New Year brings in the season of giving and taking greetings and good wishes. The most common of them is ‘Happy New Year to You!’. Does it really ensure or enhance happiness in our life? No guarantee, but our understanding of happiness enhancing factors and facets can help reclaim our health and happiness for a better life. Here is a series to focus on what all we need to know.
‘Happy new year to you & your family’ –indeed the most common line in greetings on New Year, both received and given. At least I received it in plenty, most of it as forwarded messages, in WhatsApp, Email in-box, Facebook, Instagram and in several ways – and why not, one needs to send it to friends in thousands and it is really easy to forward message rather than writing for each one of them! I do not know how much it contributes to happiness in our life. We still remember how many calls we used to receive and how many calls we used to make—not just to say happy New Year but also on this pretext to get re-connected with old friends, families and loved ones. Gone are the days! Those calls definitely added to our happiness as we used to regain warmth of relationship (more of serotonin and endorphins) but the forwarded messages have made us stale, not even worthy of receiving dopamine!
We can learn a lesson or two from the science of happiness, in at least 2022.
Can we work to improve happiness?
Generally speaking, we do leave happiness to chance and think that happiness is a spontaneously occurring phenomenon, it just happens. However, the proliferation of research on human happiness has made it possible to understand few subtle determinants of happiness in our life. It has also transcended into the field of public policy wherein happiness is taken as the goal of development and it is pursued as an aggregate concept.
Particularly, COVID-19 pandemic has brought about the issue of mental health at the center stage. Symptoms of stress, anxiety, negativity, and loss of general wellbeing have started surfacing. It has also taken its toll in many ways, including the incidence of suicide. The moot questions for us is — Why some people are more vulnerable to stress and negativity while others not? How can we secure wellbeing for ourselves and our near and dear? What all can we learn from the research and practice on happiness and wellbeing?
The answer to all the above questions is a big Yes, we can and we should learn from the science of happiness and improve the quality of our lives.
The Chemicals have solutions!
Dopamine as a rewarding chemical regulates our pleasure. We get dopamine from things we generally like doing and they form part of our habit as well. Say for example, junk food. We crave for it once we are habitual of it. Each time we feel like eating, some or the other fast food would come to our mind. This happens because we start getting lots of dopamine from eating junk food. So is the case of certain type of music, looking at mobile repeatedly with the expectation of getting message or new notification. People need to see mobile as the first thing after getting up in the morning. We really need ‘dopamine detox’ to get away from this mind frame. Our brain has ‘neuroplasticity’ and it has become too much sliced and fragmented with loads of quick reels on the small screen in our hands. Once wired to certain pattern, the excessive dopamine would not let us think otherwise. We need to re-wire our brain through a different experience and exposure. The lust of pleasure is too immersive and it requires re-orientation of mind.
Pleasure is not happiness. Pleasure is dopamine while happiness is serotonin and endorphin. A long walk through green meadows, a night in forest, colourful flowers at workplace and at home, and a laughter with close friends may provide those extra bits of serotonin and endorphin needed to detox our mind. Endorphin is a healer and a natural pain reliever. It soothes up our feelings and set is right.
Major part of serotonin is released in our gut and it controls our mind and mood. A special care of gut is a pre-condition of getting plenty of serotonin and hence happiness. What we eat matters. A regular walk as part of our habit does help.
Possession vs Experience
We need to move from possession to experience approach in life for enhancing happiness. When we buy a new car, it gives immense pleasure. However, after a year or two the marginal pleasure derived from the car starts reducing due to – one, reduced utility with higher repeated use and two, inter-personal comparison starts the more you look at the big and latest model being purchased by your neighbor. Our percentile position in the neighborhood income distribution plays an important role in our happiness. Each time our possession enhances pleasure, each time it entails the possibility of eloping our happiness. Spend some of those preciously earned money on vacation. Click pics with family and friends. Make videos of your memories. It has been observed that a paid family vacation granted to employees enhances happiness in measures more than a monetary incentives.
Affective vs Evaluative Happiness
How you are today, is not the same question as how are you these days. The longer the period of evaluation, greater will be the focus on experience. Affective happiness connotes to ‘mood swing’ and mood swing is not happiness. Happiness is evaluative in nature, a subtle sense of feeling of satisfaction with life. It is the protoplasm of life’s overall wellbeing. Problem is that we search happiness in shorter and immediate factors and possession while what we aspire for is a sense of life-satisfaction over a period of life lived where experience counts.
Thinking vs Action
Our thinking works in a very interesting ways. It tells more stories on sad aspects rather than happy aspects. There is cognitive bias in our thought process, which propels us to be concerned about wrong happenings, uncertainty, sad occurrences and attuned to unpleasant thing, anyone must have said about us. We remember bad things spoken about us more than good things said. Nevertheless, what we aspire is happiness and positive things in life. We cannot be happy by merely understanding and aspiring happiness. We can be happy by working on it and taking actions for happiness. It is not so much about positive thinking but more about positive actions. One single resolution we can take in 2022 is to put few positive actions to make us happy.
If we have to list five things to be embraced and put in action in the year 2022, which can enhance our happiness, the list can be as follows:
- Rediscover how to play
- Engage in creative endeavor
- Bring back your hobby which you left behind long back
- Learn new things
- Take a long walk with friends, better through a green field
The story of happiness will continue. Look for the next blog, Part 2. Until then, wish you Happiness!