is a highly recommended practice in our daily lives, and above all the worst key is the situation we live.

The surveys carried out show a direct relationship between gratitude and prosocial behaviors, positive emotions, life satisfaction, optimism, hope, vitality and subjective perception of happiness (McCullough, Emmons and Tsang, 2002).

Moreover, being grateful is associated with a lower risk of developing psychological disorders such as depression, anxiety, or substance use (Bono & McCullough, 2006).

Thus, in times of crisis and significant hardship, incorporating gratitude into our lives can mark a significant improvement in our emotional state.

feel gratitude
Being grateful is associated with a lower risk of depression, anxiety, substance use and other psychological disorders.

Improve our sense of humor

to a sense of humour Numerous psychological benefits are attributed to it such as feelings and states of joy, well-being and satisfaction, stress reduction and depression prevention.

It also has important physical effects such as increasing pain tolerance and improving the immune and cardiovascular systems. Also, on a social level, it improves our communication with others and helps community harmony.

As, it’s important to incorporate moments of distraction with humor. Catch up on our favorite series, review that movie we can’t stop laughing at, listen to some podcasts having fun or reading a chapter of a book that makes us smile can be very helpful. ⠀

Listening to music

He Journal of the American Medical Association published the results of a music therapy study conducted in Austin in 1996. Stimulating music increases the release of endorphins and decreases the need for medication.

Endorphins act on our central nervous system, motivating us and providing us with energy.which helps us to be happier and more optimistic.

Thus, we can create a playlist with our most lively favorite songs to listen to while doing physical activity or cleaning work, for example. Without a doubt, a daily dose of upbeat music will make us feel better.

Practice awareness

He awareness It means being present in the here and now. By focusing our attention on every activity we carry out, we find it much easier to stop listening to our negative thoughts that often bombard our head.

Practice awareness we don’t need to be Zen masters. Only We have to concentrate as much as possible on what we are doing. Let’s take an example:

  • If we are cooking food, the idea is to concentrate on the action we are performing: observe it, notice its texture with our fingertips, the smell it gives off, the sound it generates when touched or how its texture changes during baking.

the practice of awareness can be applied to almost any daily activity and it is an interesting tool to reduce second anxiety multiple studies.

Increase pleasurable activities

Without the neural mechanisms of the motivation and reward system, our species would have starved and would not have continued. If something gives us pleasure, we are very likely to want to repeat it again.

AS, We can practice many pleasant activities that will bring us happiness: taking a hot bath if we are cold or a refreshing shower if it is hot, learning something new, singing, writing, painting or dancing could be some examples.

Activities that are positive for us activate a circuit of neurons that produce the sensation of pleasure and significantly reduce our stress level. Therefore, in difficult moments it is important to dedicate some time of the day to carry out any of these actions.

Being happy according to science: increasing pleasure
Increasing the practice of activities that we find pleasurable also increases our sense of well-being and happiness.

plan activities

As I commented Eduardo Punset in his book The journey to happiness, the expectations of a highly desired situation far outweigh the happiness of the event itself. That is to say, happiness is hidden in the waiting room of happiness.

This is due to what scientists call the reward loop. This circuit, which alerts the sources of pleasure and happiness, is activated above all during the search and not so much during the act itself, contrary to what one might expect. Dopamine is activated with the simple expectation of pleasure, even if it doesn’t materialize.

That way, thinking about eating our favorite ice cream, getting our dream job, planning an idyllic vacation, or imagining a conversation with someone we like will often give us more satisfaction than the act itself.

Being happy according to science: what should we remember?

Generating positive moods in complex situations is not an easy task. However, if we follow the actions described, we can get closer to a significant sense of well-being.

We must remember that the most negative emotions have a function and a reason for being. They wouldn’t exist if they hadn’t adapted to us in the course of evolution. The important thing is to learn to listen to what they want to convey to us in order to understand them, transfer them and finally leave them behind.

However, sometimes those negative emotional states don’t go away so easily. Even if we apply all the behaviors described in this article and many others we know, such as exercising, reading or talking with a good friend, the discomfort persists.

For this reason, if despite doing everything on our part, we feel that negative emotions overwhelm us and we don’t know how to manage our discomfort, it is important to consult a specialist. A clinical or health psychologist who specializes in these types of cases can help us remedy avoidable suffering.

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