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Happiness research What makes us really happy


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If there is a world lucky day, a happiness atlas, happiness training and a happiness minister, then it is time to think about happiness - especially in times of Corona. What actually makes you happy?

Status: March 19, 2021

What is luck? When do you feel it and how? Can you help the feeling of happiness, especially in this grueling Corona time? We have collected information and tips on how to be happy.

The Duden defines happiness as "a pleasant and joyful state of mind in which one finds oneself when one comes into possession or enjoyment of something that one has wished for". It is a "state of inner satisfaction and elation". Happiness researchers speak of a subjective well-being that can mean something different for everyone. For psychologists, it is characterized by the frequent occurrence of positive feelings and the rare occurrence of negative emotions. In connection with happiness, however, they also warn of "toxic positivity": feelings such as sadness or justified dissatisfaction should not simply be whitewashed. For the self-proclaimed Minister of Happiness, Gina Schöler, the key to happiness is to take control of your own life, to actively shape it and to make the best of all situations.

"Happiness does not mean that everything is peace and joy pancakes."

Gina Schöler, self-appointed Minister of Happiness

"The pandemic forces us to take a closer look, to reflect on our own condition and also to be creative and active ourselves, so as not to bury our heads in the sand for good. That is quite exhausting, but it is worth it. Because when we are inside ourselves listen in and stay open to the people around us and the good in everyday activities, we can actually feel happiness now. "

Gina Schöler, self-appointed Minister of Happiness

Too much luck is not healthy either

March 20th is world lucky day!

The General Assembly of the United Nations has declared March 20 to be "International Day of Happiness". It is a reminder that there is more to happiness than economic growth and turnover - namely compassion, the common good and sustainable development.

James Olds, a psychologist at the University of Michigan, discovered the pleasure center in the brain in the late 1950s. During experiments with laboratory rats, he had noticed that they liked the electrical stimulation of a certain area of ​​the brain. When they were able to stimulate this region themselves at the push of a button, they pressed the button until they almost died of thirst, hunger and exhaustion from the high of happiness.

When something happens that is better than expected, the neurons in the midbrain become active: They expel the lucky substance dopamine and pass it on to the lower forebrain and the frontal lobe. In the forebrain, dopamine drives the neurons there to produce opium-like substances - they make us euphoric. In the frontal lobe, dopamine causes our brain to function better and is also sharpened to feel happiness: It increases our attention, we remember this happy event. This is how we learn what is good for us. So actually the feeling of happiness is just a by-product of our learning ability. The feeling of happiness also subsides again - with an overdose of euphoria, the same fate would overtake us as the rats in the attempt at happiness at the push of a button.

"Our brains are not built to be happy all the time, but they are addicted to the pursuit of happiness."

Manfred Spitzer

SLC6A4, the happiness gene

The SLC6A4 gene forwards the hormone serotonin into the cells. That makes us relaxed and in a good mood. Those who have the long form of the gene get more serotonin - and tend to see the positive.

According to international studies, the disposition to happiness is determined to about 50 percent by our genes. The living conditions make up around 10 percent. We have the remaining 40 percent in our own hands. So what can we add to our own happiness?

What makes us happy in general

The UN has established basic conditions for happiness:

  • at least 2,500 calories per day
  • a water consumption of 100 liters a day
  • at least six square meters of living space
  • a place to cook
  • a six-year schooling

Happiness researchers have identified very specific factors that make us happy:

  • a stable relationship - getting married brings a little more luck
  • Friendship
  • Socializing
  • health
  • a job that corresponds to one's own abilities
  • children
  • enough money to meet basic needs

"Happiness consists of a pretty bank account, a good cook, and an impeccable digestion."

Jean Jacques Rousseau

Helping happiness on the jumps

The messenger substances that evoke the positive feelings are also released during meditation or exercise. When meditating, the whole organism goes into a more balanced state, which the brain interprets as being free of fear and relaxed. It is similar with physical activity: It lifts the mood because the brain then releases more serotonin and endorphin.

"God, what is happiness? A semolina soup, a place to sleep and no physical pain, that's a lot."

Theodor Fontane

Tips for being happy

  • ask yourself: What is good for me? What do I need for my own wellbeing?
  • Looking for happiness even in small moments: e.g. during a two-minute coffee break
  • Meditation & mindfulness exercises: e.g. deliberately doing little things in everyday life
  • Yoga, exercise & (outdoor) sports
  • Cooking & eating
  • Read
  • Daydreaming
  • sing out loud
  • call someone or write to someone
  • give something to others
  • after a stressful day of walking
  • Take new paths when walking or those that are filled with positive feelings
  • Do not deny or accumulate worries, but tackle them piece by piece and possibly get help with them

"The vernacular is very wise here: Share your worries - because suffering shared is suffering halved. And: Share moments of happiness, because happiness shared is happiness doubled."

Thomas Bonath, psychotherapist

"Happy Food" - food, good luck to eat

There is actually "happy food" that can make you happy: foods that contain tryptophan can stimulate serotonin production - if they are combined with carbohydrates. Cheese, eggs, meat, legumes, fish, nuts and cereals are good for a good mood. However, we have to eat a lot of it in order to feel a significant mood-enhancing effect. Food can make you happy because it simply tastes good and feels good in the mouth or because it reminds us of special situations and we enjoy it together with loved ones.

Often something new: more variety, more happiness

Happiness messengers are also released when we have a varied, exciting everyday life. In his book "Die Glücksformel" (The Formula for Happiness), for example, Stefan Klein writes that happiness can be learned and trained like a foreign language: joy, lust, attention, curiosity and learning are inseparable. That is why it is important to strive for human relationships, to look for contrasts and challenges and to live an active everyday life.

"Your happiness depends on the good thoughts you have."

Marc Aurel

The hunt for happiness makes you unhappy

However, what is sure to make you unhappy is an overzealous pursuit of happiness. This is the conclusion of a study by Rutgers University Newark and the University of Toronto from March 2018. The scientists write: "In the pursuit of happiness, time seems to disappear when happiness is viewed as a goal that requires constant effort. The results support it the growing body of work that ironically suggests that the search for happiness comes at the expense of happiness. " In other words: you will probably never be quite as happy as you would like to be, but you work your way through this longing. The scientists advise: "Interventions that simply give people more time and, in return, more well-being could be more successful." So you could just look at yourself as pretty happy and relax a bit.

Practical exercises for happiness

  • Think about five things in bed that you are grateful for in the morning
  • make yourself aware in the evening what you have done well during the day
  • Write down positive things and maybe even share them - e.g. as a post-it on the wall
  • smile for a minute every day
  • Compliment someone every day
  • spending time outdoors every day

"No matter how difficult our situation may be: We always have a certain freedom of choice and the opportunity to take our happiness into our own hands. Just internalizing this perspective and remembering it again and again makes a big difference."

Thomas Bonath, psychotherapist

  • What makes us happy ARD-alpha, March 25th, 2021, 9.45 p.m.
  • World lucky day - lucky charms in Mexico, India and Kenya: Bayern2 on Saturday morning, March 20th, 2021, 9:05 a.m.