There are studies which indicate happiness is over-rated and we should strive instead for contentment. I say we should strive for happiness and be grateful when we are simply content.
How to get happy in a hurry, according to neuroscience
From the book The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time by UCLA neuroscience researcher Alex Korb
Know what Prozac does? It boosts the neurotransmitter serotonin. So does gratitude!
1. “Write a running gratitude list or simply ask yourself what you’re grateful for: A warm house, a pet you love, new shoes, a cellphone – doesn’t matter how big or small. Gratitude boosts both dopamine and serotonin, the two most powerful neurotransmitter chemicals involved in giving you a feeling of calm and well-being.”
“Don’t worry if you can’t immediately find things to be grateful for. The mental search for gratitude alone will begin to elevate the level of those pleasure chemicals”.
2. Label negative feelings. “Simply saying to yourself “I’m sad” or “I’m anxious” almost too easy for happiness. Yet in one fMRI study – ‘Putting Feelings into Words,’ participants viewed pictures of people with emotional facial expressions. Each participant’s amygdala [the brain’s fight-or-flight alarm bell] activated to the emotions in the picture. But when they were asked to name the emotion, the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex activated and reduced the emotional amygdala reactivity. In other words, consciously recognizing the emotions reduced their impact.”
3. Make a decision. “Just deciding to do something can reduce worry and anxiety right away. “Making decisions includes creating intentions and setting goals – all three are part of the same neural circuitry and engage the prefrontal cortex in a positive way, reducing worry and anxiety.”
“Making decisions also helps overcome striatum activity, which can pull you toward negative impulses and routines. Finally, making decisions changes your perception of the world – finding solutions to your problems and calming the limbic system.”
“And you don’t have to worry about making the “right” decision? The “good enough” decision is good enough to make our brains go into at-ease mode. AND you can decide not to decide or change your decision!”
4. Touch people, appropriately! This is one of the easiest ways to release oxytocin which is the pleasure-inducing ‘cuddle chemical’] It can be as simple as a handshake or a pat on the back.
“A hug is the best but if you don’t have anybody to hug get a massage which has been shown to boost your serotonin by as much as 30 percent. Massage also decreases stress hormones and raises dopamine levels.”