There sure is a lot of happiness going around — videos going viral with giggling babies, happy dogs and even happy elephants. For the past year we've watched montages of people joyfully taking to the streets dancing to the infamous Pharrell Williams’ hit song, “Happy.”
So, what exactly is the message here? Is the new measure of a successful life based on happy stickers, dancing around the room and laughing five times a day?
The expectation is exhausting. Just ask tired caregivers, or people who live with ALS, fibromyalgia, MS [multiple sclerosis], or any other energy sapping condition — maintaining an all-day “Zippity-Do-Dah” attitude is nearly impossible.
Add in the fact that numerous studies link happiness directly to biological markers that play an important role in our health. Heart rate, immune system, stress hormones and pain all respond to psychological influences. Being happy can even increase life span by up to 7.5 to 10 years. Are some of us failures? Or have we lost sight of what happiness really is?
More than a state of intense joy
Happiness can mean different things to different people. Originally, happiness stood for: The ability to live life in a full and deeply satisfying way.
According to Dr. Martin E.P. Seligman, Director of the Center of Positive Psychology, we are happiest when we have:
Positive emotion — Feeling positive about oneself and those around you. Examples are: experiencing the positive emotions of peace, satisfaction, curiosity, gratitude, hope or love. Enjoying yourself in the here and now.
Engagement — When we're truly engaged in a situation, task or project, we experience a state of flow — time seems to stop, we lose our sense of self, we feel good. The more we experience this type of engagement the more likely we are to experience well-being.
Relationships — Meaningful, positive social ties with others. Surrounding yourself with people who make you feel good and with whom you want to spend time with.
Meaning — Belonging to and serving a cause bigger than oneself. Whether it is a specific religion or helping humanity or the world in some way, we need meaning in our lives to have a sense of well-being.
Achievement — Having a tangible goal, whether it be a skill, award, or recognition. Accomplishment contributes to our ability to flourish and live a positive life.
If these five elements bring well-being to our minds, what makes our bodies happy?
The answer may surprise you. It's what our central nervous system naturally returns to following bouts of physical highs and lows. A neutral state of relaxed calm; with our blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension and hormones all at their normal levels.
Physically, this is achieved when the body has been adequately exercised, rested, fed and hydrated.
Mind-body exercise, aerobic exercise, massage, sleep and quality nutrition contribute to our body's "happiness" and well-being.
Happiness in Context
The bottom line is, we can all be "happy,"
I invite you think about your own interpretation of happiness and well-being, and to take steps to begin living your life in a full and deeply satisfying way.
Find your own true happiness. I do, every day as I live with ALS.
If you want to learn more, I recommend either of Dr. Seligman's books:
Dagmar Munn received a diagnosis of ALS in 2010, shortly after moving to Arizona with her husband. Drawing on her background in wellness, Munn writes the ALS and Wellness Blog to help motivate others and share practical advice for creating a resilient life while living with ALS. She also is featured as a contributor to the MDA ALS blogs.