In pursuit of happiness
Searching for happiness is, according to Aristotle, ‘the meaning and the purpose of life; the whole aim and end of human existence’. It is the most human of goals – but one that few achieve – simply because most people don’t really know what it is they are looking for. So how exactly are we supposed to live a happy life?
We usually link the heart to happiness – ‘my heart is going to burst’ – yet the real source is not our heart but our brain. If we take a neuroscientiﬁc approach, we can explore what really happens when we feel contentment; these ‘happy’ chemicals are released by the brain and affect us physically:
- Dopamine plays a role in pleasure and reward behaviour.
- Serotonin acts as a mood stabiliser and prevents depression.
- Endorphins possess morphine-like eﬀects and block pain.
- Oxytocin provides feelings of love and trust.
Simple daily activities – practised regularly – stimulate our brains to release more of these happy chemicals. This means we can essentially re-wire our brains to be happy, by practising techniques like these:
- Gratitude: being thankful can reduce toxic emotions, such as envy, frustration and regret.
- Positive thinking: this not only aﬀects our current view of the world, but can also lead to increased happy thoughts as the brain releases more of its supply.
- Physical exercise: get moving! Physical activity, especially outdoors, stimulates the brain to release endorphins, improving our mood. Plus, an added Vitamin D boost!
- Mindfulness exercises: practising mindfulness helps us cope with the difficult thoughts that can cause stress and anxiety.
Happiness may be inﬂuenced by external circumstances and genetics but is mainly dependent on us, our actions and our thoughts. The more we understand the brain, the more able we are to take charge of our own happiness.