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International Happiness Day: Science-backed ways to be happy

People have spent years trying to figure out the secret to happiness: It really does come from within.

Image Credit: Supplied
The Happy Studio

In 2012, the first United Nations (UN) Conference on Happiness declared March 20 as International Happiness Day, and recognised happiness as a fundamental human goal. All 193 UN member nations adopted the resolution to make happiness a key priority index for progress.

Happiness, being subjective, constant and relative, is hard to define. However, when humans study everything through the lens of science, it is hardly surprising that there is a science to study the feeling of elation that happiness is.

Chris Peterson, a pioneer in the ‘science of happiness’ or positive psychology, defines this as the study of things that make life worth living. That is how they define happiness too – a combination of things that make life worth living.

What makes you happy in the UAE?

By Janice Ponce De Leon, Staff Reporter

The UAE today joins the rest of the world in celebrating International Day of Happiness today, but what is happiness, really? International Day of Happiness is celebrated on March 20 every year with the aim of making happiness a fundamental human right and goal for all of humanity.

The annual event was founded in 2012 and adopted by the UN in 2013 through a resolution in order to address “complex, interrelated challenges faced by humankind in the ultimate quest to achieve happiness” and to solidify the point that happiness is a human right and goal for all, regardless of race, gender, or religion.

According to happinessday.org, the theme for this year is
#TenBillionHappy, which basically aims to “inspire, develop and promote initiatives across the board to secure ‘happiness for all’ by 2050”. The celebration is also marked in the UAE with a number of events, spearheaded by the Ministry of State for Happiness. With the many aspects to achieving happiness, we asked UAE residents a simple and fundamental question: ‘What makes you happy?’

Simimol Raijo, Indian, 31, ICT teacher

“Happiness for me is when my heart feels warmth. My daily routine can cheer me up; my family, my job, my friends, my passion these are the main components of my happiness. I like to sleep with music on, drink hot chocolate, dance, sing, watch comedy movies with my family. I really like to learn and experience new things, to listen to really funny jokes, to walk on the beach, to daydream, to smile, to laugh, to spend time with my parents and sisters, to play with my daughter Ashika and son Aiden, to share my world with my husband Raijo, to know that I am not alone.”

Mohammad Arif Sadeq, Bangladeshi, 26, ticketing manager

“Being around with optimistic people who motivate me to accomplish my dreams and support me either at work or at home, I really can’t tell them apart. This is happiness for me! And for me, happiness is really simple. It’s in the little things in life like good health, good vibes and making a difference. All that matters to me is that I am doing what I love the most in my work and personal life. This keeps me inspired and helps me spread happiness and love for all.”

Diane Dalangin, Filipino, 22, marketing professional

“I have tried all sorts of things to “make” myself happy — going on trips, travelling, spending time with a bunch of friends, watching movies, shopping, partying — yes these will give you happiness, but it is rather shallow and temporary.It is when you know you fulfil your life’s purpose that you truly become really happy. What makes me truly happy is when I walk closely with God, delighting in Him in prayer and His word, and having the strength to obey what He says, and to actually see Him working in and through the lives of the people around me. To know that the Creator of everything speaks to you through His word, nothing else can give you more happiness than this — deep and lasting happiness.”

Chitlada Tapradith,Thai, 45, businesswoman

“If I have good health, I am happy. Imagine if you’re sick, what’s your life gonna be like? How would you feel? You’d feel sad or depressed. I observe that if people around me or if someone is sick, they’re sad and stressed. But if you have good health, you can do everything. You can go shopping and do whatever you like. I like to go to the gym to exercise, that really makes me happy. After a workout, I feel that I have more energy — all the stress, everything else is gone. I have power to work more and more and at night I always get restful sleep.”

Mohammad Nafees, Pakistani, chartered accountant

“I came to Dubai in 1975 and got married in 1978. All my children were born in Dubai. We have been so happy since coming here that neither my family nor me wants to return. All credit goes to the vision of the Ruler of Dubai for the development which has taken place in Dubai for the last 20 years. He has been very kind and generous to allow expats like us to buy our own home in Dubai, which is a dream for all of us. I lived in my country for 25 years and in Dubai for 42 years. So Dubai can be considered my first home. My family has grown here and I am satisfied that I was able to achieve what I had dreamed of before coming here.”

Cherry Ankrah, Ghanaian, 19, university student

“What makes me happy firstly is my family, and then my religion, Christianity, and God. I am now living a new adventure as I pursue my degree here in Dubai on my own, without my family as they are back home. This is the first time I‘ve been out on my own to explore the world, a process some people call “adulting”. It’s interesting to know that I’m actually doing stuff on my own and it feels good to be responsible for myself. I fight homesickness by calling my family every single day — that’s another thing that makes me happy. Also, going around Dubai, knowing it’s a very safe and cool city, makes me very happy.”


 

Here are ten science-backed ways to help you become happier

1. Gratitude

All you have to do is think about the good things in your life. Being grateful will do wonders to your brain. Be thankful that you have your health. Be thankful for your friends. It’s important to feel lucky to be alive.

2. Practise something challenging

Whether you are learning a new instrument or learning how to swing upside down at aerial yoga, doing something that you can improve on every day will send endorphins (happy hormones) to your brain. So make sure to challenge yourself.

3. Force yourself to smile

Even if you don’t feel like it, plastering a smile on your face will trick your brain into thinking that you are happy and your mood will instantly lift.

4. Connect with another person

The one thing that really makes humans happy is connecting with others. Whether it’s with a family member, a partner or a friend. If you aren’t happy, just pick up the phone and call someone to feel connected.

5. Stop procrastinating

People who don’t ‘put things off until tomorrow' are generally happier, as they have a proactive attitude and don’t waste time. Very often completing a task will leave people feeling accomplished and proud, thus making them feel happy.

6. Be intellectually curious

Reading books about complex topics or watching documentaries that explain how the world works, is a trait that most happy people have. Happy people are curious about intellectual topics and enjoy meaningful conversations with others.

7. Openness to new experiences

Whether you try a new dish at a restaurant or sign up for a scuba diving lesson, new experiences make people feel a lot happier than those who 

8. Physical affection

According to Virginia Satir, a respected American therapist, people need four hugs a day for survival, eight hugs for maintenance and twelve hugs for growth. The trickle-down effect of the oxytocin release following a hug can reduce stress and elevate your mood. Make your hugs count.

9. Compassion

Scientists have proven that those who are interested in other peoples’ lives, stories and problems are usually a lot happier than those who are only concerned with themselves. Communicating and connecting with others makes human beings thrive. Compassionate people also tend to do random acts of kindness for people they love and also for strangers. They tend to be happier and more satisfied with their life.

10. Work on strengthening your relationships

A 75-year long study of 268 Harvard undergraduate males looked at life from every aspect, ranging from lifestyle to political views. The most important finding of the unique study was that relationships are the only thing that matter in having a fulfilled and happy life. Nurture your closest relationships and let go of toxic ones.


7 free happiness apps for a healthy mind and soul

Although we preach human connection, we live in a world of smart phones and apps that cause depression. If you can't kick your phone addiction, at least use it for good.

These 'happiness apps' help you live a calmer life with positive vibes.

How about using your smart phone to help calm your nerves?

My Mood Tracker

It does more than just track your mood. You can also track your sleep, exercise, pain, and medications taken that may be affecting your mood. Your data is stored in hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly charts which are protected by a 4-digit pin. 

Best thing: You can add specific notes to every entry or see a summary of your day. 

A lite version is available free on iOS



SuperBetter

A mobile game and health fitness tool that can heal the brain through games. The game designer, Jane McGonigal, suffered a serious concussion and claimed that her anxiety and depression faded away while using the app.

Best thing: The app has been updated with a gamified recovery tool, for recovery after trauma.

Available and free at iOS and Android



Mindshift

This was developed for users to learn about anxiety disorders. The app provides a description of your anxiety and can track your experiences as well. It can help instantly relax you with its 'Chill Out Tools'. There is also a treatment plan along with quotable quotes for inspiration.

Best thing: It has tests for anxiety, perfectionism, social anxiety, panic disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. 

Available and free at iOS and Android



Relax Melodies

Relax Melodies features 32 musical and white noise sounds with interesting pictures that go along with each sound. The latest version has an improved interface to find things easily. It also features an adjustable sound volume.

Best thing: Combine sounds for according to your taste and happiness.

Available and free at iOS and Android



Sleep Better

This app is designed to let you track your sleep, monitor your dreams and improve your bedtime habits. It provides a chart of the moon’s cycle which allows you to find the right time to sleep, helping you wake up feeling better.  It lets your enter your daily habits and other variables such as caffeine consumption, exercise info, and stress level

Best thing: The variables are used to determine when and how you can sleep best.

Available and free at iOS and Android



Calm

It has a step-by-step guide to calm your mind when the world around you gets too fast-paced and chaotic. It has different topics on meditative sessions that include self-esteem, forgiveness, focus and concentration and more.

Best thing: The guided meditations developed in the app let you sneak away into the woods.

Available and free at iOS and Android



Diaro

A free journal app that lets you easily organise and look for your previous journal entries. It also lets you record your new experiences quickly as you capture or attach unlimited photos for documentation.

Best thing: It allows you to easily sync your memories across all your devices.

Available and free at iOS and Android

Being Happy

Being happy comes from the personality traits that you carry within you. People have spent years trying to figure out the secret to happiness.

The answer: It really does come from within. 

It comes from the way you perceive things. The way you pro-actively make your own happiness, as well as react to things that happen to you in your daily life. 

You could have millions of dollars, fame and a nice car, yet still feel a strong dissatisfaction that you can’t really explain. 

Or you could be someone who smiles when they see a baby in a stroller, or gets excited when they find an onion ring in a bag of French fries

It’s all about how you choose to view life. I'm not telling you to be a happy-go-lucky person, who is always bubbly and forces people around them to cheer up.

You can make small changes in the way you think to achieve this sense of happiness. And remember... happiness isn't a constant feeling, it comes around bit by bit. 

Get Happy on Instagram

Get involved in the global observation of this day using Instagram. Initiated by the social media channel, you can get involved!

To get involved, all you have to do is spread the love and share a story of kindness on Instagram that has inspired you with #CoolToBeKind at 11am UAE time tomorrow.

What do you need to do? Select a picture of someone that has inspired you or you aspire to be like due to their kindness, ready to post on Instagram – it could be a friend you’re proud to see spreading positivity and happiness.

Share that picture on Instagram with a message showing why that person encapsulates the above Tag three other friends in the post and ask them to do the same.

Don’t forget to hashtag #CoolToBeKind

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