"Happiness is an inside job."
Some days I can't help but wonder if Mr. Ward got it wrong when he wrote this quote. I mean, it doesn't often feel like happiness is something that we've got any control over, does it? In fact, most days it feels as though we're purely at the mercy of the guy who just cut us off, the boss who makes us crazy, or the lady talking loudly on her cell who's blocking the entire grocery aisle.
But we aren't really at the mercy of these infuriating folks; it just feels an awful lot like we are. Emotions — however pleasant or unpleasant — come from the presence of certain substances in our own brains that are triggered by our individual experiences and personal interactions.
And now this is the part where I pause to tell you that you shouldn't throw your hands up and say "See, it's biology! I don't control my happiness." On the contrary, we really do have the power to control our emotions . . . and it's easier than you think!
First, a bit about the chemistry of happiness — those wonderful feelings of bliss are caused primarily by four hormones and neurotransmitters. Here's a list along with the quick and dirty on what they do:
Endorphins — our bodies' built-in pain reliever
Dopamine — causes those squeals of delight when we achieve a goal
Oxytocin — makes us feel loved, supported and bonded with others
Serotonin — gives us feelings of significance and makes us easier to get along with
Each one of these fabulous compounds can be triggered — in other words, you can actually give yourself a little jolt from time to time by doing some really easy stuff.
That's right, friends — it's totally possible to create little pockets of happy throughout your day no matter what your circumstances. Here's how:
How to Be Happy
Feeling anxious or down? Get your butt in gear with a high-intensity workout or watch a funny movie to give yourself a healthy dose of laughter. These — in addition to the scent of lavender and a few bites of dark chocolate — have been shown to significantly increase endorphins.
Feeling unmotivated, unproductive or lacking confidence? Set some short-term, realistic and achievable goals for yourself, then celebrate the crap out of those little victories to give yourself a much-needed and well-deserved blast of dopamine — which BTW will most likely lead you to wanting to set bigger and more satisfying goals . . . and it's the gift that keeps on giving!
Feeling disconnected and unloved? Grab a hug from someone or better yet curl up with a loved one for some snuggling to trigger the release of oxytocin. Or perhaps you need a reason to treat yo'self to a massage? Do it! That prolonged physical contact can have the same effect.
Feeling lonely and in need of attention? Give yourself a boost by spending 20 minutes outside just soaking up the sun or go for an easy run to promote serotonin production. Another option, take a minute to think about something that you're grateful for and recall the significance of that person or thing in your life — happy memories are a great way to trigger these feel-good chemicals.
So the next time everything sucks and you're having a hard time seeing a silver lining, give one of these simple tricks a go and see what happens. You could even get proactive with it and just decide to do one every morning to get your day started off on a happier note.
And even if you're still super-skeptical, try it anyway because what's so bad about snuggling, laughing, eating chocolate, and celebrating?