back to blog

the health cocktail: what is happiness?

June 24, 2016

Happiness is currently becoming the new buzzword in mental health circles, but have you ever wondered what actually is happiness? So have we…

So positive thinking, well-being, mindfulness and now happiness, it seems that as a society we are becoming more aware of our mental health. Happiness, however, is very hard to define and it’s impossible to interpret it to everyone’s satisfaction. Some see it as success, money, fame or social media approval (more likes), others view a fulfilling life through voluntary work, family time or work recognition. This is because the stimulus for happiness is subjective, and what works for one doesn’t work for all, this makes if difficult to define.

measuring happiness

Being difficult to define doesn’t mean it can’t be measured, and over the past 10 years the science of happiness has gained a fair bit of attention. This is due to studies showing that modern living is actually depressing, from our attention spans shortening due to technology and comparisons of social media lives to the constant stream of negative new stories beamed to us.

Since the times of the Ancient Greeks and Aristotle happiness was thought to have a least two aspects; hedonia (pleasure) and eudaimonia (a life well lived). However contemporary psychology is evolved into positive psychology, thanks to the father of positive psychology, Dr Martin Seligman, he has researched and defined a new element to happiness. The new component to happiness is engagement, referring to friends, family and work, so using this component along with hedonia and eudaimonia a scientific term has been defined for happiness and called Subjective Well-being (SWB). This defines a person’s cognitive and emotional evaluations on life, using honest self evaluations happiness is measured using a combination of life satisfaction and feelings of fulfillment.

the science

The stimulus of happiness is located in the hippocampus (haha hippo…) and this part of the brain is also responsible for positive memories. Once the hippocampus has been stimulated Serotonin and Dopamine, which are neurotransmitters and are released, these chemicals are the warm and fuzzy feelings you get when you’re happy. Serotonin helps to regulate appetite, sleep, mood and a few other key emotional states too. Dopamine is responsible for movement and emotional responses, as well as the very important reward and pleasure centres of the brain.

a few statistics

Okay so you’ve had a loose definition while understanding happiness is subjective, so here a few interesting statistics about happiness you may not have known before;

  • Sleep deprived people remember up to 81% of negative words, as apposed to only 31% of positive words
  • Married people are 10% happier than unmarried people (probably due to the everyday engagement they have)
  • Having children decreases happiness by 0.24% (due to extra worry and concern for their well-being and future)
  • 94% of the people in Iceland are happy (not the shop, the country…)
  • Happiness is good for your health; happy people get less sick and generally live longer.

But one of the most important stats is Dr Martin Seligman’s analysis of happiness. He says that happiness is roughly 50% genetics, 10% life circumstance and the remaining 40% depends on your daily activities. This means 40% of happiness is in your control and depends on what you do to make yourself happy.

And always remember, take a breath, keeping moving forward and always be kind to yourself.

back to blog