This week an article, ‘How the happiest people on the planet keep smiling‘, made me laugh, especially as Ed has been trying to become a meditator. The article reported research that pinpointed what it is that makes some people happy while others are not. So what does science tell us.
Money. Many people consider higher per capita income is a precursor to happiness. Having sufficient resources to survive with comfort and to feel that there is no stress is certainly a part of happiness. However having more money that you need does not actually make you happy. We joke that at least with money ‘you can be miserable in comfort’ but it proves that money will never make you happy.
Health plays a good part in happiness. Health creates greater life expectancy, less time off work and more time being happy. Autonomy is important. People’s freedom to make life decisions is a part of creating their individual happiness. Generosity in both giving and receiving raises spirit. And friends, family and social support creates a sense of belonging and overcomes loneliness. Happiness does not need to come from big events, but often small ones.
“Happiness consists more in small conveniences of pleasures that occur every day than in great pieces of good fortune that happen but seldom”. Benjamin Franklin
Scandinavians are not dancing in the street, their happiness is more to do with well being and contentment. So what is the secret?
Genetics, in Scandinavians are shown to have an effect. There are three genes that, when activated, create increased levels of serotonin which is the natural precursor of wellbeing. Now, any country that, in history, was near to or invaded by the Vikings have this genetic structure, Guess what? British people have a genetic structure that is very close to that of the vikings. So why are us Brits not showing our happiness, rather than moaning about our lives? Or are us Brits happier than we let on?
All these issues, beyond that of genetics, are considered by scientists to be too subjective, too emotional. Associate professor Wataru Sato and his team at Japan’s Kyoto University went one step further into trying to understand the basis of happiness. The researchers used scans to determine which areas of the brain are involved in people feeling happy. The results showed that volunteers who rated highly on happiness surveys had more grey matter (cells) in their brains.
Now, this is the magic part of this research. We know how we can increase the grey matter in our brains, we meditate. Brains scans have shown, for years, that mindful meditation increases the grey matter in the brain, especially around the areas that control our emotional experience in the limbic system. The bottom line is:
It does not matter how good your life is materially,
if you do not have enough grey brain cells
it will never be good enough in side your emotions
So, what we have learned is that if we do have a genetic predisposition to happiness we might be ahead of the game, and that the nearer we are to Scandinavia the more likely we are to have a positive genetic makeup. But that is not the end of it. We now know, from the scientific research, built around brain scans, shows that if you regularly meditate you will create more grey matter in your brain, (it takes about two years of daily practice) and we know that more grey matter equals more positive control of our emotional self. In short it creates happiness.
Ed began this weeks podcast by telling us about his new meditation experience over the last two weeks. Well done Ed. The bottom line is that we all need to meditate and that we need to practise meditation persistently and consistently on a daily basis over time. If you know an experienced meditator you will be aware of their calmness and lack of stress. You may also be aware of their general efficiency in their work and their happiness in their life generally.
Devote some time to yourself, be happy and if you can, try some meditation.