These are all questions that have consumed spiritual leaders, philosophers, psychologists, and scientists alike.
The same questions have attracted a growing number of neurologists over the last couple of decades and their findings have revolutionized the way we perceive this emotion, not just in the field of psychology but also in the way many of us have been trying to cultivate happiness.
But the truth is, the relentless pursuit of happiness can often have the opposite effect and lead individuals to a more egoistic and self-centered lifestyle. However, this is a lonely pursuit only when its focal point is to generate positive feelings regardless of how it impacts other people. As Christopher McCandless, author of Into the Wild put it:
“Happiness [is] only real when [it’s] shared”
So can we learn to be happier? Here are 4 essential ways to practice happiness.
Bring your mind into the present
In a recent study conducted by psychologists, Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert called “A Wandering Mind Is an Unhappy Mind”, adults spend an average of 50% of their time in the present moment.
The scientists also compiled data on chronic happiness levels and found that we tend to be at our happiest when we are in the present moment, regardless of what it is that we’re doing. The reason behind this is that when we’re more present and in the moment, we fully experience our surroundings.
So whenever you notice your brain following future-oriented thoughts and ideas, choose not to follow that train of thought.
Instead, give your mind a nudge towards the present. Try to reorient your focus on what is going on around you. It’s no easy exercise but with some practice, you can reinforce your ability to stay in the present.
According to a 2020 study that examines the correlation between volunteering and well-being, when you do something for other people, this takes the attention away from yourself and can make you feel good. Before the 18th century, happiness has always been about living a virtuous life.
However, when people began to think of happiness as the manifestation of positive emotions and good feelings, this resulted in a profound shift. With the emergence of positive psychology, people have rediscovered the true value of virtues.
So make a habit of doing loving, generous, and considerate things for others on a daily basis. Get involved with causes that inspire you to be better and share not just your money but also your time and energy. Even if you can’t make a permanent commitment to volunteering, engage in random acts of kindness, no matter how small or insignificant they seem.
Move your body
Physical activity isn’t just a way to maintain your body’s fitness and flexibility, it’s also essential for your mental health.
Regular exercise has been proven to have therapeutic benefits namely in alleviating psychiatric illnesses, promoting brain injury recovery, and preventing neurodegenerative diseases.
Dopamine, Serotonin, and Noradrenaline are three major neurotransmitters known to be modulated by physical activity. Movement helps release these happiness chemicals and doctors recommend 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week, which breaks down to five days of 30-minute sessions.
Feed your mind
The thoughts you continuously feed your mind have a direct effect on your levels of happiness and satisfaction.
So naturally, if all you can bring yourself to focus on is the negative in every situation you encounter, frustration and resentment will entail.
Neuroscience shows that there is much more to happiness than your DNA or natural predisposition to optimism.
By bringing your mind to the present moment, engaging in acts of kindness, practicing gratitude, and making progress in life, you have the power to reframe your mindset so it’s more susceptible to experience positive emotions rather than dwell in negative ones.