Thoughts on Happiness
The feeling of happiness is a chemical reaction in the brain. Â Dopamine is a neurotransmitter (chemicals that pass along signals from one neuron to the next)Â that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centres.
Serotonin is also a neurotransmitter and is a vital chemical in how different parts of the brain communicate with each other.Â It is not the only neurotransmitter in the brain andÂ only two per cent of the total body’s serotonin is in the brain, although it is its activity in the brain that is affected by psychiatric medicine. Serotonin is found mostly in the gut.
Drugs and situations that reduce the amount of serotonin available in the brain have been noted to result in depressionÂ as a side effect.Â It is this that has produced the view that serotonin is involved in the causes of depressive illness.
Enter endorphins: your own private narcotic. Endorphins areÂ neurotransmitters. TheyÂ play a key role in the function of the central nervous system and can either prompt or suppress the further signalling of nearby neurons.
Endorphins are produced as a response to certain stimuli, especially stress, fear or pain. They originate in various parts of your body — the pituitary gland, your spinal cord and throughout other parts of your brain and nervous system — and interact mainly with receptors in cells found in regions of the brain responsible for blocking pain and controlling emotion.
There are at least 20 different kinds of endorphins, and one kind,Â beta-endorphins, are stronger than morphine and have been shown to play a part in everything from alcoholism to diabetes to ageing of the brain [source: Dalayeun].
Endorphins block pain, but they’re also responsible for our feelings of pleasure. It’s widely believed that these feelings of pleasure exist to let us know when we’ve had enough of a good thing — like food, sex or even companionship — and also to encourage us to go after that good thing in order to feel the associated pleasure.
Now that I’ve bored you with science, I want to highlight something that I have noticed over the last few years. The concept of “yin and yang” seems to be a solid idea. I truly believe that there is balance in the world and most of the time we aren’t really aware of its workings.
The idea first occurred to me when I met a client who said that he loved the feeling of fresh linen so much that he was thinking of changing the bed daily. Now, there is nothing wrong with that but I pointed out to him that if he changed the bedding daily, that pleasurable feeling he gets once a week will dissipate. The pleasure will go and he will then have to seek out something new. We need the lack of something to truly appreciate the opposite reaction. I am not sure if I am making sense..so here is another example: We have so much rain and horrid weather in the UK. So when we have a sunny day, it is something we REALLY appreciate. We probably feel a lot happier for those days compared to people who have sun every day. The more we have of something, the more immune we become to it. We become desensitised and need a bigger ‘hit’ next time to feel the same amount of pleasure.
The same can be said for money. When you don’t have much and you receive a gift or get some money, the feeling of excitement and happiness is hard to beat. Now speak to a millionaire and they will tell you that they don;t get that same rush anymore. In fact, many millionaires that I have met have told me that they now worry more about losing the money they have acquired!
I wanted to highlight this issue of balance as I know many people who believe that someone driving a Porsche or going on an expensive holiday is far happier because of this. Everything is relative of course, and no one wants to be poor but it is incorrect and irrational to believe that because someone has more that they are happier. Most likely they enjoyed the initial rush of excitement but then desensitisation sets in and they go back to their default position.
We all have a default happiness setting..we will experience highs and lows in life that will affect this setting but generally it will return to that level after the “up/down event”.
So keep this in mind when you find yourself comparing your life to the imagined life of others who seem to have it all. Happiness is more of a choice and is not dependent , in the longterm, upon external rewards such as money and possessions.
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