New Perspectives on Increasing Happiness

Can you learn to be happier?  Positive psychology says yes, with some effort. Genetics plays a role, possibly contributing up to 50% of our happiness quotient. It is likely that 10% is influenced by our life circumstances, but a full 40% is through our actions and thoughts. With 40% of our happiness influenced by our actions and thoughts, we have a lot of room to increase our happiness if we are intentional and effortful.

In the 1990s, Martin Seligman started the branch of psychology called positive psychology. Positive psychology studies what is right and how we can improve further on the good.

Relationships are a large part of our happiness. Focusing on relationships is a big first step toward greater happiness. We are social beings and social connection is key to health and happiness. 

If healthy relationships contribute to our happiness, then improving our relationships with better communication is important. Better communication does not mean we have to agree all the time. We may even decide not to communicate about touchy subjects.

John Gottman is a researcher who describes six conflict management skills. They are softening up (approach the problem softly), complain but do not blame, use “I” statements not “you” statements, describe what is happening without judgment, be polite and appreciative, and don’t store things up.

Another approach to increasing happiness is to introduce variety into your life. Call someone you have not spoken to for a while, go a different way to work, or be open to chance opportunities.

A third way to increase happiness is to take time out. Time out could be meditation or to give yourself permission to sleep enough nightly. Optimally, you would give yourself both gifts daily. Doing so may reduce feelings of overwhelm, decreases stress, and improve immunity and creativity. To consider how the lack of mental health affects us, sick days from work are due more from mental distress than physical illness.

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New Perspectives on Joy

Joy is a pillar for good health. Do you allow yourself to experience joy every day? Do you know what brings you joy or happiness?

Is it true that joy and happiness help us to stay healthy?  Yes, joy and happiness help us.

Our nervous system has two pathways. The sympathetic pathway is our fight or flight system. It is important when we are under stress or danger. The sympathetic pathway helps clot our blood quickly so that if we are injured, we won’t bleed too much. It raises our heart rate and constricts our blood vessels, helping us respond quickly to stress and threats.

When we are under stress or threats, our immune system activity decreases. When our bodies sense danger, it uses energy to help us survive. If we are facing a tiger, our body doesn’t need to put energy for our immune system to fight a cold next week, or we may be the tiger’s meal now.  

The other is our parasympathetic system. It is our rest, digest and repair system. We would be well served if we lived most of our day in this state. Here, our body may digest food more easily and absorb the life supporting nutrients in that food. Our heart is at rest and pumping more slowly. Our blood vessels are not constricted. This may allow us to fall asleep more easily. We may even think more clearly.

Both paths of our nervous system are important for health. We want to easily shift from one system into the other. In our hectic world, we rarely allow ourselves to be at rest. People may experience mental and emotional stressors. We also face environmental stressors, like water and air pollution. Our body may struggle with injury, infection or nutrient deficiencies.  

Joy may be a path to allow us to tip our body back toward the rest, digest and repair mode. Repair helps us to overcome sickness and injuries, but also helps us to age more successfully. Joy and happiness help us to be more optimistic.

There are measurable changes in the body when we allow ourselves to experience joy. We have a decrease in cortisol, the stress hormone, and an increase in endorphins, which help us to feel less pain. Our mood is lighter because serotonin increases (the happiness neurotransmitter) and oxytocin (the connection hormone). There is an increase in Brain Derived Neurotropic Factor (BDNF), which helps us to grow new neurons in our brain to protect our memory. We dilate our blood vessels and increase our lung capacity which helps to send more oxygen throughout our body. Laughter may force us to breathe deeper. Just breathing deeply stimulates the vagus nerve, which helps us to rest, digest, and repair our bodies. 

How can we bring more joy into our lives?  There are comedy clubs, funny movies and books, and even laughter yoga. Our bodies will react the same even if we are faking the laughter or smile. When was the last time you experienced a good belly laugh?  It might be helpful to have a good laugh every day.

Disclaimer: This information is being provided to you for educational and informational purposes only.  It is being provided to you to educate you about healthy eating and lifestyles and as a self-help tool for your own use.  It is not medical or psychological advice.  This information is to be used at your own risk, based on your own judgment.  For my full disclaimer, please go to\disclaimer.