Yes, modern civilization has brought us enormous benefits, but it has driven us to live technology dependent, consumption-focused, unhealthy lives. Most of us live walled indoors, divorced from nature, and under artificial lighting. We drive rather than walk, consume large amounts of unhealthy food, live busy—even frantic—lives, and face new kinds of stress. We live among millions of people and may see more people in a single day than our ancestors saw in a lifetime. Yet, ironically, though we walk through crowds and fight our way through traffic jams, we can easily feel isolated and alone. Clearly modern civilization’s benefits have also made our lives more considerably difficult.
So, with all that noise in our accelerated, hectic lives, how are we supposed to find a sense of accomplishment in our pursuit of happiness? Well, first we must answer 4 key fundamental questions: what is happiness? Where can I find it? What should I do to obtain it? And, how should I actually do it?
The Science Of Happiness
Let’s try to answer these questions by going over some studies.
1. What is Happiness?
According to Berkeley University’s study called What is the Science of Happiness researchers think of happiness as having satisfaction and meaning in our lives. It’s the propensity to feel positive emotions, the capacity to recover from negative emotions quickly, and holding a sense of purpose. Happiness is not having a lot of privilege or money. It’s not constant pleasure. It’s a broader thing: Our ability to connect with others, to have meaningful relationships, to have a community. Time and again, across decades of research and throughout different studies, people who say they’re happy have strong connections with their communities and to other people. That’s sort of the recipe for happiness.
2. Where can we find happiness?
In this article from Forbes “The Secret Of Happiness Revealed By Harvard Study” George Bradt suggests that happiness comes from a blend of three goods: 1. Doing good for others, 2. Doing things you are good at, and 3. Doing good for your own self.
- Good for others:
- Cherish your most important relationships.
- Be a contribution.
- Good at it:
- Do more of what you’re good at and less of what you’re not so good at.
- Good for me:
- Take care of yourself, your health and well-being, your financial security, and your work/life balance.
And the 2015 survey suggests that you might be happier if you: Choose to be happy with whatever you do, strengthen your closest relationships, and take care of yourself physically, financially and emotionally.
On the other hand, while several studies have examined the effect of income on happiness, Elizabeth W. Dunn (University of British Columbia), Lara B. Aknin (University of British Columbia) and Michael I. Norton (Harvard Business School) suggest that how you spend your money may be at least as important as how much money you earn. Specifically, they hypothesized that spending money on other people may have a more positive impact on happiness than spending money on yourself. Providing converging evidence for this hypothesis, they found that spending more of your income on others predicted greater happiness both cross-sectionally (in a nationally representative survey study) and longitudinally (in a field study of windfall spending). Finally, participants who were randomly assigned to spend money on others experienced greater happiness than those assigned to spend money on themselves. So after their study they concluded that Spending Money on Others Promotes Happiness.
3. How to be happy?
From a clinical point of view, Dr. Roger Walsh, Australian professor of Psychiatry, Philosophy and Anthropology at the University of California, Irvine College of Medicine, in his article Lifestyle and Mental Health, points out that there are 8 major elements that we should change in our lives to achieve happy and healthy lifestyles.
We’ve known for some time about the many ways in which contemporary lifestyles can harm our physical health. About a quarter of the world’s population will suffer some kind of mental health disorder during their lifetime. Some disorders, such as depression and Alzheimer’s, are increasing significantly, and exacting an enormous (and increasing) individual, social, and economic cost. Mental health disorders and wellbeing are often intimately linked to lifestyle choices.
Healthy lifestyles can reduce psychological symptoms and suffering, such as, feelings of anxiety and depression, agitation, and anger, trouble concentrating, as well as low energy and poor self-esteem. These therapeutic effects are why healthy lifestyles are called “Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes” or “TLCs.”
But making healthy lifestyle choices can do more than just relieve symptoms. You don’t have to feel bad to feel better. In fact, healthy ways of living can make you emotionally happier, mentally clearer, intellectually sharper, and energetically give you more get up and go as well as the stamina to keep going.
So what lifestyle changes warrant consideration? According to Dr. Walsh considerable research and clinical evidence support the following 8 TLCs: exercise, nutrition and diet, time in nature, relationships, recreation and enjoyable activities, relaxation and stress management, religious and spiritual involvement, and contribution and service to others.
1. Exercise – this is very valuable ingredient of whole paradigm shift. When we do any type of physical activity our bodies produce adrenaline and dopamine and send them straight to our bloodstream, which help the body respond to stress or fright. After exercising we feel fulfilled and tired at the same time. On the next day we might be sore but rebuilding muscles process is good for fat burning as well as muscles increase.
2. Nutrition and Diet – “You are what You eat” – this is the best phrase to make you think about what you put into your mouth. Food should be a building material for our body. We should eat more green leafs mixed with almost every meal. Let’s make the best meals for our body: salads with raw and unprocessed veggies, nuts!, sprouts, avocado, mango. Drink water! Get fresh stuff from your local farmer’s market. Do the right research; all kind of stuff about nutrition is online (Ex. http://foodmatters.tv/)
3. Time in Nature – Spend time in nature! Catch the sun, don’t be afraid of the rain, and listen to the sounds of nature. Go to a seaside, walk through the mountains, and explore urban locations as well. Lie down on the grass and just try to sync yourself with our planet.
4. Relationships – If you can have a great relationship with someone who you really love it should have a powerful impact on your happiness, wellness, health, and also on relationships with other people
5. Recreation and Enjoyable Activities – Like Pharrell Williams sings in his “Happy” song: “Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof”. Smile and be positive. Be happy of what you have and what’s more important: be grateful! Stay thoroughly creative.
6. Relaxation and Stress Management – Try to figure out what makes you happy in terms of activities during your spare time. Paint, sing, compose, dance, run, create, read, swim, etc. Do anything as a hobby; develop your inner balance between work life and free time. Holidays are not the only way to stay positive and relaxed during the year. Every single day can be a relaxation day!
7. Religious and Spiritual Involvement – Meditate, do Yoga as a spiritual form of connecting your mind and body. If you like to be a part of any religion do it. If you feel that religion is not for you, try to find your own path in a spiritual matter. This is very important because our inner energy flows also from our thoughts and beliefs. Study spiritual leader’s knowledge and try to understand the world by your own!
8. Contribution and Service to Others – Be polite and help others. You are not doing things just for yourself on this planet. You also have to share with a society as a volunteer or just as a human being. Write a blog, share some knowledge, and give tips.
4. How to implement all these changes in order to be happy?
Implementing the plan is probably the most difficult part and at the same time the most crucial one, if we are eager to see positive results of the changes we plan to make.
Dr. Walsh at the end of his article mentioned that a wide-scale adoption of TLCs will likely require wide-scale interventions that encompass educational, mental health, and public health systems. Political interventions may also be necessary, for example, to reduce children’s exposure to media violence and unhealthy food advertising. Of course, these are major requirements. However, given the enormous mental, physical, social, and economic costs of contemporary lifestyles, such interventions may be essential. In the 21st century, therapeutic lifestyles may need to be a central focus of mental, medical, and public health.
As an illustration of the need of a wide-scale intervention in the educational system, in his TED talk at the University of Nevada (Hackschooling makes me happy), 13 year-old Logan LaPlante shared with his audience that he wants to be happy and healthy when he grows up. Basically he discussed how hacking his education is helping him achieve this goal since the actual education system does not provide means to achieve it.
As adults we often forget that life is made up of little things. What about if, instead of waiting for a wide-scale intervention to the different systems in society and to plan a complex transformational change project for our lifestyle, we begin by changing our attitude and behavior, make a simple plan and focus in little things to implement it – gratitude from the heart, a smile, helping somebody in need, holding the door open as a matter of courtesy for the person behind you. Why do we forget that in these trivial acts of kindness are the seeds of joy that we need?
The key to happiness lies on our ability to change our lifestyles through a small personal plan including the 8 TLCs and then implement it by doing the little things that matter in life.
Happiness comes from having satisfaction and meaning in our lives. It comes from a blend of doing good for others, doing the things that we are good at and from doing good for ourselves. We must work on our ability to connect with others, to have meaningful relationships and to be a productive part of our community.