The Neuroscience of Happiness 🧠
Utilize neuroscience & psychology tools to live a happier life after trauma (8min Read).
Key Misconceptions: Happiness isn't found in material possessions, external success, or perfect relationships.
True Happiness: Comes from within, involving appreciating life, cultivating connections, and engaging in meaningful activities.
Levels of Happiness: Based on Seligman's theory, ranging from enjoying pleasures (Level 1) to finding deep engagement (Level 2) and meaningful contribution (Level 3).
Common Mistakes: Clinging to materialism, neglecting social connections and self-care, focusing on the past, and undervaluing kindness and mindfulness.
Takeaways: The importance of savoring life's moments and practicing small acts of kindness for lasting happiness.
Today we are going to cover one of my favorite topics, happiness.
As you know, my stated goal is to help 1 billion people find happiness & purpose in their lives.
That being said, I do a fair amount of research and learning about what happiness is and how to achieve it.
I’m going to spend some time on some of the general findings I’ve come to over the years!
At the end, I will also cover some of the most common mistakes I see clients make when trying to find happiness in their lives after trauma.
Let’s dive in!
Misconceptions About Happiness
In the quest for happiness, it's easy to fall prey to common misconceptions about what truly brings joy and fulfillment.
Dr. Laurie Santos, who is a psychologist and neuroscientist who studies happiness for a living, has found some common misconceptions people have about happiness.
Particularly the belief that certain external factors like love, wealth, and beauty are the keys to lasting happiness!
#1 The Illusion of Material Possessions
This may seem obvious to us Mind, Brain, Body Lab Digest readers, but one of the most pervasive myths is that material possessions can buy happiness.
We often chase after the latest gadgets, luxury cars, or designer clothes, believing that these items will bring us lasting joy.
However, Dr. Santos points out a crucial truth: material possessions only offer temporary satisfaction.
The thrill of a new purchase fades quickly, leaving us in a constant cycle of wanting more, a phenomenon known as 'hedonic adaptation.'
Hedonic Adaptation: Understanding the Concept
This concept is sometimes referred to as the "hedonic treadmill," which I think describes the phenomenon perfectly!
The bottom line is that it’s the human tendency to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes.
This concept plays a critical role in understanding why our pursuit of happiness often doesn't yield the long-term satisfaction we expect.
The Implications for Our Pursuit of Happiness
Hedonic adaptation suggests that the pursuit of happiness through external achievements or material possessions is often futile in the long term.
We might think that achieving a certain goal or buying something we desire will make us permanently happier, but the effect diminishes over time.
In everyday life, this adaptation can lead to a perpetual cycle of seeking more and better, which is why it’s often referred to as the “hedonic treadmill.”
We keep running, trying to achieve more, believing that it will lead to lasting happiness, but we essentially stay in the same place in terms of our overall satisfaction with life.
I will cover how to overcome this shortly!
#2 The Misplaced Value in External Success
Similarly, societal measures of success—such as landing a dream job, amassing wealth, or achieving physical beauty—are often seen as pathways to happiness.
While these can bring momentary pleasure and a sense of accomplishment, they don't guarantee lasting contentment.
Dr. Santos emphasizes that these external achievements often lead us away from what truly makes us happy.
#3 The Myth of Perfect Relationships
Even in relationships, misconceptions prevail.
The idea of 'true love' as a source of unending happiness is a common narrative.
While healthy relationships are integral to our well-being, they are not the sole source of happiness.
Placing the burden of our happiness on another person or a relationship can lead to disappointment and strain.
I’ve seen this in my own life and with my clients!
#4 The Reality of Happiness
True happiness, Dr. Santos suggests, comes from within and is often found in simpler, more sustainable practices and mindsets.
It's about appreciating what we have, cultivating meaningful connections, engaging in fulfilling activities, and nurturing our mental and emotional health.
This is what we will spend the rest of our time on today!
Understanding the Three Levels of Happiness
Now that we understand some misconceptions about happiness, let’s talk about its different levels!
The concept of happiness can be explored through three distinct levels, each offering a different depth and type of fulfillment.
These levels, which are derived from psychologist Dr. Martin Seligman's work, help us understand the varying aspects of what makes us truly happy!
Level 1: The Pleasant Life
This level is characterized by the pursuit and enjoyment of pleasurable experiences.
It's about the immediate gratification that comes from enjoyable activities like shopping, eating good food, or attending concerts.
While these activities are enjoyable and a valid part of life, they offer temporary happiness.
This level is akin to enjoying the surface pleasures of life without delving into deeper emotional or intellectual fulfillment!
Level 2: The Engaged Life
The Engaged Life takes a step beyond mere pleasure and involves deeper personal engagement and fulfillment.
This level is about being deeply involved in activities that are meaningful on a personal level, like pursuing challenging goals, hobbies, or developing skills.
It also emphasizes the importance of cultivating strong, meaningful relationships (more on this later).
The happiness derived here is more enduring and satisfying than the fleeting pleasures of the first level.
It's about being absorbed and finding flow in activities that resonate with our personal interests and values.
Level 3: The Meaningful Life
The highest level, the Meaningful Life, transcends personal pleasure and engagement to focus on serving and contributing to others.
It's about using one's strengths and talents not just for personal achievement, but for the greater good.
This level of happiness is derived from a sense of purpose and fulfillment in being part of something larger than oneself.
It involves making a positive impact on others' lives and finding joy in altruistic endeavors.
This drive is wired into us neurobiologically, it’s everyone’s ultimate purpose, whether they believe it or not!
Moving Up the Levels
While the Pleasant Life is about enjoying life's pleasures, the Engaged Life deepens that experience by involving personal growth and relationships.
The Meaningful Life, however, elevates happiness to its highest form, where fulfillment comes from making a meaningful contribution to the world beyond oneself.
Each level builds upon the previous, offering a more comprehensive and fulfilling experience of happiness!
Mistakes to Avoid in Seeking Happiness
So, what are the most common mistakes people make in the pursuit of happiness?
These mistakes are especially common for those trying to find happiness after exiting a traumatic relationship.
While it's a path worth walking, there are common pitfalls that can hinder progress.
Mistake #1: Clinging to Materialistic Solutions
Dr. Laurie Santos points out that material possessions don't necessarily lead to lasting happiness.
It's easy to fall into the trap of believing that buying new things or indulging in luxury can fill the void left by trauma.
True healing comes from within and is often rooted in experiences, relationships, and personal growth.
Mistake #2: Overlooking the Power of Social Connections
After experiencing abuse, trusting others can be challenging.
However, isolating yourself can impede your journey to happiness, remember, caring and connecting with others is wired into our happiness circuits by evolution.
Building strong, healthy relationships and connecting with others who support and uplift you are crucial steps in healing.
Mistake #3: Neglecting Self-Care and Gratitude
Self-care is vital in the healing process. It's a mistake to neglect activities that nourish your mind, body, and soul.
Practices like mindfulness, gratitude, and savoring positive experiences can significantly improve your well-being.
Mistake #4: Ignoring Personal Strengths and Accomplishments
Often, survivors of abuse lose sight of their strengths and accomplishments.
To combat this, Dr. Santos encourages identifying and using personal character strengths in daily life.
Recognize your resilience, celebrate your achievements, and leverage your unique strengths as a pathway to happiness!
Mistake #5: Focusing Only on the Past
While it's important to process past trauma, fixating solely on it can prevent you from moving forward.
It’s impossible to create a better future when you’re solely focused on the past.
Engage in activities that are meaningful and bring joy to your present life.
This could be a new hobby, volunteering, or pursuing a long-held dream.
Mistake #6: Underestimating Small Acts of Kindness
Performing acts of kindness can be incredibly healing.
These acts, whether directed towards others or yourself, can boost your mood and self-esteem, creating a positive cycle of kindness and happiness.
Mistake #7: Sacrificing Time for Material Gains
Prioritizing money over time, or 'time poverty,' can lead to increased stress and decreased happiness.
Focus on creating 'time affluence' – making time for activities that bring you joy and relaxation.
This is a flow trigger for me, in fact.
I’ve found that days that I have fun things planned at the end of the day or the next day is a great way to keep me more focused on the work I’ve gotta do beforehand!
Mistake #8: Not Embracing Mindfulness
Mindfulness helps in reducing mind-wandering and improving overall mental well-being.
This is why it’s a part of the Heroes Body that I work my clients through!
Regular practice can ground you in the present, helping you find peace and joy in the now, rather than being haunted by the past or stuck in the future.
Two Things to Try
When I went through Dr. Santos’s Happiness course during COVID, the two biggest takeaways that have improved my mental and emotional health the most are savoring, and small acts of kindness!
So, here are some ways to incorporate them into your daily life.
Savoring Best Practices
Savoring is the practice of mindfully engaging and appreciating the positive experiences in life. Here are some ways to do it!
Be Fully Present: Engage all your senses to fully experience and appreciate the moment, whether it’s enjoying a beautiful sunset, a delicious meal, or a pleasant conversation.
Share Your Joy w/ Others
Keep a Gratitude Journal
Practice Mindful Reflection
Celebrate Small Wins
Engage in Activities that Promote Savoring: Activities like meditation, nature walks, or hobbies that you love can facilitate savoring.
Practice Gratitude and Positive Anticipation: Look forward to future pleasures and express gratitude for past and present joys.
Small Acts of Kindness and Best Practices
Small acts of kindness are simple, thoughtful gestures that can significantly impact our happiness and the well-being of those around us. Here are some to try!
Offer Genuine Compliments
Help Without Being Asked
Send Encouraging Notes
Pay It Forward
Leave a Generous Tip
Be Kind to Yourself
Happiness & Purpose For All
I hope you found today’s blog helpful, if you did, share it with someone who’s been struggling recently, this simple act of kindness will help you, just as much as them!
The road to happiness might be long and winding, but with patience and self-compassion, it's a path that leads to a brighter, more joyful future.
I wish you all lots of happiness, and until next time… Live Heroically 🧠
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