Don't Worry, Be Happy

"In every life, there comes some trouble; when you worry you make it double. Don't worry, be happy!” Bobby McFerrin, 1988

Definition of Happiness: State of wellbeing characterized by emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy.

In essence, there is a distinct difference between the memory of happiness and the experience of happiness.

The memory of happiness equates to a sense of wellbeing, or being happy about your life.

The experience of happiness is being happy in your life.

Let's say you attended a beautiful symphony last night that you enjoyed immensely. However, at the end of the performance the PA system went haywire and there was a long, screeching, gut-wrenching, squeal that brought loud boos from the audience.

What would be your memory of this evening?

Did the squeal ruin your experience?

Most people would remember the squeal when recalling the evening; however, the squeal cannot take away from the wonderful experience that was enjoyed during the performance.

When I go back to visit my family and friends in Ohio, they often say, “I bet you\'re happy living in California!” obviously referring to the stark difference in the weather between the two states.

One might assume people are happier in California than in Ohio, but the truth is that people are not any happier in California. Both experience happiness, joy, and pain equally. Only when they think about the contrast between the climates do people perceive California folks as happier.

Memory is perception: the experience of happiness is in the now and is spiritual by nature.

“Perception always involves some misuse of the active mind.” A Course in Miracles


Measuring Happiness

Neuroscience can measure happiness by increased activity in the left prefrontal cortex in the brain. Neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin, GABA, norepinephrine, and acetylcholine are related to experiencing pleasure (temporary happiness). Active MRIs can register arousal in the reward circuits in the brain. The most primitive reward circuit is between the ventral tegmental area (VTA) and the nucleus accumbens.

The hormone cortisol can be measured in the blood and is released in unhealthy amounts when a person is under stress. Therefore, reduced levels of cortisol will be present when a person is happy.

Also, happiness has been measured by surveys. Of course, the wording of the survey can bring about different results.


Pleasure vs. Happiness

Pleasure is the state of feeling pleased or gratified. Our brains are wired to experience pleasure to ensure we repeat life-sustaining activities such as sex and eating. The same reward circuits for food and sex are activated with alcohol and drug use, and may be activated by gambling, shopping, and even anger and chaos.

Pleasure is a temporary experience with either positive or negative consequences.

Happiness carries a deep sense of fulfillment. Happiness is also the result of overcoming pain and adversity.

Once again, this is where contrast comes into play. A person who has had a near-death experience, recovered from a terminal disease, or has had a spiritual awakening as a result of life-changing experiences, will tend to appreciate the happiness associated with normal daily living more than other people.


Pain: The Price of Admission

“In every AA story, pain has been the price of admission into a new life. But this admission price purchased more than we expected. It led to a measure of humility, which we soon discovered to be the healer of pain. We began to fear pain less, and desire humility more than ever.” As I See It..., Bill W. and the Twelve and Twelve


Human Negative Bias

Freud stated, “The pursuit of happiness is doomed; the plan of creation doesn\'t include that man should be happy.”


·         People hate to lose more than they love to win.

·         There is no word in the English language for the happiness one person feels for another person’s good fortune. The Buddhist term for this mudita.

·         Marriage ratio: One negative comment requires five positive comments to balance it out.


How Ego Blocks Happiness

·         Ego uses the past to destroy present joy.

·         Ego cannot survive without judgment.

·         Ego lives by comparison (media, celebrities, athletes, education, family, religion).

·         Ego wants you miserable and then it wants you dead.

·         Ego seeks to divide and separate; Spirit seeks to unify and heal.


Hedonic Treadmill

This is a psychological phenomenon that equates to “the more you get, the more you want.” A major achievement of a life goal (or an expensive purchase) brings on a temporary burst of happiness that is quickly replaced with increased expectations of material desires. Overall happiness does not change.

Common areas of never having enough are: wealth, power, status, physique, attention, drugs, booze, sex, and plastic surgery.


On the Happier Side

Pascal said, “The pursuit of happiness is obligatory. Man wishes to be happy and only wishes to be happy and cannot wish not to be happy.”

He went on to say that what makes man happy is widely varied. Some men are happy avoiding war while others are happy creating war.


What Is the Source of Happiness in Human Beings?

Fifty percent of happiness is genetic, 10 percent is status, including wealth, job, and social status, while intentional behaviors are the source of the other 40 percent. Knowing that our thoughts and behaviors actually create new neural circuits in the brain, intentional self-enhancing thoughts and behaviors can, over time, rewire our brains so that we enjoy more happiness.

Certain activities are known for stimulating the brain’s sources for happiness. People are the happiest when they are:

·         in the flow, absorbed in a task such as physical activity (sports) and work they really enjoy

·         seeking variety and new adventures

·         focused on a loved one

·         discovering and learning

·         of course, engaged in sex

Ironically, people are least happy when they are looking in the mirror or when they are self-analyzing. This is different from the authentically good feelings one experiences by honest self-assessment and by journalizing one’s feelings.

People who are members of strict fundamentalist groups tend to not be happy. Also, with people who commute more than 45 minutes to work daily tend to feel less happy.


Extrinsic and Intrinsic Goals and Values

Extrinsic (external) goals include: money, image, and popularity. I associate these with memory happiness.

Intrinsic (internal) goals include: personal growth, relationships, and community. These I associate with the experience of happiness.

These are similar to value shifts with people whom survive a near-death experience, recovery from a terminal disease, or recovery from addiction. They also usually include the spiritual experience of belief in a divine intelligence, higher power, or God.


Money’s Role in Happiness

Over the last five decades, individual wealth has doubled in the USA, with no marketable increase in happiness.

A recent survey of more than 600,000 Americans indicates that money doesn\'t buy happiness; nevertheless poverty does correlate with misery.

Families with incomes of less than $60,000 annually tend to become more miserable with the less they make below that level. Families earning more than $60,000 – up to billions in annual income – all experience happiness on the same level.

When people equate their status and wealth to their happiness, it\'s only the remembering self, not the experiencing self, that undergoes the feeling of wellbeing.


Tips for Happiness

·         Live close to where you work.

·         Write or mentally review a daily gratitude list.

·         Take nothing personally.

·         Recognize you are not what you do for a living.

·         Recognize you are not your thoughts .

·         Challenge your beliefs and establish and review your personal values.

·         Take quiet time to pray and meditate.

·         Don’t take yourself too seriously – seriously!

·         Help others daily and be generous.

·         Smile - laugh – hug.

 “Now and then, it's good to pause from the pursuit of happiness and just BE happy.”~ Guillaume Apollinaire, 1880-1918

 “Happiness without reasons is real happiness – it is frequently referred to as bliss. This is a happiness that can never be taken away. Bliss is available in the now.” ~Deepak Chopra

 “My function is happiness. My happiness and function are one, because God has given me both.” ~A Course In Miracles, Anonymous

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