Happier Together – International Day of Happiness
It was International Day of Happiness on March 20th and it seems like it came it went without much notice considering everything else going on in the world.
I had begun writing this blog at the beginning of March and had me thinking about what happiness really means. Happiness: the state of being happy, used in the context of emotional well-being, with positive and pleasant emotions. This includes intense joy, pleasure, and contentment. This year’s #InternationalDayOfHappiness theme is “Happier together – focusing on what we have in common, rather than what divides us”. This suggests that with community and connection we can nurture happiness within ourselves and those around us. Encouraging celebration around our diversities and similarities.
What is Happiness?
A measure of happiness will differ from person to person. Happiness certainly isn’t a one size fits all emotion. There are so many different factors that come in to play when defining happiness such as genetics, having positive connections day over day, adequate sleep hygiene, and many other influential factors. For some being happy is solely an ‘inside job’ so to speak. For others, such as myself, I inherit others’ happiness as greatly as I welcome my own. Regardless of where your happiness stems from you have the power to change your thoughts and design your own state of happiness.
I have always been fascinated by human behaviour. One of my favourite pastimes is watching families, friends, or loved ones reuniting at the airport. I often sit quietly absorbing strangers’ delight upon their joyous reunions. This is one of the many things that feeds my ability to be happy and ultimately leaves me with the feel-good spirit that I seek. My dad once told me that “I have taught him to find beauty in the commonplace”, that honestly sums it up for me. My state of happiness is uncomplicated and I come by it easily. I do consider myself among the lucky ones in that sense. A beautiful view often sparks joy, a beautiful view with my daughter alongside me, ahh euphoria.
Travelling, solitude, celebration, a good laugh, delicious foods, a long-held hug with a loved one, reminiscing on joyful moments from the past, that moment at the end of a great yoga class where you just lie in savasana and reflect on your abilities and the pleasure from knowing your body served your mind and your mind served your body. These are all things that inspire my happiness. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t always easy, we live in a modern world where life is often challenging. Although, every day I wake up thankful for another day and make the commitment to being a little happier than I was the day before.
Happiness Chemistry in the Brain
In efforts to write about being happy, I did quite a bit of research into the bigger picture of how humans display happiness – how their brains register happiness or how we define our happiness. There is a lot of science on the matter. Alternatively, we control a lot of our own happiness based on our actions and reactions. When we wake up in the morning, if we think we are going to be happy and have a good day, odds are we are going to succeed in that decision. Whereas, if we have negative narrative filtering through our thoughts we might be setting ourselves up for a less happy outcome.
Brain chemistry also plays a large part. Enter Serotonin, Dopamine and Cortisol. Serotonin is often referred to as the ‘happy chemical’ because it widely contributes to our happiness and wellbeing. Dopamine helps with concentration and focus, our ability to remember information, and our sleep quality. Cortisol, our body’s ‘built-in alarm system, works with your brain to control mood, motivation, and fear.
Happiness Chemistry in the Gut
Serotonin is found in the brain but also in the intestines. Diet and nutrition are tied to increasing your serotonin levels; foods that are rich in L-tryptophan, such as chicken, eggs, cheese, salmon, tempeh, lentils, and many others can help raise serotonin levels in the brain.
Managing a healthy gut bacteria while eating sufficient protein and less saturated fats are also easy ways to enhance your body’s dopamine levels. It’s important for our dopamine and serotonin levels to be balanced and a number of factors will help with this. Eating nutritious diets, getting adequate sleep and exercise, and managing or coping with stress levels also lends sway.
Cortisol fuels our ‘fight or flight’ instinct. In order to respond quickly to external threats, cortisol manages how our bodies use carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Cortisol also regulates inflammation and blood pressure, meaning it will boost energy so you can better handle stress in the moment as well as help you with ‘come down’ after experiencing high-stress levels.
I will not claim to be an expert on this matter after only a bit of web review, but the proof is in the puddin’ so to speak. There are a few research-supported changes we can all make to improve our brain chemistry and balance out these self-produced chemicals. Try incorporating mindfulness, gratitude practices, and meditation to support brain health. In tune with 2020’s IDOH’s theme – happier together – surround yourself with supportive and positive people, stimulating those feel-good chemicals by being present with those around you.
State of Happiness
Upon reflection of my research, I have decided to make a commitment to my happiness/ I exercise my body daily, but perhaps I have not been affording enough time for my brain health. When I was younger I used to spend a lot of time writing and journaling what I was grateful for, keeping a record of my thoughts and experiences. Then years later I would read my journals and relive the blissful moments I had once embraced. Life got busy and I found less time to focus on writing. I know I have a nearly empty journal sitting next to my bed. So, I promise to myself and you alike, that from I will make time in my day to spend a few minutes jotting down whatever flows from my mind to the paper. I encourage you to find one small change you can make in your life to boost a little extra happiness, to invest in your overall wellbeing.
To check out a list of initiatives or events for International Day of Happiness visit their website.
Also, check out this guidebook for happiness, full of tips and ideas on how to better develop your own Action for Happiness.