Happiness: what is it?

Science explains it as having higher levels of endorphins in your blood than normal, which, in turn, gives you a feeling of euphoria and lightness. Religions define it as the pursuit of personal salvation and the satisfaction of helping others. Yet, others say that there is no true happiness in the world but what your mind imagines. In fact, it’s possible to have as many definitions of happiness as there are humans on the planet. Yet, the majority of us accept the definition of happiness as a state-of-being marked by positive emotions that range between mild amusement and ecstatic joy.

Does it Matter How you Define it?

No matter how you define happiness, it all boils down to a subjective interpretation of the word. Some people are happy working their socks off, while others find satisfaction in leisure; some find happiness in doing charity, while others find it in the hording of material possessions. Some even find it in bringing pain to others, while others find it in alleviating the pain from their fellow men. It truly does not matter how you define happiness, because everyone knows what it is, even if they haven’t experienced it in their lives.

How to Make yourself Happy

Now, we’ve agreed on the fact that happiness – like beauty – is in the eye and mind of the beholder. The next step is the difficult one: how to customize your happiness so you can access it whenever you want.

In the famous Harry Potter novels, the dreaded Dementors – the guards of Azkaban, who feed off their victims by sucking out every last drop of happiness from them – use happiness (or lack of it) as their weapon of choice. The only way to fight these Dementors is to conjure up a Patronus. Relevant to our discussion here is the fact that the Patronus Charm is used in conjunction with a person’s happiest memories. This, then, is a good starting point for our discourse.

Memories

Positive memories are known to make people feel better about themselves and their situation. These positive memories can either be externally stimulated, or they can originate from your own thoughts. External stimulation could be as simple as looking at an old photograph that was taken during happier times, or it could be as complex as smelling something in the kitchen that immediately takes your mind back to your childhood. Memories, therefore, are a viable tool that can be used to generate a feeling of happiness.

Laughter

Studies have shown that children laugh up to 300 times a day, while the average adult laughs only 5 times a day. It is not surprising then, that children are usually far happier than adults. Of course, you could argue that children do not have as many responsibilities or cares as the average adult. However, the fact remains that laughter can be directly linked to happiness. Therefore, laugh, and make your heart merry, like how the Bible says: “a merry heart doeth good like a medicine” (Proverbs 17:22).

Meanwhile, in India, a popular culture known as Laughter Clubs is alive and thriving.

In the UK, psychologist Robert Holden launched highly popular ‘laughter clinics’ with the help of NHS funding.

In the United States, as far back as the 1930s, clowns were brought into hospitals to help kids with polio. The list of examples is endless, but they all point to the same truth: laughter leads to happiness – or at least evokes the same physiological condition, which is good enough for most of us.

Exercise

Physical exercise, especially the types that are conducted in a group, has been known to lead to higher levels of happiness. The exercise and the group experience both contribute to the release of endorphins by the body, thereby leading to a state-of-mind close to happiness.

Although the benefits of exercise have long been known, it is only recently that the direct connection between group exercise and happiness, or well-being, has been established. Don’t expect an hour on the treadmill to produce a big grin on your face. This is because another interesting fact has been confirmed: cardiovascular training or moderate weight training does not help release endorphins; only activities like sprinting, or other forms of anaerobic exercises, do. This switch-over from aerobic exercise – when the body gets adequate oxygen to keep the cells and muscles happy – to the anaerobic condition is what is believed to trigger endorphin release.

Sex

Saving the best for last, sexual intercourse or any sexual activity is known to release large amounts of endorphins. So if the treadmill doesn’t put a big silly grin on your face, this will definitely do it! Engaging in sexual activity is not only great for instant gratification brought on by endorphins, but studies also show that regular sex makes for a happier marriage. The regular release of endorphins in the body leads to a heightened sense of well-being and, after all, isn’t that what happiness is all about?

More about Endorphins

Having seen the ways in which happiness can be customized in your life, it would be incomplete to not know a little more about this miracle chemical that is produced in the body.

Interestingly, the effects that endorphins have on the body are very similar to the effect that opium has on it. From the state of euphoria to the reduction of physical pain, the resemblance is uncanny. This is why the sensory receptor cells, which the endorphins lock on to, are called opioid receptors.

Although lack of pain is not technically the same as happiness, it is undeniable that happiness brings with it (or possibly, is caused by) a lack of pain, or at least a reduction of great magnitude.

While there are several other ways in which endorphins can be stimulated in the body (including artificial methods such as taking drugs like morphine, cocaine and heroin), there is nothing like natural stimulation. Artificial stimulation of happiness can have hazardous side-effects, with well-known effects and problems associated with craving and addiction.

So, in conclusion, if you want to customize your happiness, create a personal schedule that involves healthy helpings of these four magical ingredients: good memories, lots of laughter, anaerobic exercise and plenty of sex!

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