We know that happiness is good for our health and well-being. In most ways, it is what keeps us motivated. And as life goes on we tend to search and find more reasons to be happy. But where exactly does our share of happiness come from?
Are we born with it?
Is it possible that happiness lies on every cell of your body? Well it is, and you can blame your neurotransmitters for that. Neurotransmitters are brain chemicals that pass information from a neuron to a cell. Simply put, it is your brain telling the rest of your body to be happy under certain circumstances. According to studies, high concentrations of norepinephrine – a type of neurotransmitter – leads to feelings of elation and euphoria. Studies also show that high levels of some neurotransmitters – specifically norepinephrine – can increase happiness while low levels of neropinephrine have been linked to feelings of depression.
The human brain has also been found to have a “reward system” which is a collection of brain structures that attempts to regulate and control behavior by inducing pleasurable effects. The “reward system” is actually a part of the brain’s limbic system which influences how we respond to the world around us. The limbic system is involved in many of our emotions and motivations, particularly those related to survival, such as fear and anger. The limbic system also regulates feelings of pleasure related to our survival, such as those experienced from eating and sex. The feelings of pleasure, which scientists call reward, are very powerful. If something is pleasurable or rewarding, you want to do it again. The feeling of pleasure then increases the levels of neurotransmitter neropinephrine and causes us to feel happy.
The functions of rewards are basically directed into the modification of behavior and positive emotions. Primary rewards include things that are necessary for survival such as food, water, shelter, and even sex. On the other hand, the value of the secondary rewards originates from the primary. These are money, music, pleasant touches, etc. Such rewards are physical and sensory however, their effects on us are entirely psychological. The more we feed our reward systems, the more we feel pleasure and obtain happiness.
Or is it learned?
In every mistake, hardship, or situation we face, there is always a tendency for us to gain something. But do you know that happiness is one of those things you can actually learn? When we have a problem, it is natural for our brains to work on coping with it and eventually, solving it. As a matter of fact, studies have shown that the applications of coping strategies or learned behaviors can improve a person’s mood. Successfully coping with a challenge increases the amount of norepinephrine released in the brain therefore causing happiness.
For instance, aerobic exercise – which is used as a coping strategy by many persons – can actually stimulate the output of norepinephrine by as much as four and one half times normal. Studies have compared athletes’ “runner’s high” to drugs wherein there is a “tolerance” effect and that a person’s body gets used to a certain level of the drug. In this case, norepinephrine serves as the drug and that the more a person tolerates in achieving happiness, his body works on increasing the said neurotransmitter.
Or maybe it’s in our consciousness…
Different situations in our lives can lead us into learning coping strategies and this can actually bring us happiness. Let’s say that we have found a solution that helped us solve a problem. We tend to keep this particular situation in mind so that the next time we face the same problem, we would know what to do. That’s when happiness comes into cognition.
Studies show that when people use coping strategies successfully, it can lead to feelings of pride and self-efficacy. These studies show that when people are experiencing feelings of pride and self-efficacy their bodies are also releasing a number of chemicals. Among the chemicals released is the neurotransmitter norepinephrine, which produces feelings of happiness.
In the long run, we tend to keep the coping strategies we learned because we know that they worked for us and actually produced happiness. It eventually becomes part of our consciousness and once you search for the same solution, your brain automatically ticks into these information.
Sure, we are always in the look-out for reasons and ways to be happy. However, we still stumble on a few rocky situations from time to time, robbing us of our happiness. But life does not stop there. Since we have already experienced and enjoyed being happy, problems should serve as the reason to move on and find happiness again. This is where hope and optimism come in. These two, like happiness, are great motivators for us to be healthier physically, mentally, and emotionally.
When we are deprived of happiness, there’s always this tendency for us to lure into a depressed state which is not bad after all. What’s important is that we try to find sense in the situation we are in and then work on finding solutions. Hope is what drives us to work hard to improve ourselves and produce good results. Optimism, on the other hand, causes us to look on the bright side of things and influences us to do our best so that we can expect good outcome.
Happiness, hope, and optimism are three different things but share a common denominator. They are all great motivators for us to enjoy life, endure our hardships, find solutions, and then enjoy again. In fact, being happy, hopeful, and optimistic does not stop within ourselves. In one way or another, we are able to share them to the people close to us by being with them, giving them advice, or by simply being a friend. If we impart these motivations to other people, then it’s a step to making the world a better place to live in, since we encourage them to find their own share of happiness.