The Happiness Connection  

Why you're not always happy

Finding your happy place

I was driving down the road the other day when I noticed intensely positive emotions bubbling up to the surface.

I could feel butterflies building in my stomach. I decided to lean into these sensations and enjoy them because I knew they wouldn’t last.

When I was younger, this idea used to destress me. I wanted to enjoy these euphoric feelings all the time, but I knew from experience that wouldn’t happen. I’d caution myself not to get too happy. The higher my happiness, the greater the impending fall.

This may be something you can relate to. Humans have a wide range of emotions that fluctuate regularly. Just when you think you couldn’t be happier, something happens to bring you back down to Earth, sometimes with an almighty thud.

If you’re like me, you might find it helpful to understand that humans aren’t designed to be ecstatically happy for more than short periods of time. Your emotions serve more of a purpose than you might realize. They’re designed to help you survive.

You might think floating on air 24/7 would be great, but it wouldn’t be a good survival strategy. Think back to a time when you felt over the moon. Maybe you’d just got engaged, won an award or achieved a goal you’d been working towards for years.

Was it easy to settle down and get your work done? I find it hard to stay on task when I’m on an emotional high. I’m much more interested in celebrating my success or revelling in my emotions.

Negative emotions are designed to raise your alarm system and get you ready for a fight/flight/freeze response. The minute your brain thinks you’re in a win-lose situation, it makes a split-second decision.

It chooses the strategy it believes will give you the greatest chance of surviving the perceived threat.

As positive psychologist Martin Seligman puts it, negative emotions trigger a “Here be dragons” response. This is important if you think you’re under some sort of attack.

Positive emotions are part of a “Here be growth” response. When you feel moderately happy, you’re more creative, tolerant and open to new ideas and experiences. This is the perfect frame of mind for problem-solving, calculated risk-taking, and creating lasting relationships. Notice that these skills come with moderate happiness, not intensely joyful emotions.

Because it serves you to spend most of your time in the moderate level of feeling good, the human brain has developed something called “hedonic adaptation.”

Whenever you dip or soar out of your optimum range of happiness, it flares into action to pull you back into what’s known as your “setpoint.” This is the best place to be for connection and growth.

Although the word “setpoint” might make you think it’s one specific intensity of happiness, it actually refers to a range of emotions.

When you’re in your span of setpoint emotions, you’ll find it easier to be creative, social, and successful. A burst of intense happiness or a dip into negative emotions interrupts this, so hedonic adaptation pulls you back into your optimum happiness level so you can grow and move forward.

You might not like the sound of being pulled out of your happy place, but remember it isn’t a one-way street. Not only does hedonic adaptation drag you back from intensely positive emotions it also helps prevent you from falling into a never-ending bout of depression, fear, or unhappiness.

Unless you’re suffering from a mood disorder or other type of mental condition, at some point, hedonic adaptation will swoop in like a superhero and rescue you from your negative emotions. This is one reason you may feel much better after a good night’s sleep.

It doesn’t matter how far you stray from your predetermined normal range or setpoint, your brain will work tirelessly to bring you back to what it believes is the best place for your survival.

Research suggests that no matter what circumstances you encounter in your life, you’ll adjust to them, and your emotions will gradually return to whatever normal is for you. This includes a major lottery win or an unwanted health condition.

Hedonic adaptation prevents you from standing still. It keeps you from getting stuck in a fight/flight/freeze response, or intensely happy glow. It encourages you to grow and move forward with your life.

Being aware that this cycle exists can be very comforting. When you notice it springing into action, remind yourself that it’s a survival mechanism that’s helping you live your best life.

As positive psychology researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky describes it, heightened levels of happiness and sadness are like puddles that gradually evaporate, leaving you back where you were before it rained.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


Happiness tips to get you through the dull days of winter

Avoiding a winter funk

Not only did winter arrive with a blast last week, but we also had to deal with falling back into Pacific Standard Time.

If you’re eagerly anticipating the ski season and don’t mind the cold weather and darker evenings, you may have adjusted to these things with little trouble. However, if you’re like me and love warmth, sunshine and long days of light, this may be a tough time for you.

Here are some happiness truths that can help keep your spirit from falling into a winter funk.

Happiness doesn’t depend on your genes or circumstances.

Some people may be born with a tendency to worry, smile or socialize more than others, but that doesn’t mean your genetic makeup is the only thing that determines your level of happiness. Intentional activity has a greater impact on well-being than genes or circumstances.

Doing something with intention is the opposite of doing things habitually. Consciously choose a positive perspective. Do something kind for another person. Be more mindful in everything you do.

Humans are social creatures.

Not everybody loves to spend huge amounts of time around other people. You don’t have to be the life of the party to benefit from socializing. Whether it’s individuals, small groups, or massive assemblies, being around other’s will boost your happiness as long as their energy is positive.

Don’t let the snow become an excuse for being a hermit. Reach out over the phone, Zoom, FaceTime or any other platform. Take time to smile and chat with the people you come into contact with even if it’s a store cashier.

I had a lovely banter with a couple of gentlemen while I was at the bank yesterday. I think we all left with smiles on our faces. Any opportunity to interact with another person should be grasped. Connection will make you happier.

Money doesn’t buy happiness.

That doesn’t mean being poor will make you happy either. People need enough money to cover their basic needs, but once this happens, more money won’t make you happier.

Studies of very wealthy people and their staff show that employers aren’t appreciably happier than the people who work for them. Lottery winners experience an initial wave of pleasure but return to their pre-win level of wellbeing within six months.

When it comes to happiness, SMART goals aren’t smart.

At work, creating objectives that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound may be best. That isn’t the case with happiness.

It turns out that it’s more effective to pursue vague happiness goals as opposed to specific ones. Rather than deciding you’re going to be in love by the end of 2023, set a goal to feel good as often as you can during the coming year. Another advantage of vague happiness goals is that they are prone to growing stronger over time.

Humans are hardwired to be happy.

Happy people are more creative, healthier, more socially connected and enjoy a greater level of personal and professional success. That isn’t by accident. You’re programmed to spend large amounts of time in a state of positive wellbeing.

That doesn’t mean you should expect to always feel blissful or exhilarated. Happiness comes in a variety of intensities. Aim for feeling good, whatever that looks like for you. Pleasure, satisfaction, and excitement are all expressions of happiness.

Research from Harvard University provides a recipe to help you feel happy on a daily basis.

• Think of three things every day that you’re grateful for.

• Exercise for at least 10 minutes every day.

• Meditate each day for at least 2 minutes.

• Write a thank you note or positive message to someone every day. You don’t have to know them well or send it to them.

• Journal your most positive experiences from the previous 24 hours.

Being happy is a conscious choice. The next time you find yourself sighing over the snow and cold temperatures, remind yourself of this fact. Then reach out to a friend, put on your snow boots and commune with nature, or do something creative.

It’s your life and you get to choose how to feel about it.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

The End of History Illusion

Looking to your future

Thinking about the future can be a source of both excitement and stress.

I’m currently making some big changes in my life and I’m experiencing the entire spectrum of emotions. Will things work out? Will I wish I’d made different choices? Probably. It’s impossible to know what’s going to happen tomorrow.

Research shows that thinking about yourself in the future lights up the same parts of the brain as when you think about someone other than yourself. This suggests you don’t really consider your future self to be you. It’s a stranger that may or may not be the person you eventually become.

When you imagine yourself in the years to come, you probably think you’ll enjoy doing the same things you do now and that you’ll have identical values and beliefs. But are you the same person you were twenty years ago? If you changed in the last 20 years, why wouldn’t you continue to evolve in the next 20?

I think we would all agree that the development process slows as you age. Children seem to change from one minute to the next, while you might see only minimal differences in an adult from year to year.

It’s true that the speed of growth slows, but not as much as most people think. The tendency to believe you’ve experienced significant growth up until this point but won’t grow or mature substantially in the future is known as The End of History Illusion.

This comes partially because we find it much easier to remember the past than to imagine the future. We mistakenly believe that things that are hard to imagine are unlikely to happen. Being unable to imagine something shows an inability to imagine, not that it’s unlikely to happen.

Believing you’ll be this version of yourself for the rest of your life, is common. Research shows that at every age, people underestimate how much they’ll change in the years to come.

The choices I’m making now will impact my future. But there’s no guarantee I’m even going to want the future that I’m currently imagining for myself.

Squirreling away money every month from your paycheck so you can spend long days on the beach or golf course may not be something you’re interested in doing by the time you reach retirement.

Buying a big house for grandchildren who are yet to materialize or imagining a future crossing off the items on your current bucket list can be a mistake.

As you agonize over decisions, knowing they’ll affect your future, remember that your future self may not appreciate the sacrifices you’re making for them today. Rather than trying to please yourself in the future, live in the moment and cross things off your list today.

“Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly thing they’re finished. The person you are right now is as transient, as fleeting, and as temporary as all the people you’ve ever been. The one constant in our life is change, said Daniel Gilbert in his TED Talk, The Psychology of Your Future Self.

Finding happiness involves recognizing this truth. Regardless of what stage of life you’re in, you’re far from being the final version of you. That won’t happen until you take your last breaths. Once you grasp this idea, let go of believing that the person you are today can satisfy your future self.

Think of all the decisions you made when you were younger that you can only shake your head at. There’s no reason to believe things will be any different with your future and present self.

Change is inevitable. Making peace with this fact will have more impact on your life than meticulously planning your future, believing you know what will be best for a version of you that hasn’t even materialized yet.

As I step into this new phase of life, I’m consciously reminding myself of this fact.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


'Aloha' is much more than just a Hawaiian greeting

A word with broad meaning


I recently returned from 10 days in Hawaii. My adventure may be over, but I’ve come home with some of the island’s spirit in my heart.

You don’t have to visit Hawaii to be familiar with “aloha.” It’s best known for being a greeting or farewell, but in truth it is much more than that. The direct translation of the word is “the presence of divine breath.”

Traditionally Hawaiians would greet each other by pressing their foreheads and noses together and then inhaling at the same time. Sharing ha, or breath, is a sign of respect because it’s thought to possess mana or spiritual power.

Although this practice is no longer common, it illustrates the essence of the word. According to the old kahunas, or priests, being able to live the spirit of aloha was a way of reaching self-perfection and realization for your own body and soul. They believed the first step in achieving this state was self-love.

This isn’t a new idea. Loving yourself unconditionally is a vital part of being happy. Most of us love many things that aren’t perfect, yet somehow, we find it extraordinarily hard to apply that principle to ourselves.

Contrary to popular belief, love and perfection are not partners. Rather than believing that by loving yourself and thinking you’re perfect, try appreciating who you are without judgement.

Think of something you love, even though it’s worn or chipped. Try transferring the positive feelings you have for that flawed item to yourself. It’s the imperfections that make us unique, quirky, and exceptional.

Successful relationships start with a close and loving connection with yourself. When your heart is overflowing with self-love, it’s easier to spread that affection to others. It’s also easier to send positive energy into the world.

Aloha is about accepting that every person as equally important for the collective existence of all. It also suggests you extend warmth, caring, and compassion without expecting anything in return.

Rather than scratching another person’s back in hopes that they’ll scratch yours, pay things forward. Know that your good deeds will have an impact, even if you never know what it is.

The seriousness Hawaiians feel around aloha is demonstrated by the Aloha Spirit Law. This came into existence in 1986, although in the true spirit of the word, it’s more of a guideline than a law.

It was created to remind government officials to treat people with the same sort of deep care and respect their ancestors did.

Queen Lili’uokalani, the last reigning monarch of Hawaii, summed up the true meaning of this magical word.

"And wherever [the native Hawaiian] went he said ‘aloha' in meeting or in parting. Aloha was a recognition of life in another. If there was life there was mana, goodness, and wisdom, and if there was goodness and wisdom there was a god-quality. One had to recognize the 'god of life' in another before saying ‘aloha,' but this was easy. Life was everywhere - in the trees, the flowers, the ocean, the fish, the birds, the pili grass, the rainbow, the rock - in all the world was life--was god--was Aloha. Aloha in its gaiety, joy, happiness, abundance. Because of aloha, one gave without thought of return. Because of aloha, one had mana. Aloha had its own mana. It never left the giver but flowed freely and continuously between giver and receiver. Aloha could not be thoughtlessly or indiscriminately spoken, for it carried its own power. No Hawaiian could greet another with aloha unless he felt it in his own heart. If he felt anger or hate in his heart, he had to cleanse himself before he said ‘aloha’. So, the next time you greet anyone with ‘aloha,’ hold its meanings close to your heart and be conscious of how you hold the moment with that person and how you picture or hold them in your heart.”

I’ve returned home with a renewed understanding of the importance of both loving yourself and treating others with respect, and kindness. It may seem like an idealistic way of living, but I felt its existence during my recent time in Hawaii.

Aloha ia O'Koa Pa'ulo! When we meet in love...we shall be whole!

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Reen Rose is an experienced, informative, and engaging speaker, author, and educator. She has worked for over three decades in the world of education, teaching children and adults in Canada and England.

Research shows that happy people are better leaders, more successful, and healthier than their unhappy counterparts, and yet so many people still believe that happiness is a result of their circumstances.

Happiness is a choice. Reen’s presentations and workshops are designed to help you become robustly happy. This is her term for happiness that can withstand challenge and change.

Reen blends research-based expertise, storytelling, humour, and practical strategies to both inform and inspire. She is a Myers Briggs certified practitioner, a Microsoft Office certified trainer and a qualified and experienced teacher.

Email Reen at [email protected]

Check out her websites at www.ReenRose.com, or www.ModellingHappiness.com

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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