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The happiness factor

To be or not to be, that is the question?

The opening line of Hamlet’s soliloquy is a memorable piece that you probably remember from school days. But it is the beginning of a personal consideration about the merits of suicide; it’s no wonder the play is one of Shakespeare’s tragedies.

I like to think that perhaps Will could have improved it just a little by the addition of one simple word.

To be happy or not to be happy, now that is an even more interesting question?

Perhaps in changing the tone of the opening line Hamlet might have changed his fate and so turned tragedy into something altogether lighter and containing an entirely different set of possibilities.

Happiness is, after all, a muscle that we could all do with exercising. And our experience of it is, unlike many other things, totally within our own gift. In fact, it’s a choice we can and do make on a daily basis. The more you take this exercise, the more it becomes habit-forming and this particular habit provides each and every one of us with many of nature’s best kept secret chemicals to boot.

Happiness is defined by Wikipedia as a mental or emotional state of well-being characterised by positive or pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy

The benefits of being happy are well documented:

Happy people live longer and experience better health than their peers. Happy people tend to be more intelligent than their peers, happy people tend to be more satisfied with their life than those who aren’t, happy people tend feel wealthier and in a 2005 analysis of 225 studies into success and happiness researchers concluded that being happy has the side effect of producing a different set of behaviours in people which result in them taking the actions that make them even more successful.

Who amongst us then would knowingly put themselves into a state where they didn’t increase their levels of all these factors?

And of course, I’m not ignoring the fact that bad things happen. I know that we’ll all experience something that causes unhappiness in our lives at least once. Being happy doesn’t avoid the emotional upset, nor should it, after all it’s an important part of the human experience, but it does make it significantly easier to weather it.

In 1994 I had my own opportunity to understand the Happiness Factor. I had a breakdown that resulted in being cared for 24 hours a day for several months. Although I wouldn’t wish that experience on anyone else I realise it was now a blessing in disguise as it gave me a chance to learn what happiness really is and how to find my own happiness muscle. That experience taught me that it’s not tough to change from sad to glad? In fact, I learnt that three simple actions improve levels of happiness quickly and easily.

  1. Smile – research shows that the more we smile, the more others smile back at us. As they smile at us so it makes us smile even more. And did you know that smiling produces more happy hormones in us than eating chocolate does! According to the British Dental Health Foundation, a smile gives the same level of stimulation as eating 2,000 chocolate bars!

Smiling releases endorphins, serotonin and natural pain killers and studies have shown that people with manic depression can be completely cured with daily 20 minute sessions of just sitting and smiling!

It seems that smiling is your own personal and completely legal narcotics supply.

  1. Help others. Going out of your way to help someone else, even if it’s just to carry an elderly neighbour’s shopping in from the car makes you feel good about yourself. When you feel good about yourself your base levels of happiness raise and you smile more…!

In the US a study of 2,000 people found that those who helped others were significantly happier and less depressed than those who didn’t.

  1. Exercise. Not only do you become happier when you exercise but you also produce more long term health benefits which improve the immune system. You increase the production of those lovely natural narcotics and create even more long term feelings of happiness.

As I endured the depression that had caused my break-down, I came to understand that happiness was mine to choose. I could either take those three simple actions and improve my life experience, or I could remain where I was. I now know that being happier really can make you healthier, wealthier and wiser and it really is as simple as smiling, helping others and exercising.

Tomorrow morning when you climb out of bed at the beginning of yet another day, will you choose to exercise your happiness muscle and begin practising the move from sad to glad?

(Image by Kranich17 from Pixabay)

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  1. Thank you so much for this. So apt. In my journey of life, I have seen your state of mind is a choice you can make and it reflects on others and their treatment towards you. Seen it over and over again. I will always remember a nurse telling me “you are you always cheerful and smiling even though you are on the hospital bed.” Sometimes, when the pain gets excruciating, you are tempted to drop that happy positive hormone but seriously, remaining down is also a lot of work that doesn’t help you. Thank you for this👊

  2. Thank you for another helpful post, Linda.
    I would like to add one more “action” to your ideas for contentment, peace of mind, and that is spending time in nature. Being outside, watching wildlife, smelling the fragrance, seeing the beauty in the smallest flower, touching earth with feet and fingers can be very calming and healing, and puts our cares into perspective. It is a gateway to being happy.

  3. You are so right – even behind the masks we can tell when someone is smiling as it’s all in the eyes as well, they just seem to open in a way that says ‘hello’ 🙂

  4. It’s more important than ever to smile when we haven’t got our masks on. The baby that smiles naturally apparently has a good start in life. Everyone smiles back and gives them attention and they smile more…