The Neuroscience of Happiness
Happiness is not a Hammock
Your relationship works well or you are a happy single. You are healthy and your financial situation allows for a comfortable life. Even your friendships and relationship with family members are generally positive and just like you´d wish for.
Life is great.
But still you are not fully satisfied. Something is eating you up. You are cranky. Maybe you are snappish and easily annoyed. And you have no idea why you would feel that way.
Many people feel like that. They have the feeling that they arrived where they wanted to. They found their hammock and could swing happily in it and enjoy life.
If it were not for the growing discontent. And you have no idea where the latent dissatisfaction is coming from.
- Did I do something wrong?
- Was my decision at this or that point wrong?
- Should I have taken another job?
- Was it good that I went to rehab?
- Was my wife/husband really the right choice?
Maybe something about our life is not as great as we thought. Maybe we chased dreams that were not really our dreams. Or maybe we made decisions that did not really suit us. Simply because we did what others expected from us.
Often this discontent has a different and very simple reason. That reason resides between our ears. In our brain.
Happiness is dynamic
A mechanism in our brain leads to the feeling of happiness, satisfaction and comfort. And this mechanism is dynamic. That means that it is in constant action and needs animation. Standstill, stagnation over time makes what we feel as happiness evaporate.
Our feeling of happiness needs to be challenged time and time again.
Happiness does not work like a hammock we can rest in once we arrived. We cannot chill in our hammock and swing happily ever after.
Happiness requires us to occasionally get off the hammock and seek new adventures. New impulses.
What happens in the brain?
The endogenous drug cocktail
The mechanism that can time and again generate the feeling of happiness is linked to our motivational- and gratification system.
That is an area in our brain that has a strong impact on our wellbeing and happiness. If we have positive expectations it creates positive feelings. In example if you look forward to a vacation or a new computer game. Or if you expect to receive a bonus for overachieving your goals. In these and similar situations, we expect for something positive to happen.
Whenever that is the case the central part of our gratification system increases the production of dopamine, endorphin and some endogenous opiates. That are the substances responsible for our feeling of happiness.
Dopamine not only makes us feel happy, but it also triggers our brain to get us what we want. When we finally play the new computer game, enjoy our vacation, cash in the bonus, the production of these happy substances and the feeling of happiness get even more intensive.
The Key to Happiness
To be happy we first of all have to expect for something positive to happen. We need a thirst for great things.
We have to work to achieve what we desire. Sometimes harder than other times. THEN we feel completely happy.
If we just want to keep the status quo and chill in our hammock it will not work. Because normally we do not face challenges and new impulses that could boost and stimulate our happy feelings there.
For this reason: If your life does not feel great from time to time, even though you have everything you wished for – look for a new challenge. It can be small things. A new hobby or workout. Meeting new people – adventures can be found at every corner.
Last but not least let me share my three biggest happiness enablers with you:
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