Happiness: a skill you can learn
Western neuroscience has now confirmed what Eastern wisdom has known for a long time: happiness is a skill we can learn.
Research shows that happiness, compassion and kindness are the products of skills that can be learned and enhanced through training, thanks to the neuroplasticity of our brains.
Our happiness is not set in stone
Although our genes influence about 50% of the variation in our personal happiness, our circumstances (like income and environment) affect only about 10%.
As much as 40% is accounted for by our daily activities and the conscious choices we make. So the good news is that our actions really can make a difference.
Giving is good for you
When we give to others it activates the areas of the brain associated with pleasure, social connection and trust.
Altruistic behaviour releases endorphins in the brain and boosts happiness for us as well as the people we help. Studies have shown that giving money away tends to make people happier than spending it on themselves.
Mindfulness changes your brain
Recent research has shown that an 8 week mindfulness meditation class can lead to structural brain changes including increased grey-matter density in the hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory, and in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion and introspection.
Happiness is good for your heart
Harvard School of Public Health examined 200 separate research
studies on psychological wellbeing and cardiovascular health.
Optimism and positive emotion were found to provide protection against cardiovascular disease, to slow progression of heart disease and reduce risk, by around 50%, of experiencing a cardiovascular event, such as a heart attack.
Together we're stronger
Having a network of social connections or high levels of social support has been shown to increase our immunity to infection, lower our risk of heart disease and reduce mental decline as we get older.
Not having close personal ties has been shown to pose significant risks for our health.
Happiness is contagious
Our happiness influences the people we know and the people they know.
Research shows that the happiness of a close contact increases the chance of being happy by 15%. The happiness of a 2nd-degree contact (e.g. friend's spouse) increases it by 10% and the happiness of a 3rd-degree contact (e.g. friend of a friend of a friend) by 6%.
Optimism helps us achieve our goals
Research shows that people who are optimistic tend to be happier, healthier and cope better in tough times.
"Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined"
- Henry David Thoreau
Positive emotions make us more resilient
Our emotions affect our long term well-being. Research shows that experiencing positive emotions in a 3-to-1 ratio with negative ones leads to a tipping point beyond which we naturally become more resilient to adversity and better able to achieve things.
Happier people live longer
Happiness doesn't just feel good. A review of hundreds of studies has found compelling evidence that happier people have better overall health and live longer than their less happy peers.
Anxiety, depression, pessimism and a lack of enjoyment of daily activities have all been found to be associated with higher rates of disease and shorter lifespans
Happiness leads to success
Most people think that if they become successful, then they'll be happy. But recent discoveries in psychology and neuroscience show that this formula is backward: Happiness fuels success, not the other way around.
When we're positive, our brains are more motivated, engaged, creative, energetic, resilient, and productive.