The Secret Ingredient of Happiness
Author – Emma Triplett
What do you think makes you happy?
And what is ‘happy’?
The answers to those two questions will be as unique as each individual person answering it.
What about all the self help articles and books that teach ‘happiness comes from within’?
Is happiness created by external or internal influences?
So many questions surround ‘happiness’ it’s no wonder the state of being we call ‘happy’ remains elusive for some, but it is something everyone can become regardless of the events or circumstances in you life, past, present or future when you understand this one secret ingredient and how to produce it.
To explain let me go back several hundred thousand years to our evolutionary ancestors.
Primitive man and woman lived by some basic rules, they were playing just two games, survival and evolution. Life was simpler and more precarious than our hectic, distorted and complicated modern lives but nevertheless we share the same genetic blueprint and the same fundamental influences to our state of mind.
The simple rules of life
- If it causes pain – don’t do it
- If it creates pleasure – do it again
- If it is going to eat or kill you – run away from it (or if you can’t run, fight)
Our biological bodies are created so that you can respond appropriately.
Pain signals are sent to the control centre in the brain on neurotransmitters called ‘A’ fibers. ‘A’ stands for acute and these are the super fast signals that say ‘stop doing that right now it is causing you damage’, if you accidentally cut yourself, broke your arm or put your hand in a fire for example. They are different to the ‘C’ fibre signals for chronic or persistent pain.
The hormone created when you are in a dangerous situation is adrenaline which is designed to give you a burst of extra strength and focus to run or fight.
The one we’re interested in today is the pleasure signal. This is part of both survival and evolution and it is the reward you get for doing something right in life. When you have successfully provided food, shelter and warmth for yourself and your family, you get this reward. When you do something that improves your situation, you get this reward and when you are with your tribe doing things together you also get this reward and it makes you feel good.
This reward is the neurotransmitter serotonin and it is the secret ingredient of happiness.
Serotonin is essential to our wellbeing, it helps you cope with anything life throws at you, it motivates you, it makes you braver, it helps you cope with physical fear, it helps you cope with pain and it boosts your immune system.
If you feel miserable or low or have a tendency towards depression, your serotonin levels will be low. Those times when you’re feel ‘low’ – it actually means your serotonin levels are low.
If you worry about things, over think things or have a tendency towards anxiety you will be creating too much adrenaline, the flight/fight hormone. Adrenaline will trump serotonin – another excellent survival design feature – you could be as happy as Larry (whoever Larry is?) but if you run into a sabre tooth tiger, you will forget about being happy, you will run for it.
So, if you want to be happy on demand, you need to be able to create serotonin on demand and burn off any adrenalin you’re unnecessarily creating (after all there are no saber tooth tigers lurking outside your door)
Creating Serotonin On Demand
Creating serotonin is surprisingly easy when you know how. Think of the things you enjoy doing and do them.
Technically they fall into three main categories:-
Positive Activity (hobbies, achieving things and physical activity)
Positive Interaction (being with people and doing things with them you enjoy)
Positive Thinking (focusing on the positive things in your life)
What was it you thought of when I asked the question at the beginning ‘What makes you happy?’ Do they fall into one of the categories above?
It’s easier said than done sometimes I know, but you will make time for the things that are a priority in your life and it is important to understand that creating serotonin is a priority. When you create serotonin you will move through life more easily and skillfully and you will be able to cope with the challenges life throws at you. If you hang on to the mindset that you don’t have time to create serotonin because you have to do this or that first, then life is going to be one hard slog.
Spending time and focus creating serotonin will not compromise those things you ‘have’ to do, it will just make them easier.
Burning off Adrenalin
One of the major problems modern man and woman have is creating too much adrenalin persistently. It is a hormone meant for short bursts of strength and focus, but left in our system long term is becomes counter productive.
You need to learn how to stop focusing on problems or worrying because worrying about things doesn’t solve them, finding solutions does. Adrenalin will keep you fixed on the problems, suppressing the serotonin and keeping you worried instead of happy.
Until you learn how to stop worrying (creating serotonin will help you learn that) you need to make a point of burning off adrenalin and there is one thing guaranteed to do that…
If you are going into flight or fight mode, the best thing you can do to burn off the chemicals you produce is run or fight – now of course you don’t have to start a brawl in the street or run a marathon, but doing any physical exercise that raises your heart rate will do the job and calm you.
So, the secret ingredient of happiness is serotonin, but in order to get the most of it, you need to also burn off the excess adrenalin you’re producing through your thoughts and lifestyle.
Can you think of a better way to live than to focus on creating happiness – it’s infectious too, people around you will also feel the benefits of your happiness.
If you have an inspiring story or something to share that you think will help others wrestling with anxiety or depression, I would love to hear from you. If you have found in particular strategy helpful, chances are that someone else will also benefit, spread the word, share the love and help the fight back against the epidemic of anxiety and depression spreading across the western world.
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