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The Science of Happiness made easy

How one book about the Science of Happiness can replace all your New Year's Resolutions

Since happiness is often regarded as a prerequisite for success, why not choose 'Being happy' as a New Year's Resolution and get a little help from a great book!

This is heaven. I am sitting at my new white wooden outdoor table on my beautiful patio overlooking my green bushy garden typing away on my MacBook Pro. The table is scattered with notebooks in which I have ferociously scribbled notes during interviews and research as well as open books with lots of lines highlighted in fluorescent pink and orange.

It’s 35 degrees – just the right temperature for me. My black Labrador cross Ava has plunged herself on my feet. She’s panting. It is by far too hot for her outside, but she rather endures the heat to be close to me than cooling off under the air condition inside. I look around and feel like I could get lost in this flawless combination of colour and beauty in my garden including the chatter of young cockatoos and parrots. Sitting here – surrounded by books and doing what I truly love, which is writing – is a rare calm, somehow timeless moment of peace and utmost happiness.

Flexed biceps emoji shows New Year’s Resolution determination

It is a moment I truly treasure and suddenly I know for sure: it is a moment that I would like to have more often. I quickly grab my phone and text my friend who had just asked me about my New Year’s Resolution: “In 2018 I have tons of moments of happiness” accompanied by a flexed biceps emoji to show her my determination.

According to Stefan Klein, award winning science journalist, I might well be on my way to make this New Year’s Resolution come true. Klein is the author of the International Bestseller “The Science of Happiness: How Our Brains Make Us Happy – and What We Can Do to Get Happier”. Coincidentally, I have just finished his original edition in German “Die Glücksformel oder Wie die guten Gefühle entstehen” that Klein published in 2002. I had bought it, but for some reasons it lived untouched on my book shelves, survived several moves until the day before yesterday when it captivated my attention so much that I finished it within two days.

Klein has since revised and re-published the book. Most certainly he has incorporated much more recent results of brain research related to happiness that at the time of writing his first version had only just begun its exciting journey. However, most of the book’s theories are already sufficiently backed up by global research and are in a way universal too.

Water seeds like peace and let seeds like anger die of thirst

According to Klein’s findings, the effect of good feelings like happiness is even stronger the more we focus and engage with it. The more we take these moments in, enjoy them and even amplify them, the more they form our spirit and our mind. As a handy side effect, we focus less on our negative feelings. As Klein quotes the Vietnamese Zen-monk Thich Nhat Hanh: “Each and every moment, we observe something peace- and beautiful, we water the seeds for peace and beauty in us. … At the same time other seeds like fear and pain are not being watered.” Consequently, they cannot flourish and will hopefully wither away.

So as much as my friends – who I in my state of happiness flooded with photos of my beautiful patio arrangement – must have thought I am crazy being so enthusiastic about a view into an objectively probably rather average garden in my home town’s average suburbs, I did myself a favour on my tireless quest for happiness: I savoured the moment and multiplied it which every photo I sent as much as I could, while at the same time draining pressing negative thoughts.

According to Klein, if I take more deliberate actions like that, I will achieve my New Year’s Resolutions of creating more moments of happiness in my life. Since this is a major message of his book: Moments of happiness are not born out of a coincidence or occur because we inherited a lucky gene – if there are any such genes. Moments of happiness are the consequence of the right thought, mindset and action. We are able to form our brain the way that we experience more happiness since our brain can develop and change – even as an adult. Happiness is no fate that someone bestows on us. We can and have to proactively endeavour to seek, find, create it. That is how we achieve it, the book – and not only the book – tells us.

Happiness is not a gift of the gods

As a Practitioner of Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) I am familiar with these thoughts. In fact, that is probably one reason why Klein’s book resonates with me so strongly. Yes, he takes his readers on a journey to discover what neuroscientists, behavourial scientists, psychologists, doctors, researchers in all areas have found out while examining the pursuit and achieving of happiness scientifically. However, he lets science and research results touch base with teaching of ancient philosophers like Aristotle who was convinced that happiness is not a gift from the gods, but earned by someone who seizes his or her chances in an optimum way.

Klein, who has in the meantime written several equally interesting books, cites poets like Ovid, famous writers like Theodor Fontane or musicians like Richard Wagner and the Rolling Stones as well as politicians like Winston Churchill. He uses old sayings that are passed down from generation to generation, finds room for behavioural observations and comparisons of communities in the US and northern Europe to tribes in remote parts of the world, simply to show that the formulas for happiness are not necessarily completely new ones. Their application though might be different for everyone, since as much as we all are individuals, so is our idea of happiness.

The Quick Happiness Cheat Sheet

To me the formulas are so essential that in a time when everyone thinks about New Year’s Resolutions considering happiness as being one of them – or in fact the one and only – might be a very wise move. To make the decision and success even easier for you, here is a little cheat sheet to happiness based on Klein’s book, which should be read by each and everyone:

  1. Healthy body equals healthy mind. While being active we gently manipulate our neurons so that the brain releases the same chemicals that it releases when being happy. So be active, go for a walk, a run, a swim, kick that soccer ball or footy.
  2. Being active makes you happier than doing nothing, even if you think that contradicts your idea of a great holiday. Humans are meant to be active. You will find that you will be happier!
  3. Negative feelings like anger or grief do not vanish if you let them out. This is old school thinking. Acknowledge them, give them a name and move on. You will get your emotional balance back faster.
  4. Take control of your life. According to Klein this is a prerequisite for happiness and content. Being at someone’s mercy is one of the worst feelings you can have and has not only psychological but also physical consequences.
  5. Get to know yourself! Find out what makes you happy, then act upon it.
  6. Do it!
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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

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