This week I’m going to take a deeper look at some of the primary emotions and how they serve us.
Happiness – the natural motivator
Happiness or enjoyment is maybe the most positive of all the emotions we experience. It tends to be triggered when we gain something of value to us, or when we avoid or overcome a negative situation. It’s a strong motivator that functions as a reward for behaviour that benefits us and encourages us to repeat it so we can experience happiness again.
Happiness ranges in intensity, and covers everything from peace, playfulness and pride, to wonder, gratitude and ecstasy.
A signal of gain
Just as sadness is usually triggered by a loss, happiness is typically triggered by a gain. This can be from a wide variety of sources including achieving your own goals or seeing those you care about achieve their goals; feeling connection – to nature, a cause, something spiritual, a special place, others, and even yourself; witnessing something funny or kind or compassionate – or taking part in this; and experiencing something amazing or beautiful. It’s often triggered by one of your senses: sight, smell, taste, sound and touch).
When someone experiences the emotion of happiness, they typically have a happy or contented expression / posture: narrowed eyes and laughter wrinkles, raised cheeks and a smiling mouth. Their body might be upright and chest open, or relaxed. They may sigh with contentment or squeal with joy, laugh or shout excitedly. Internally they may feel light, energetic, buzzing or tingling, warm or grounded. Physically happiness triggers an increase in heart rate and a better breathing rate, while the brain releases more endorphins and dopamine.
Happiness helps us thrive
Happiness serves us by rewarding us for doing something that is beneficial to us so that we continue to gain resources that help us flourish. Socially it also signals friendliness and reassures that we are not a threat to others. Research suggests that the pursuit of happiness is a primary motivation in our lives.
Unsurprisingly, happiness is an emotion we are usually happy to notice and accept. At these times it can be helpful to embrace it with a joyful and playful heart. Notice and celebrate this moment. Pay attention to how you can replicate this for yourself – and for others.
Sometimes happiness is not as pure and simple as this. It might be that happiness is traveling with some other emotions such as guilt, or shame, or fear. Although we enjoyed the experience, we might feel guilty for enjoying the last slice of cake because we know our partner was planning to have it for lunch tomorrow! Or our excitement in riding a new rollercoaster might be tinged with the fear that something could go wrong or be faulty.
In these cases its helpful to explore and notice all the different emotions that popping up for you. Recognise and observe with curiosity – no need to react. These messages from your brain are connected to your values, and once you’ve heard their message, you can choose to respond based on what’s in line with your values: An apology note to your partner with an IOU for another slice of cake perhaps!
Happiness has great benefits for our physical health. It’s likely to encourage us to choose a healthier lifestyle, boosts our immune system and combat stress. It may even help you live longer!
6 tips to be happier
Some scientifically-backed tips for becoming happier:
🧡 Be thankful: a gratitude practice can promote feelings of satisfaction and happiness. End each day by writing down three things you’re thankful for.
🧡 Get some sleep: people who are better rested tend to feel happier than those suffering from lack of sleep. Use an app like Balance or Calm to promote better sleep / winddown.
🧡 Eat healthier: studies show that the more fruit and vegetables you eat, the happier you feel – and that’s great for your long-term physical health too. Use a habit tracker to monitor your five-a-day+ intake.
🧡 Meditate: regular mindful meditation helps combat stress and boost happiness. Join an online meditation group or use an app to meditate daily.
🧡 Get outside: go out for a walk or do some gardening to feel happier. It only takes 15 minutes in nature to significantly improve your mood.
🧡 Work out: raise your heart rate to boost your mood. A brisk walk or a quick HIIT workout will increase your physical fitness and make you happier.
🧡 Daily Practice : Philanthropy
Leave a positive note in a public place.