If you can learn how to ride a bike you can learn how to be happy.
~ Matthieu Ricard, Happiest Man In The World
What is happiness?
Dictonary.com suggests … Happiness is
As a concept, I think it is hard to define. It is very subjective. One person’s source of joy will differ from another.
Mattheu Ricard is considered to be the happiest man in the world. But by what criteria? Scientific examination of his brain actually. Using MRI scans, cognitive scientists have shown he has extraordinarily high levels of upbeat activity and almost negligible levels of negative emotions.
Ricard participated in a research project on the effects of meditation on the brain – which was where his “happy brain activity” was discovered. He is a Buddhist monk, and a meditator.
Ricard suggests happiness a vague word, and he prefers to use the term “well-being”. He says that the Buddhist view is that
… well-being is not just a mere pleasurable sensation. It is a deep sense of serenity and fulfilment. A state that actually pervades and underlies all emotional states, and all the joys and sorrows that can come one’s way.
TED Talk, The Habits of Happiness
The Action for Happiness movement formed from people committed to building a happier and more caring society. They suggest that happiness is influenced by our genes, upbringing and our external circumstances eg health, work and our financial circumstances. It is also heavily influenced by our choices – our inner attitudes, how we approach our relationships, our personal values and our sense of purpose.
Both identify similar qualities as being important to happiness – a focus on altruism and mindfulness.
Have you tried talking to your genes?
A book published by Dr Rudy Tanzi & Dr Deepak Chopra, called Super Genes, suggests that they are critical to a happier life. They suggest “talking to our genes” through a lifestyle focused on well-being. Once again science and philosophy come into play. You can read more about their work here: Want to lead a happier life? Talk to your genes.
So why be happy?
There are many researched benefits of happiness.
- Happiness is good for your heart – optimism and positive emotion provide protection against cardiovascular disease, to slow progression of heart disease and reduce risk of experiencing a cardiovascular event
- Giving is good for you – altruistic behaviour releases endorphins in the brain and boosts happiness in both the giver and receiver. This tends to make people happier than indulging themselves alone.
- Increases immunity – Having a network of social connections or high levels of social support has been shown to increase our immunity to infection, lower risk of heart disease and reduce mental decline as we age.
- Longevity – A review of hundreds of studies has found compelling evidence that happier people have better overall health and live longer than their less happy peers.
So what do you have to do to be happier?
You can learn. Ricard would say, practice mindfulness – even better, empathetic mindfulness. Research shows that an 8-week mindfulness course can have significant impact on your brain. It increases grey-matter density in the hippocampus – important for learning and memory, and in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion and introspection. There are many courses around, and various mobile apps that you can download and use.
If you want something more immediately practical, below is a list of things to do and some downloadable resources.
10 Tips – Keys to Happier Living
- GIVING – Do things for others
- RELATING – Connect with people
- EXERCISING – Take care of your body
- APPRECIATING – Notice the world around you
- TRYING OUT – Keep learning new things
- DIRECTION – Have goals to look forward to
- RESILIENCE – Find ways to bounce back
- EMOTION – Take a positive approach
- ACCEPTANCE – Be comfortable with who you are
- MEANING – Be part of something bigger
With the upcoming festive season, wishes for happiness abound. Perhaps part of having a happy time will be in your altruism towards others, and acceptance of others? At times the celebrations at this time of year also put extra pressure on the people who come together with emotions running high or increased stress associated with bringing it all together. Perhaps the secret of a happy festive season will be better appreciated with some mindful preparation?