The 20th of March marks International Day of Happiness. Therefore, this month we thought we’d talk about happiness.
What is happiness?
Happiness is difficult to define because it is not the same thing to all people. Some people’s idea of happiness might be based on material things, for another person it might be about physical things and for others it could be feelings and so on. We often see in the media that there is a supposed universally accepted idea of what happiness is. Sometimes this image might look like having a well-paying job, a marriage and kids, a big house and a fancy car in the driveway. For some people, that might be how they define happiness, and it does in fact make them happy. But often, people might chase these idealistic things, thinking it will make them happy, however, once they obtain them, it doesn’t actually make them happy.
That’s why it’s important to consider your values when in the pursuit of happiness. Moving your life in a direction that is congruent or that matches your values, can help you to achieve happiness. For example, you might really value spending quality time with your family and being there for them. However, upon reflection, you realise that despite having a nice house and car, you’re always working overtime and when you are home, all you do is watch TV or spend time on your phone. Therefore, it’s wise to make some changes to align with your values, to help you achieve happiness by spending quality time with your family. These changes might be making a no phone policy after 8pm or making sure that at least one weekend a month you go for a family trip, or you reduce the number of hours you work. Whilst it isn’t always as simple as this, finding ways to live more in line with your values and your idea of happiness, can be a good way to increase the amount of happiness you feel.
Below we have listed some topics that may help bring more happiness into your life.
Can you think of a time where you were so focused on what you were doing that you were ‘in the zone’ and the task seemed effortless? It’s likely you were experiencing what Hungarian American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi* has termed ‘flow’. According to Csikszentmihalyi, this ‘flow’ experience is common to all ethnicities, social-economic groups, ages and genders. Csikszentmihalyi’s book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, released in 1990, explores the idea that happiness can be fostered and increased by introducing flow.
Csikszentmihalyi describes eight characteristics of flow:
- Complete concentration on the task;
- Clarity of goals and reward in mind and immediate feedback;
- Transformation of time (speeding up/slowing down);
- The experience is intrinsically rewarding;
- Effortlessness and ease;
- There is a balance between challenge and skills;
- Actions and awareness are merged, losing self-conscious rumination;
- There is a feeling of control over the task.
There is some research that suggests that ‘flow’ states can have positive effects on certain brain regions such as ‘the prefrontal cortex’ which is involved in decision making, judgement and other executive functions. As a result of being so engaged in a task, these areas are effectively on ‘standby mode’, which can be relaxing and can even mean we are less critical of ourselves. Attempting to include some time in a flow state daily, can increase creativity and well-being. Flow is intrinsically rewarding, which means that the more you practice it, the more you enjoy it and the more likely you are to continue doing it. Simply put, this can help lead to a fully engaged and happy life.
Wondering how to pronounce this? Here’s a phonetic guide: “Me high, cheeks send me high!”
No doubt by now you’ve heard about Mindfulness. It finds its origin in Buddhist traditions and is largely based on Tibetan meditation techniques and involves both formal and informal meditation practices. Mindfulness is the ability to be fully present and engaged in a moment, having awareness of our thoughts, feelings, sensations and your environment without being distracted by what is around you.
One method of mindfulness is a ‘Body Scan’ guided relaxation technique. This process consists of starting at the top or bottom of your body, working your way up or down. Each muscle group is given focus or concentration, then flexed or tensed and then relaxed again. This can be repeated as required. Another technique is focusing on a particular sense of the body i.e., taste, smell, touch etc and noting the detail of the experience. A common example is the mindful eating of a raisin, slowly chewing the raisin and noting the taste, texture, smell, feel as it is crushed in your mouth.
Some research suggests that regularly engaging in mindfulness practice can actually lessen the physical effects of anxiety, improve your mood and decrease stress levels. It is said that practicing mindfulness can improve your quality of life and may make you feel happier.
In the USA, a large-scale study was conducted that found, compared to people who do not exercise, people who did some form of exercise reported having one and half less days of poor mental health every month. Team sports, attending gym and aerobics or cycling are associated with the most benefit. Some of the good mental health benefits could be related to endorphins. You may have heard of these, they are a hormone that is often released alongside other neurochemicals like dopamine, which is associated with a pleasure response. When you exercise, your body releases endorphins. These chemicals interact with the pain receptors in your brain and body, working to reduce how much pain you feel. They can also leave a person feeling positive and happy.
Another benefit of exercise for our mental health is that it lowers the amount of stress hormones in the body like adrenaline and cortisol. However, it should be noted that contrary to popular belief, you can exercise too much. A good goal to work towards for daily exercise should be about 30 minutes to one hour of moderate exercise such as a going for a brisk walk, a jog, or a session at the gym.
You may also like to consider exercising outdoors, which may provide an additional happiness boost, as well. For example, a 2013 study showed that exercising in nature increases mood and self-esteem, while also decreasing tension, anger, and depression.
If you’ve tried the above happiness tips and are still struggling to find what makes you happy, booking in to see one of our clinicians here at The Anna Centre is a good first step. You can reach us by calling us on (03) 5442 5066 or emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Please be advised that The Anna Centre is not a crisis or emergency support service. In times of crisis please call Bendigo Health Psychiatric Triage on 1300 363 788 or your local psychiatric triage.