Someone said to me ‘do a blog to make me smile’. I went away and though about it. Science tells us that it takes seventeen muscles to smile and as many as forty three to frown. That means it takes a lot more effort to be miserable than it does to be happy. So, what it is that makes some people happy while others are not. So what does the 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 can certainly a part of happiness. However having more money than 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. It is said to say that I have worked with so many people who are very rich and very miserable. I guess we need enough money so that we don’t have to worry about it but so much that we do have to worry about it. For many people too much money is a burden.
Health plays an enormous part in happiness. Health creates greater life expectancy, less time off work and more time to be happy. When we exercise we have higher levels of happy hormones in our brain. We know that raising your heart rate for just twenty minutes a day can really support your mental health.
Autonomy is important. People’s freedom to make life decisions is a part of creating their individual happiness. So many people do what they do because they feel that they should or to please other people. This approach to life seldom leads to happiness. It is so important to do things that make you feel good.
Generosity in both giving and receiving raises the spirit. I can remember when I was training reading the research about how the effect of giving could create more positive endorphins in the giver than those in the receiver. It seems that giving makes us feel good.
Belonging. We all need friends, family and social support that creates a sense of belonging and overcomes loneliness. Happiness does not need to come from big social events. Often it is the small ones, the family gatherings, Sunday lunches and so on that make us feel like we belong.
“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
The Vikings left us with happiness. So what is the secret?
Genetics, in Scandinavians are shown to have a particular 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 feel good enough inside 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 equal more positive control of our emotional self. In short it creates happiness.
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 is their work and their happiness in their life generally.
Devote some time to yourself, be happy and, if you can, try some meditation.