Mental Health and Happiness (International Day of Happiness)

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March 20, 2022

Writers: Sci Torres, Raven Gavino
Editor: K Ballesteros
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On July 12, 2012, the General Assembly of the United Nations proclaimed March 20 as the “International Day of Happiness.” Happiness and well-being are considered as fundamental or universal goals by human beings all over the world [1].

What does happiness entail? What do we need to become happy? What role does happiness play in our physical and mental health? How has the pandemic influenced Filipinos’ happiness?

Defining Happiness

Happiness is an emotional state characterized by feelings of joy, satisfaction, contentment, and fulfillment.” It is usually considered a positive emotion by human beings. The term “happiness” seems to be broad and subjective, thus, it is called “subjective well-being” in layman’s terms [2].

Cherry (2020) listed two components of happiness of subjective well-being:

  • The balance of emotions – human beings tend to experience or feel both positive and negative emotions, but when we talk about happiness, it is more considered to be positive than negative.
  • Life satisfaction – being satisfied is also subjective to each individual, it could be yourself, interpersonal relationships, your environment, your workplace, etc.

Brain Chemicals and Happiness

According to the Queensland Brain Institute, thoughts, feelings, and emotions are managed by our brain, specifically through the use of our brain chemicals or neurotransmitters. “Neurotransmitters are often referred to as the body’s chemical messengers. They are the molecules used by the nervous system to transmit messages between neurons, or from neurons to muscles” [3].

Integris Health (2012) enumerated four main brain chemicals that are related to happiness:

Neurotransmitters What does it do?
Dopamine

“The Reward Molecule”

– associated with the pleasure feeling

– related to motivation and movement

– linked to reward-driven behavior 

Serotonin

“The Happiness Hormone” 

– produced when the person feels satisfied or importance

– connected to sleep, appetite, and mood

– also related to arousal and aggression

Oxytocin

“The Bonding Molecule” or “Trust Hormone” or “Love Hormone”

– produced by the hypothalamus and released by the pituitary gland

– associated to love and connection

– connected to human bonding, trust, and loyalty

Endorphins

“The Pain-Killing Molecule”

– triggers positive feelings when you are doing sexual activity, laughing, or exercising

– linked to stress regulation, pain, and mood 

– “self-produced morphine” 

 

Note that too much or too little of these neurotransmitters can affect a person’s health and ability to function normally. Some of the effects could be anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, depression, schizophrenia, and Parkinson’s disease [6].

Living a Happy Life

An article from Power of Positivity (2015) listed ten (10) signs that we can look out to if we are leading a happy life:

  • You Have a Job You Love 

It is important to feel happy with what you do to make an income. While you may not have found your dream career yet, you probably can think of a job that you enjoy. 

  • You See the Value in the Little Things in Life

Most people rush through life without slowing down to take in all the beauty around them. If you try to sit in a sea of cars on your way to work and feel thankful for the chance to gain patience, this shows you can find the silver lining in any situation.

  • You Feel at Peace With the World

You cannot live a happy life without finding inner peace, and that elusive feeling serves as one of the most telling signs of contentment.

  • You Focus on What You Can Change

Unhappy people always dwell on what they can’t change, but happy people take advantage of the changes they can make. Unhappy people give every reason why something is impossible, but happy people understand that they can transcend any limits with positive, determined thoughts.

  • You Don’t Care What Others Think

If you feel comfortable living beyond the confines of societal norms and couldn’t care less what others have to say about how you live, you are part of a rare group of people.

  • You Have Hobbies You Enjoy

Even if you have only a few hours a week to dedicate to your hobbies, you can use this time to let all of life’s pressures melt away and just relax.

  • You Fall Asleep Easily at Night

If you can slip into a dream-state fairly easily, you probably have learned how to shut your brain off and give your body much-needed rest.

  • You Don’t Have Regrets

It’s okay to have few regrets in life, and you are doing pretty well if you can look back and say you did everything you wanted without fearing the outcome.

  • You Aren’t Afraid of Failure

If you accept failed attempts as part of the learning experience here on Earth, you probably live a pretty happy life because you understand that growth can’t happen without failure.

  • You Have a “Yes” Mentality

No just means that the universe is redirecting you to another opportunity, which means that a “yes” is inevitable if you just hold your intention. If you already have this mentality, you actually love the answer “No” because it challenges you to keep following your path despite the obstacles you face. Having this mentality means you say yes to life, even if life may not always say yes to you.

The most common path to happiness for many people is this statement: “if I only have *fill in the blank* then I’ll be happy”. The problem with this statement is what psychologists call hedonic-adaptation, or the idea that no matter how good something makes us feel, most of the time we go back to where we started – the tendency to return to “baseline” [8].

We cannot deny that experiencing negative emotion is part of our lives. However: experiencing negative emotions like sadness, hopelessness and anxiety on a regular basis should not be endured. Seeking professional help is advisable [8].

Benefits of Happiness

Happiness is also related to pleasure, enjoyment, contentment, and love [9]. When people are in happy, they tend to be more productive, creative, helpful, and have good health. Being happy does not only mean you are in a healthy relationship, it could be affording to buy your basic necessities, having a sense of freedom, or being safe in your environment. Subjective well-being is also believed to help human beings to aim different goals that will benefit them. Positive emotions like happiness are also found to prevent chronic diseases [9].

Mental Health and Happiness

Mental disorders are not the same as unhappiness, and unhappy people are not necessarily diagnosed with mental health disorders. People with pure anxiety disorders and substance abuse disorders report frequent happy moods. One possible explanation for the frequent happy moods of people with mental disorders is that they have lowered their standards for happiness, so that they might describe their mood as happy, although in reality their moods are low. If this were the case, we would expect that people with more chronic conditions would show clearer signs of adaptation to low moods and report higher levels of happiness [10]. 

In another study, they stated that happy people with mental disorders also function better psychologically, are less neurotic, have better self-esteem, higher energy levels and a more relaxed attitude [11].

According to Newman (2015), stress not only disorganizes our thoughts on a psychological level, it also triggers biological changes in our hormones and blood pressure. Happiness seems to temper these effects, or at least help us recover more quickly [12].

Happiness during the Pandemic

The Philippines ranked 61st in the 2021 World Happiness Report, which was released by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network every year. This ranking is lower from the 2019 report, where the Philippines ranked at 52nd [13].

It has been two years since the pandemic hit the world. It has had an impact on people’s happiness because we have all been isolated and driven to social distance. But how do we stay happy despite the pandemic?

According to Tara Law of Time Magazine (2021), there are science-backed ways to feel happier during the pandemic:

  • Staying social, even while distancing – various studies have reported that those who felt connected or engaged to others throughout the pandemic had fewer anxiety and depression symptoms. Relationships have become increasingly digital for many people, such as the use of video calls through Google Meet, Zoom, and MS Teams.
  • Being neighborly and volunteering – people were established to improve new ways to connect outside of their social bubbles as a result of the pandemic. Many people, for example, drew closer to their neighbors or began volunteering. Volunteering, according to studies, has a favorable impact (happiness boost) not only on the individuals who receive assistance, but also on the volunteers.
  • Doing hobbies and exercising – those who exercised frequently throughout the lockdown had happier spirits. Gardening, as well as creative endeavors such as art and reading, have aided people’s well-being.

 

Join our #UsapTayo sessions every zero of the month (10, 20, 30) on Twitter and Twitter Spaces! Let us create a mentally healthy and happy community together with our #MentalHealthPH family, #UsapTayo volunteers, and fellow Filipinos!

 

 

Questions:

  1. What is happiness for you? Can you share a happy moment that you can never forget?
  2. What makes you happy? How has the pandemic affected your happiness?
  3. How can we make a happier and healthier society?

  

Referencez:

[1] United Nations  Department of Economic and Social Affairs Social Inclusion. (n.d.). International Day of Happiness, 20 March. Retrieved February 17, 2022 from https://www.un.org/development/desa/dspd/international-days/international-day-of-happiness.html

[2] Cherry, K. (2022). What is Happiness? Retrieved February 17, 2022 from https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-happiness-4869755

[3] Queensland Brain Institute. (n.d.). What are neurotransmitters? Retrieved February 17, 2022 from https://qbi.uq.edu.au/brain/brain-physiology/what-are-neurotransmitters#:~:text=Neurotransmitters%20are%20often%20referred%20to,or%20from%20neurons%20to%20muscles.&text=Most%20neurotransmitters%20are%20either%20small,%2C%20amino%20acids%2C%20or%20neuropeptides.

[4] Integris Health. (2021). How You Can Benefit from Happy Chemicals. Retrieved February 17, 2022 from https://integrisok.com/resources/on-your-health/2021/may/happy-chemicals#:~:text=Dopamine%20is%20a%20neurotransmitter%20produced,when%20you%20complete%20a%20task.

[5]  Hasin, D., Pampori, Z. A., Aarif, O., Bulbul, K. H., Sheikh, A., & Bhat, I. A. (2018). Happy hormones and their significance in animals and man. International Journal of Veterinary Sciences and Animal Husbandry. Retrieved February 17, 2022, from https://www.veterinarypaper.com/pdf/2018/vol3issue5/PartB/3-5-15-355.pdf 

[6] Jones, H. (2021, July 30). What is a chemical imbalance? Verywell Health. Retrieved February 17, 2022, Retrieved from https://www.verywellhealth.com/chemical-imbalance-5191365 

[7] Power of Positivity. (2015). 10 Signs You’re Happy (Even if You Don’t Feel Like it.. Retrieved from https://www.powerofpositivity.com/10-signs-youre-living-happy-life-even-dont-feel-like/

[8] Yeganeh, A. (2019). Happiness – What’s it mean to live a happy life? Retrieved from https://lifeclub.org/p/happiness?fbclid=IwAR1gj9o7Ve4xi06acB-_8-c_79I_dYPaffVsGjlVS6FSTSWXztRvNF1-cgs

[9] Diener, E., & Tay, L. (2017). Chapter 6: A Scientific Review of the Remarkable Benefits of Happiness for Successful and Healthy Living. In Happiness: Transforming the development landscape (pp. 90–106). essay, The Centre for Bhutan Studies and GNH. 

[10] Bergsma, A. and  Veenhoven R. et al. (2010). Do They Know How Happy They Are? On the Value of Self-Rated Happiness of People With a Mental Disorder. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10902-010-9227-5#citeas

[11] Bergsma, A. and Veenhoven R. et al,. (2011). The Happiness of People with Mental Health Disorder in Modern Society. Retrived from https://psywb.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/2211-1522-1-2

[12] Newman, K. (2015). Six Ways Happiness is Good for Your Health. Retrieved from https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/six_ways_happiness_is_good_for_your_health#:~:text=Happiness%20combats%20stress,help%20us%20recover%20more%20quickly

[13] Bueza, M. (2021). Filipinos less happy in 2020, says World Happiness Report. Retrieved March 9, 2022 from https://www.rappler.com/nation/philippines-ranking-world-happiness-report-2021/

[14] Law, T. (2021). 5 Ways to Feel Happier During the Pandemic, According to Science. Time. Retrieved March 9, 2022 from https://time.com/6130871/happiness-wellbeing-pandemic/

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