To Be Happy: Reality or Utopia?

BY - Francesca Morelli
ILLUSTRATION BY - Sergio Membrillas

The most recent research has assessed whether happiness is partly genetic or partly correlated to personal behavior. The experts suggest some good rules to do one’s best to attain happiness and a positive state of mind.

Illustration by Sergio Membrillas, Valencia, Spain

To define happiness is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. The concept according to culture, state of mind and sometimes also faith is worthy of a variety of nuances. If you ask people the meaning of happiness or what makes them happy, you are likely to get a very wide range of responses, varying from “watching the sunset” or “spending time with good friends” to “finding a great shoe sale” or “winning the office football pool”, “attaining an objective”, or “realizing a dream”. Making an effort to narrow the definition of happiness, the most recent researches are trying to devise a series of questionnaires to measure life satisfaction, positive mood and subjective well-being. Some scientists are even beginning to use brain imaging to better understand the physiology of happiness and economists have jumped on the happiness bandwagon too, hoping to calculate the value of happiness within a sociopolitical context. The results of these studies are, somehow, surprising.

THE ORIGIN OF HAPPINESS

The discovery is recent, but it seems that happiness is partly due to genes, meaning that our level of happiness is not entirely predetermined by our “atoms”, but they do play a part, just as they play a part in general health. The links between the two aspects seem to be very strict: people “genetically” happy tend to focus their energy on things that give them the greatest instants of pleasure, which has implications even for health and state of mind. Happy people have in fact, say the experts, younger hearts, younger arteries and a younger age. “Certain personal attributes,” declare the researchers, “whether inborn or shaped by positive life circumstances, help some people avoid or healthfully manage even important diseases such as heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, and depression. They also recover more quickly from surgery, cope better with pain, have lower blood pressure, and have longer life expectancy than unhappy people.” How do we attain happiness? First of all, by focusing on the positive and emotional vitality such as a sense of enthusiasm, hopefulness and engagement; by having an optimistic perspective that good things will happen and that one’s actions account for the good things that occur in life, and also by having a supportive network of family and friends. “But is it also important,” say the specialists, “to be good at self-regulation,” that is, bouncing back from stressful challenges and knowing that things will eventually look up again.

LIFESTYLE

A good state of mind, then, also correlates to a correct and moderate lifestyle. “Be your healthiest and happiest by eating a balanced diet with lots of fruit and veggies, keeping stress levels to a minimum, getting regular check-ups, wearing sunscreens, laughing often, moderating alcohol intake, getting plenty of exercise, and not smoking. These attitudes, and in particular physical exercise, not only help keep you healthy but also keep you happy. Moderate exercise offers the biggest boost in happiness.” And if you think you may be living with a mood disorder, get it treated. Appropriate treatment can help reduce your symptoms, increase your sense of well-being, and get you back on track to a happy life.

SOCIAL SIDE UP

Don’t forget that developing the social side of your life is crucial for well-being. Studies show that people who are socially active, who are compassionate and emotionally generous, have higher levels of happiness and live longer than people who lead a more solitary life. “People who maintain good personal relationshipsconclude the researchers – also fare better than people who are socially inactive. Open, trusting, intimate relationships are essential building blocks for a happy life.” So, we need to do our best to attain our happiness: maybe it is not a utopian ideal.

Published in the hard-copy of Work Style Magazine, Spring 2014