Are you happy?

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.unknown

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! 🙂

5 thoughts on “Are you happy?

  1. Trevor Richard Dennehy

    I think a common reason why people in college, especially early on, are unhappy is because they have not yet figured out what their niche is going to be in college. They haven’t found friends yet. Belongingness is a big part of happiness, as stated in this article. I felt very unhappy for a while when I was a freshman because I hadn’t found friends, I hadn’t found a sense of belonging.

  2. Beza Yoseph

    I like to think of myself as someone that is overall happy, to the point actually where my friends sometimes find it annoying. So reading your post was very interesting and had me thinking about how I personally reacted to some of the examples you brought up. When coming to Penn State, I also had a healthy nervous energy, but I am the person that always translates nervousness to excitement. It;s a process that I picked up from some of my family members, so I always take me being nervous and scared as the signal to go for whatever it is I am worried about. The chemicals that are running through my mind as these moments are taking place are definitely something I have not focused on, but now will probably think about after reading your blog! How does one actually measure happiness? Are these endorphins different between each person? Here’s an article that talks a little more about endorphins and the differences they may have from person to person!

  3. Olivia Anne Browne

    Great post, this is extremely relatable. As a sophomore, I already have my routine here. But last year, I was extremely home sick, overwhelmed, and stressed out. I decided to rush which didn’t help with these initial feelings for obvious reasons. After bid day I finally found my routine here, and its safe to say I was definitely happy. You make a lot of good points in your post ! Very interesting. I also really like the article that links the psychology around happiness. I think that ‘happiness is caused by experience’ is an amazing claim due to the fact that living life and enjoying new things in life (like transitioning to college) can make you happy!

    Heres an article on what really makes you happy; check it out!

  4. Zihan Wang

    hi, Hannah Marni Stern.
    I leave this comment for your topic that how can we generate happiness when we done. You mention several scientific ways to be positive such as do more experience to be familiar with new situation and own a optimistic outlook. For me, I agree with your second solution to become happiness because according to a reliable survey that people will affected well by virtual stimulation. Everyday when you wake up, your outlook will influence your whole day’s emotion and energy. If you don’t care external element for your emotion, and making your outlook dispirited, it’s impossible for you to own happiness.

  5. Pengji Wei

    Hi Hannah.
    Same with you, when I first come to Penn State, I was not sure how to find happiness in this environment. And I completely agree with you that happiness comes form experience. Also if we can not wait the happy experience, we need help ourselves to create one. I think these two sentences are completely true. Because if people does not feel happiness in the new environment, they need to fit in those new environment and create a happiness experience for ourselves. And I also believe if someone does not feel happiness in this new environment, and by the time, they will helps themselves create one. Because happiness is really important to us. And here is a link I found the relations between happiness and healthy.

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