I recently read an interesting article on happiness. It seems that researchers have devoted a fair amount of time and money to this subject. So what did they find? Well, pretty obvious stuff. We don't get there by working like a dog or spending a ton of money. But the answer really has been there all along. It's wisdom that we've probably heard numerous times throughout our lifetime...things like: look on the bright side, laughter is the best medicine, smile and the world smiles with you. In terms of what we should do: smile, laugh, sing, dance, spend time with friends, family and children, make time for fun, exercise, get sunshine, get involved in the community, celebrate. All these things elevate our mood and strengthen our immune system. They also possibly lengthen our lives.
In terms of the pursuit of happiness? Scientific research indicates that we should actually be pursuing joy over happiness. So many of us are looking for that "magic bullet" that will make us happy. The thing is, how do we measure happiness? It's a rather vague concept. Joy, on the other hand, is quite quantifiable.
MRI scanners have tremendously increased our understanding of the functioning of the brain. And one of the amazing things that scientists have discovered is how much of the brain is dedicated to positive emotion, or rather joy.
Joy is easily measured by looking at hormone changes, endorphin levels, blood oxygen and watching human connections. Joy, experienced through all those things mentioned previously (singing, dancing, laughing, smiling) rewards its users with health, improved immunity and many times a sense of purpose.
Other things we should be aware of? Having fun is good for you! It's a powerful de-stressor. Stress is a major factor in most illnesses and diseases, in fact, I once heard one figure that claimed as much as 90%. How do we have fun? Any child can easily tell you the answer to that one...play. With play comes laughter, bonding, smiling and humour. All good.
According to Chinese medicine, worry sits in the stomach. Perhaps that's why when we're stressed or worried we say that we have knots in our stomach. The remedy for this? Singing. Seriously, I had a Chinese doctor who explained that worry can go so far as to physically affect us with a prolapsed stomach and the remedy is to sing. I even had this proven to me, which I couldn't possibly properly explain here. Let's just say that it's something you have to experience. But if you know what's good for you, you will now all immediately break out into song. Well, at least hum a tune.
Laughter is next on the list. It is so important. In fact, it might just be the secret fountain of youth. Don't people who really truly laugh a lot seem more youthful? Nothing makes us look older than we are than a sour face. And even better, laughter is contagious. Think back to a time where you just couldn't quit laughing. Probably you weren't alone. Perhaps when you would just about have it under control, you would glance over at that other person and just lose it. The cycle would start all over again, laughter bouncing off the walls, tears in your eyes and your sides aching from so much giddiness. Do you remember how good that felt? It's something that we should all make an effort to do more often.
The next thing that science is starting to confirm that will make you all want to immediately "lighten up," is that seriousness is a manifestation of permanent stress. Seriousness is signalled by the promotion of stress, lack of sense of humour and a resentment of fun. Now who wants to be that guy? Some cardiologists even believe that a serious attitude leads to heart disease and science is now coming very close to proving this. The reality is that seriousness mimics a stress reaction. It causes blood vessels to tighten and raised levels of cortisol can be measured in the bloodstream. Is it possible that seriousness might be a low level form of permanent stress?
Finally, the last thing that we should be making an effort to do, is to act happy. You know, fake it 'til you make it. It's long been established that thinking positive thoughts can change our perspective on the world. New research suggests that meditation, and a positive outlook can fight depression and elevate mood. Other research has shown that the mere act of smiling, even if we don't initially feel happy, actually triggers changes in our brain chemistry that boost those hormones that do make us feel happy. It's kind of like going through the motions until we authentically feel it. Yes, indeed, we can actually practice being happy and in the process become much better at it.