Wednesday was the international day of happiness. I have to admit that I was not aware of that day so far. However I was already familiar with the search for happiness. A bold venture for everybody, I guess. Not only Mr. Rossi (known from the animated cartoon series of the same name) tried to succeed in finding it, failed sometimes and made finally a philosophy of life out of it. On the occasion of this special day the TU Brunswieck organized a lecture, titled “happiness can be learned”. I thought: “Oooh, sounds like the formula of happiness to me. Let’s go there.” My first impression: A lot of people seem to be in search of happiness – the lecture hall was packed! My conclusion of the evening has two respects. The good news is: Yes, it is possible to learn happiness. The bad news is: It is up to you and you have to work on it!
The lecturer Tobias Rahm, in his capacity as happiness researcher with a part-time job at the university and almost postdoctoral, conducts us through the two-hour-show in a very sympathetic and informative manner. Right at the beginning he asks the following simple question: “What is happiness?” From the answers of the audience it becomes apparent that happiness is something that lies in the eye of the beholder. Answers like “health”, “to experience nice things” or simply “to satisfy one’s needs” make that clear. Happiness is a subjective well-being according to a scientific definition.
The formula of happiness
This definition can be more specified by three sentences. Happiness means the frequent experiencing of positive emotions and the rare experiencing of negative emotions combined with a high self-contentment. Is that already the formula of happiness?
Well, dear reader, if you have already reached the state of non-wanting, i.e. you are perfectly happy already, stop reading now and enjoy your perfect life. To all the rest of us: I can tell you this much, get down to work, now!
Let’s get started with the question what negative emotions are good for anyway. Well, originally (when we used to be hunters and gatherers) negative emotions were meant to protect us from harm, to put our body on alert, in order to run for our lives in case of a saber-toothed tiger attack. If we succeeded in that we might have witnessed a rush of positive feelings in our body. It is because something worked out better than expected. Our hub of happiness in our brains is activated, the dopamine concentration in our body rises.
Oxytocin, the miracle drug
That’s a good start as these positive feelings lead to a higher production of oxytocin resulting in a higher self-contentment. A real gasser, isn’t it? Let’s concentrate a little bit on the peptide “Oxytocin”. In what kind of situation is this substance being produced in our bodies? For example, in case of skin contact, upon forging close links to others, in solid relationships, in the state of enamouredness or upon the successful signing of an agreement. Altogether, that’s my assumption, in very comfortable situations. The result of this production is a well-being, inner satisfaction, stress reduction and dissolve of fear.
I think to myself: Wow, what a miracle drug! I want to get to know more about it. Searching for oxytocin on the internet I find more information right away. Well, the stuff is really good and also a little bit crazy. Scientists claim that oxytocin make guinea pigs in love forget their feedlot.
Finally: A nasal spray contra infidelity
The best is yet to come: Ladies, pay attention! Oxytocin as a nasal spray for your husband or boyfriend is said to keep him from infidelity. Scientists claim that the hormones produced activate the rewarding system in your guy’s head when he sees you. By that, both the relationship between him and you and monogamous behavior is strengthened. Plus, your man will find other women less attractive than you! That’s quite something, isn’t it. Well, I guess that makes it clear what to give him for birthday, Christmas, Easter and all the other events!
Balance of life
Not only in book keeping a balance is drawn from time to time. No, also in your own life the comparison between the desired and actual life situation plays a substantial role for your self-contentment. I therefore determine my well-being by comparing situations with each other and draw my conclusion from the result which I can either rate positive or negative. For example: I could imagine for myself a real big, good-looking and tough guy as a husband and might have ended up with a short, brown-haired henpecked husband instead. Is that good or bad for me? Well, that’s up to me.
No matter what my decision is like, it is never too late to change my situation. But how? It is quite simple: According to Fredrikson, who researched the mechanism of positive psychology, I only need a self-reinforcing upward-spiral (Broaden-and-Build-Theory, 1998). A what?
The good three things
Well, in other words, there are four approaches with the help of which I can increase my well-being:
- Change of perception (negativity bias)
- Change of appraisal
- Change of habits
- Learn new behaviours
It sounds simpler than it is. Because everybody who has ever SERIOUSLY tried to change his habits substantially knows what I am talking about. But once again, Rahm reassures his audience. With a little bit of discipline and with the help of a simple daily exercise it might be possible to get into positive thinking within a week. The exercise is called “the good three things” and goes like this:
“Write down every evening three things that went well that day. Then, write down what your contribution on that.”
For the reason that Mr. Rahm is a nice guy and he wants us all to be happy he placed a little exercise book at our disposal on his website (LINK). That’s the way to become a darling of fortune.
To cut a happy story short, here comes an Indian piece of wisdom: the tale of two wolves.
According to Indian doctrine two wolves are fighting against each other within man. One of them symbols negativity and represents all negative characteristics. The other is positivity and embodies all positive characteristics. Well, my dear reader, what do you think, who is going to win? Quite simple: the one you feed. Just like the German saying: Man forges his own destiny. So, can you forge yours?