Well-being and Life Satisfaction: A Scientific Look at Happiness

Think back to a moment in time when you felt happy.  What did that look like for you?  What did it feel like?  Did you feel joy, gratitude, worthiness, or pride?  Were you by yourself, or with others?  Were you at home, or travelling?  Were you experiencing something exciting, or something calming?  Happiness is an interesting concept – especially because it can look so different for each person!  People may be happy within a certain moment, but people also generally have a certain level of overall happiness.  What contributes to happiness in one person may be very different in another person, but we know what you’re thinking – there must be some common component of happiness that humans experience.  Well you’re right!  Happiness can generally be associated with a sense of well-being, which involves feelings of pleasure, having a life well-lived, and engaging or participating in life (Kringelbach and Berridge, 2010).  In addition, happiness may involve contributing factors which are explored further below.


The Science of Happiness  

Happiness is something that has been studied in the field of Positive Psychology, and the research continues to grow (Carr, 2011).  It seems that happiness is made up of various components, as noted above, and can be looked at more specifically in terms of causal factors.  The causal factors that have been noted to play a large role in happiness levels are genetics/personality traits, circumstances/environment, and intentional activities (Carr, 2011).  In his book on Positive Psychology and Happiness, Alan Carr describes these three components in more detail.  Personality traits and genetics play a role in happiness in that certain personality traits are linked with higher levels of happiness, and genetics plays a role in personality traits that one develops (Carr, 2011).  The life circumstances that someone experiences may also play a role in their overall happiness levels.  If someone is consistently exposed to negative life events, and does not have the positive life events to balance these situations (see our previous blog post on Balancing the Positive and Negative: a Look at Significant Life Events) then one might feel less happy than someone who has this balance.  Finally, intentional activities refer to the activities that a person seeks out that contribute to his/her well-being.  For example, playing an active role in deciding which activities you choose to seek out and engage in allows you to enhance your well-being and overall levels of happiness.   In addition to these factors, happiness is also being explored from a neuroanatomical standpoint, where researchers have identified a few areas of the brain involved in pleasure (Kringelbach and Berridge, 2010).  Although further research is required to take the current research one step farther from capturing feelings of pleasure to capturing brain areas involved in overall happiness, the research and future of this research is very intriguing!


Based on the information discussed above, you may have determined that happiness is not an easy concept to define, and that many factors may play a role.  We’ve put together some ideas for you on how you can enhance your levels of happiness, utilizing the factors we discussed above.

Focus on your well-beingDo you feel that you’re spending enough energy focusing on your own well-being?  This is something that can get pushed aside during busy times, but it’s one of the most important things we can do for ourselves.  Place a high importance on your well-being and take steps to ensuring that you’re doing all that you can for yourself!  Focus on things like your self-care routine, taking time out of each day for yourself, taking care of your health/mental health, surrounding yourself with positive things, making enough time for proper sleep, meals, and hygiene.  All of these can ensure that you’re focusing on your overall well-being, and overall happiness.

Take an active role in your decisions – Having a sense of autonomy over your life decisions can make us feel more confident and satisfied.  Think about what is important to you in life, and make sure you’re incorporating activities and decisions that fit with this.  For example, let yourself choose your own career path, exercise journey, and self-care routine.  Do what makes the most sense for you, and engage in activities that will help you accomplish your goals.

Enjoy the pleasures of daily life – Remember that life is full of simple pleasures, often that are encountered each day.  It may not always be something obvious, but if you focus on paying attention to the daily pleasures that arise, you may find yourself feeling happier overall.  This can be linked with gratitude, which is discussed further in our blog post, The Gift of Giving: A Scientific Look at Paying-it-Forward.

We hope you’ve learned something new today regarding your own happiness, what might be contributing to your individual happiness, and how you might enhance your levels of happiness.  Remember “happiness is not something you postpone for the future; it is something you design for the present” – Jim Rohn.

Live with ease,

Carolyn and Steph


References

Kringelbach, M. L., Berridge, K. C. (2010). The neuroscience of happiness and pleasure.  Social Research. 77 (2). 659-678.

Carr, A. (2011). Positive psychology the science of happiness and human strengths. Routledge. Second edition.  Retrieved from: https://books.google.ca/books?hl=en&lr=&id=xqAEHrvG0WAC&oi=fnd&pg=PP2&dq=science+of+happiness&ots=XOMMkYM_1N&sig=VlVbPdZiDEaIAg4jMQKA186cTyA#v=onepage&q=science%20of%20happiness&f=false