Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Science of Happy

Today in Relief Society we were talking about happiness.  I love that I am part of such a practical Church!  Much of our discussion was based on this 2006 Conference address by Jeffrey R. Holland called Broken Things to Mend.

I especially love the image he describes here of our walk with the Savior and how He can heal our brokenness if we will let Him:  "It seems clear that the essence of our duty and the fundamental requirement of our mortal life is captured in these brief phrases [refers to times He said "Follow me."] from any number of scenes in the Savior’s mortal ministry. He is saying to us, “Trust me, learn of me, do what I do. Then, when you walk where I am going,” He says, “we can talk about where you are going, and the problems you face and the troubles you have. If you will follow me, I will lead you out of darkness,” He promises. “I will give you answers to your prayers. I will give you rest to your souls.”"

We also talked a little about the science of being happy... and yes, there really is a scientific background to it.  Much of our feelings of happiness stem from what's going on in the frontal lobe of the brain.  If you can imagine looking at an MRI image of the brain.  When a person is depressed one side of the frontal lobe is lit up with activity.  When he or she is happy the other side is lit because substances like serotonin and norepinephrine are plentiful and active.  The trick is to keep the activity primarily on the happy side.  Some of that is chemistry and that's why there are so many prescription drugs available to assist.  But there's also much we can do for ourselves.

A researcher named Hank Smith developed a list of 10 things that supremely happy people do.  Since that was our handout, I'm going to share his list.

  1. Happy people surround themselves with other happy people.  Joy is contagious.  People are four times more likely to be happy in the future with happy people around them.
  2. Happy people try to be happy.  When happy people don't feel happy, the cultivate a happy thought and smile about it.
  3. Happy people spend money more on others than they spend on themselves.  Givers experience what scientists call the "helper's high."
  4. Happy people have deep in-person conversations.  Sitting down to talk about what makes a person tick is a good practice for feeling good about life.
  5. Happy people use laughter as medicine.  A good old-fashioned chuckle releases lots of good neurotransmitters.  A study showed that children, on average, laugh 300 times a day versus adults who laugh 15 times a day.
  6. Happy people use the power of music.  Researchers found that music can match the anxiety-reducing effects of massage therapy.
  7. Happy people exercise and eat a healthful diet.  Eating a poor diet can contribute to depression,
  8. Happy people take the time to unplug and go outside.  Uninterrupted screen time brings on depression and anxiety.
  9. Happy people get enough sleep.  When people run low on sleep, they are prone to feel a lack of clarity, bad moods, and poor judgement.
  10. Happy people are spiritual.

I think at my core I am a happy person.  I've just taken a detour on this adventure called life and I'm struggling a bit to get back on my path.  Mr. Smith's list is a good starting point... some good things to keep in my conscious thought and build better habits.

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