How to become happier?
In this podcast,we’re speaking to Steph who is a happiness consultant, coach and passionate about what makes us happy. She studied Mindfulness, Stress Management, Resilience and well-being at work and she runs corporate workshops and 101 consultations. Steph is a very smart and inspiring woman. We talk about the definition of happiness the misconceptions, and the different steps to take to feel happier.
How do you define happiness?
We now have a definition of happiness that is backed by scientific measures not just philosophical talks or subjective evaluation. What is really interesting is that somehow consciously or not whatever we do, whatever we hope for, whatever we dream of, whether it’s a successful career, financial freedom, whether we want to have a family, travel around the world, what we want ultimately is happiness.
Being happy is a primary concern.
When philosophers and thinkers defined Happiness
For Confucius, the Chinese philosopher happiness had an outward orientation, happiness had to do with the welfare of others. Happiness was related to what you were doing to make other people feel good. And then moving onto Buddha, the path to happiness was about recognising that life is a rollercoaster and accepting that there are some difficulties in life, there are some conflicts and there is some suffering and most of the time we couldn’t really do anything about it.
So it was about accepting what life is throwing at us. the second point from Buddhism is that as human beings, we suffer a lot because of illusions. The illusion that we need certain things, material things, but also love from other people and we ended up being too attached and we do live in a world that is ever changing. And by being to attach, we create a lot of suffering for ourselves. So the practical recommendation from Buddha was to practice equanimity, composure, calmness, and compassion. And that was the path to happiness.
Greek philosophers like Plato and Aristotle had a totally different point of view on happiness. They were talking about the principle of moderation, where happiness was about living a life of virtue and required a lot of work in discipline, devotion, courage, and strength. In the 17th, 18th century, the French declared that everyone had a right to be happy and happiness became a right.
The Pyramid of Maslow is the model that shows we can only reach happiness or self-actualisation once we have met our basic needs like food, water -at the bottom of the Pyramid- then you have all your physiological and safety needs, moving upwards and psychological needs such as self-esteem, a feeling of accomplishment, intimate relationship, friends, social connections and so on. Happiness and self-actualisation are at the very top of the Pyramid.
When Science discovered neuroplasticity
They found significant changes in the brain activation and the structure when they studied happy people and what common traits they had. They found that positive and negative emotions look very different in the brain. When you’re very happy or joyful and energised, you get very strong activity in the left prefrontal Cortex of your brain compared with the right side. And when you feel depressed, anxious or nervous, it’s the opposite. You get really high activity.
Certain physical activities, mental habits, and practices allow us to significantly and sustainably improve and increase our sense of happiness. Becoming happier is realisable. You have the power to hardwire your brain for happiness.
So regardless of what life you have, regardless of the circumstances of your life, with a bit of brain fitness, you have the power to become happier.
They also found out that 10 percent of our happiness depends on circumstances and that’s quite small and 40 percent of our happiness capacity is in your hands. So happiness is not about having all your personal needs met. Remember:
- Happiness is not about feeling satisfied with life all the time.
- Happy is not about feeling pleasure or positive emotions all the time.
- Happiness is not about never feeling negative emotions or never being sad.
- Happiness is not something we seek, not something we look for.
- Being too obsessed about happiness and wanting to become happy at all costs can cause quite a lot of harm.
- Happiness is a byproduct of the way you live your life.
People who have a large palette of emotions from positive and negative emotions are systematically much more happy than people who have a life only with positive emotions. So it is important to embrace the good and the bad to find that inner thing that is happiness. It’s about how you perceive what is happening to you and actually how you decide to react to it.
How do we achieve this mindset and how do we rewire our brain?
Quite naturally. There are key elements of happiness to know about:
We are a social species. Our connection to other people is absolutely instrumental to our happiness. Very happy people have reached a satisfying relationship and they spend very little time alone compared with people who do. Intimate relations, socializing etc. The sense of participating, feeling connected, being part of a group is really important for happiness.
#Compassion and kindness
We know that the brain structures involved in positive emotions such as compassion, kindness are more plastic than most subject to change. That means all of these skills, the more we practice them, the better we get to them and our capacity increases naturally. Compassion is rooted in our brain and our biology, we are wired as human beings to respond to other’s needs. When we are expressing compassion, we know that our heart rate slows down, that our brain produces oxytocin the hormone of bonding and pleasure. When you train your mind to be kind, you see a rise in your daily positive emotions. You know, you’re doing good to someone else, and it is activating all the reward circuits in your brain. Kindness as a huge ripple effect.
#Cooperation and reconciliation
Cooperation actually activates a part of the brain, the frontal cortex. It’s a reward circuit part of the brain. It gives us the intense satisfaction. Forgiveness is a skill that we can learn. There are ways to apologise, that are more efficient than others, and this is key to our happiness. Forgiveness lowers blood pressure and increases opportunism, hope.
#Mindfulness, Positive habits
Mindfulness is the awareness that arises by paying attention on purpose in the present moment and non-judgmentally. Living in the present moment and by training yourself to be in the present moment, you are happier. If you try to consciously be optimistic about things and situations is also part of mindfulness and lead to feeling happier
When we’re grateful, we get a flow of neurotransmitters like dopamine in our brain, our stress reduces, optimism is boosted and our immune system is stronger. We’re exercising self-directed neuroplasticity. We are actually voluntarily changing some parts of our brains to increase our ability to be happier.
Can you give us small tasks, small things that we can do on a daily basis to, to feel happier?
Have a little routine to do every day like mine below. Switch the happiness button.
1/ I set an intention for my day.
2/ I meditate.
3/ I take mindful breaks in my day.
4/ I have a gratitude journal.
We tend to confuse things, pleasure vs happiness and success vs happiness and money vs happiness. What’s your point of view on that?
We live in a pleasure-seeking society. So we’re looking for pleasure and a little moment of exhilaration, but then it fades away pretty quickly. So we need another one and another one and another one: more food, more money, more things, more alcohol, more sex, more drugs, you can get into a pool of addiction. T
he first big difference between happiness and pleasure is that it’s a sensation that evolves and changes. Pleasure always comes from an outside source. Happiness is an inside job. Pleasure is experienced. It’s not something that you share with other people. It’s not contagious. With happiness, it doesn’t work like that.
Happiness is contagious, Happiness comes from inside of you.
Studies show that money is not linked to happiness, but at the same time, we can get anxious and unhappy if you don’t have enough money. So how does happiness not linked to being financially safe?
The difference in happiness between someone who earns 5,000 pounds a year and 50,000 pounds a year is enormous. But the difference in happiness between someone who earns 50,000 pounds a year and 500 million a year is not much at all. So the more money you have, the more things you can buy, but it doesn’t change your happiness.
It does boost people’s happiness when you lift them out of impoverished circumstances. Social comparison is a really toxic habit. We compare ourselves and then it gets us feeling a bit unhappy and not successful.
Happiness is a byproduct of your behaviours and your activity intention, your habits and practices.
And it comes from within, it’s got nothing to do with the people around you. A study shows that happy people are likely to make more money than unhappy people in life. Because they’re happier, they’re more optimistic, they have better connections with other people and they take bolder risks, they have no fear, they attract opportunities.
Happiness is a sustainable inner feeling. That’s more a kick or pleasure. So happiness can really help you become successful, but being successful doesn’t mean that you’re going to be happy or not. Happiness is an amazing catalyst towards success.
How are health and wellbeing linked to happiness?
We know that when you’re happy you are going to live a longer life. It’s got an impact on your life expectancy. A lot of research done by Sonja Lyubomirsky. At any moment in life when you’re feeling really happy, like eight, nine on a 10 point scale, this is going to add five to seven years in your life expectancy. Later in life, if you experienced boosts of happiness, it is estimated that it will add 20 months to your life expectancy.
Happiness as a huge impact on your physical health.
When you’re happy, you have fewer chronic pains. And mindfulness is also absolutely amazing as a pain management, you will have less likelihood of diabetes and super good for your heart. You have a more robust cardiovascular profile when you’re a happy person. Having very strong social connections are really good for your health.
Happiness strengthens your immune system. Happiness combats stress.
What’s the easiest thing that you would advise to improve our wellbeing?
All the topics above will improve your happiness. The easiest thing to do is a gratitude journal because it takes three minutes to write a couple, three, four or five things you’re grateful for. And within 10 days, you will notice a shift in your mindset. It could be that your avocado sandwich was delicious, it could be anything, just write it down. If you have the ability to open your eyes and your heart, somehow to see all the beautiful stuff that is happening around you, this a great first step and the results are amazing.
For more of Steph’s advice or to book a consultation, go visit her website here.