Friday, October 12, 2012


Happiness is something that all people strive for. If you ask the average person on the street what is most important to them they will tell you; to be happy. So what constitutes happiness? Is it where we live, what we wear, what we drive?

In doing research for my book, I came across the film 'Happy,' directed by Tom Shadyac - of 'I AM' fame. The film discusses how to be happy, and exactly what goes on in our brain when we are successful.

First and foremost, happiness does not come from more money. After basic needs are met, such as food, shelter, clothing, etc., more of these things do not actually make for more happiness. In fact, at some point the Hedonic Treadmill kicks in and we become used to what we have and then want more. Despite being twice as wealthy as we were 50 years ago, Americans are not any happier.

Researchers have found that people are 50% programmed by genetics. In other words, regardless of outside circumstances we go back to a genetic set range regardless of the good or bad going on in our lives. 10% comes from our current circumstances - job, social status, health, money. The other 40% appears to be intended behavior. We tend to overestimate the good and bad in future events, and how that will affect our overall happiness. In fact, people tend to do well when things are really bad. A key ingredient is how quickly one recovers from adversity.

So what works in the realm of intended behavior? How can we help ourselves be more happy? There are several things that we can do that actually releases dopamine in our brains - a necessary neurotransmitter for happiness. And what's more, it has been found that the brain is somewhat like a muscle - use it or lose it. The more we do to be happy when we are young, the healthier we tend to be as we age.

  • Variety is the spice of life. Change that route you are running or walking. The brain likes change.
  • Physical activity
  • Getting into the zone. I see this as being mindful of whatever you are doing. Get into it!
  • Cultivate close and supportive friends and family. Social bonding is how we inhibit our own self interest.
  • Cooperate. We are programmed for cooperation and it releases dopamine.
  • Count your blessings. Be appreciative of what you have.
  • Meditation for kindness and compassion. These meditations have shown to actually light up cortical areas in as little as two weeks time.
  • Play
  • Do things that are meaningful.
  • Do acts of kindness. This works best!

Gratitude, compassion, love, caring, are all spiritual emotions that help you focus on something bigger than yourself. Spending just a tiny amount of time each day focusing on these principals would make the world a better place and would change our brains for the better. Happiness is a SKILL. And while the formula is not the same for everyone, moving towards a more authentic you is a step in the right direction.


Brian Miller said...

nice....i like your thoughts for sure...we have the power to make ourselves significantly happy or completely depressed...thats for sure...

Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

Great post, Nancy. I'm in complete agreement.

Cloudia said...

a great post that should be widely read!

Have a Good Weekend,
Aloha from Waikiki
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Bruce Coltin said...

A lot of us grew up believing that materialism was the real enemy. It can sometimes be valuable to revisit that notion.

Linda Myers said...

All good points. Happiness is not money, for sure. When I feel happy, and look at what's going on, I'm usually fully engaged in my own life. A surprise, after looking for happiness for so many years.

Rob-bear said...

I never really thought about happiness as a skill. But you make a good point for that. Something for me to ponder as I do those "spiritual values.'


Amanda said...

beautiful post nancy. another thing that i believe contributes to happiness in life is the ability to manage ambivalence.

Rowan Moore Seifred said...

Lovely blog but that black background is brutal on the eyes, especially older eyes. Try a light color and I bet your analytics will reflect longer readership per visit! Cheers. You're an inspiration.