- On the topic of how the state of happiness impacts the brain and body, there is increasing evidence in support of the dynamic interchange that exists between mind, body and one’s emotional state. We can no longer look at the three constructs as separate entities, as we are becoming more aware that one invariably affects the other.
Happiness, or a positive state of being, has been proven to reduce the risk of the metabolic syndrome, which includes coronary heart disease, hypertension, high cholesterol levels and Type 2 Diabetes. By the body’s consistent release of certain restorative “feel good” chemicals and hormones, we see a reduction in the stress hormones, and an increase in longevity. The state of happiness thereby promotes a productive, creative and ultimately optimum way of life.
Research suggests that certain personal attributes, whether they’re inherited or moulded by positive life experiences, do have systematic physiological effects. The ‘thinking brain’ or consciousness can send chemicals and energy to the “emotional brain” or limbic system. This subsequently sends pleasure signals throughout the body. Specifically, happiness helps to lower the stress hormone cortisol- which in high levels contributes to heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease. This occurs because pregnenolone, also called the happiness hormone, reduces and balances cortisol levels.
Oxytocin, the “love hormone” which may influence in the ability to bond with others is also produced along with the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, nor-epinephrine and endorphins. Endorphins primarily, are known to counteract pain , stress and promote a feeling of emotional well-being.
Evolutionarily speaking, we are wired for two responses: the stress response and the joy response. It’s to benefit our own survival that we have the tense, ‘ready to flee’, increased heart rate and adrenaline when we are feeling threatened. Whether it’s a starving lion we are running from or fear of a spider- stress kicks in to allow for ‘fight or flight’ response. Conversely, for example, we get a feeling of joy and happiness through assisting someone in need- like opening a door for someone. Both the stress and joy responses are geared for survival of the species, for it’s by helping others in need that we are actually helping the species survive- which subsequently results in feeling happy.
Therefore happiness really doesn’t have to occur solely by chance or be inborn; with our conscious mind (prefrontal cortex) we can choose to take certain actions. Actions including meditation, affirmations, laughter, deep breathing and altruism will actually form neural pathways in the brain that will then act as a road map for new up and coming neurons and subsequently feelings. For taking the action creates a result (feeling good) which then cements a belief in us which acts as a re-enforcer (operant conditioning) to repeat the action-result-belief cycle. The mind does not distinguish reality from fiction when it comes to sensation- for one still cries during a sad scene in a movie, even though it is fiction. This is the methodology of how affirmations and other proactive works are effective. With affirmations for example, upon vocalizing and hearing a positive message consistently, one forms the belief that it just ‘is’ and consequently ‘becomes’ it. This is the unique feature of human beings that sets us apart from other species: the capacity of the mind to be malleable which has endless positive possibilities holistically for mind and body. This is the ultimate freedom of choice…happiness by choice.
Argyle (2001) The Psychology of Happiness. Retrieved from www.knowledgeworkerperformance.com/Articles/Stress-Happiness-Body.aspx2012
Connelly,M (2010) Finding Your Happiness in Your Body. Retrieved from www.clevelandclinicwellness.com/mind/happiness/Pages/FindingYourHappinessinYourBody.aspx2012
Mellin,Laurel (2010) Happiness by Choice . Retrieved from www.healyourlife.com/author-laurel-mellin/2010/06/wisd2012
Watson, Dustin (2012) The Effects of Happiness on Hormone Levels. Retrieved from www.ehow.com/list_7508621_effects-happiness-hormone-levels.html 2012