I have thought a lot about happiness during my transition to Penn State. When I first arrived, I felt a complicated mixture of feelings that eventually led me to an overwhelming standstill. I wasn’t sure how to find happiness in a new environment, as I was interacting with new people, new places, and new experiences. I am a generally happy and positive person, so when the perception of my own happiness was jumbled and unclear, I started to critically question myself. What makes someone happy? What creates the variance in happiness from one person to another? How can someone create or force happiness?
Luckily, I’m not alone in my curiosity about the science of happiness. As scientists traditionally focus on advancing their understanding of depression and anxiety, the field of “positive psychology” is rapidly emerging. In this article, I found that a critical chemical in understanding the cause of happiness is endorphins, which specialize in stress relief. Endorphins possess the unique ability to act as calming messengers. Passing through neurons, they chemically channel parts of the brain that generate pleasure in order to mitigate pain. There are also many other chemicals that trigger positive emotions, which can be found here.
If we all have the same chemicals in our brains, why aren’t we all happy? In this Harvard Business Review article, Daniel Gilbert, an expert in positive psychology, explains this concept extremely well. He declares that happiness comes from experiences, yet everyone is in different places in experiencing their life. For instance, many people believe that getting married will make them happy for the rest of their life, but Gilbert argues that humans are relatively bad at predicting such occurrences. When experiences cause a peak in our happiness, many people overestimate the time until the peak starts to decline. Furthermore, because we are all at different places on our climbs up and down the mountain of happiness, it is evident that happiness is extremely subjective from person to person.
So, if you are someone who is currently tumbling downwards to the bottom of your happy hill, how can science be the answer to stopping this negative momentum? According to Gilbert, it is time for you to stop waiting for happy experiences and start making them for yourself. This is called “synthetic” or “artificial” happiness which is perfectly normal and worthwhile. Although it’s easier said than done, Gilbert advocates that there is always an outlet for people to create their own happiness that can feel just as good as natural happiness. Furthermore, this Happify article explains the concept of hedonic adaption, or the human tendency to acclimate to the good and bad circumstances of their life. In turn, making it easier to create synthetic happiness for oneself due to the greater understanding that comes naturally with time. More specifically, this article outlines seven ways to produce happiness, including everything from nurturing loving relationships to putting more effort into exercise. It also stresses the importance of finding “flow,” or a hobby/task that offers steady enjoyment, sufficient challenge, and self-educating takeaways. Most importantly, an optimistic outlook on life is a major key to happiness. Optimism is at the core of every cliche you have heard in terms of beng happy, specifically in the form of gratitude. There is reason behind this. People with more optimistic outlooks on life will overall be happier due to their strong belief that such negative feelings and occurrences will soon be alleviated in time.
If all of this is too much for you, you can check out this infographic, a much more straightforward instructional tool on how to find happiness! 🙂