Chasing happiness Image Credit: Giphy

Highlights

  • Is addiction to happiness a real thing?
  • The definition of happiness 
  • 10 science backed way to be more happy

"I think I'm addicted to happiness"

‘I think I am addicted to happiness’ my friend Amy told me while we were having dinner at a local café in Jumeirah. ‘Every time I find something that I love, I stick to it day in and day out, until it becomes unhealthy.’ Amy is a young, fun-loving designer living and working in Dubai.

She is 27, smart, beautiful and energetic. A bit too energetic maybe? She usually cannot sit still. Always looking for the next fun thing to do. It makes me wonder whether she can be content without doing anything at all. Is what she is seeking really happiness or just instant pleasure?

When we were at our best friends’ wedding by the Red Sea in Egypt, Amy and I were there early. At the beach together, getting ready together, then we danced at the wedding, non-stop. At around 10.30pm I was ready for bed. Amy on the other hand, went back to the hotel to change.

She was ready for the after party. She stayed up until 3am and was awake again at 8am to meet me at breakfast. Like I said. She has energy. Whenever we travel, Amy is the first to get up and the last to sleep. Always looking for something fun to do.

Always on the lookout for something to make her happy.

Whether it’s a jar of Nutella, a pair of shoes, a lip stick, a travel destination or even a person, when she finds something that brings her happiness/pleasure, she holds on to it for dear life.

Too much of a good thing?

Usually, when something is overused or abused, it can become an addiction and destroy our lives. Okay…that does sound a little extreme, because Amy is a normal girl with a stable life, but she is a light example of how chasing happiness, could actually lead to unhappiness.

Dr. Khawla Ahmed, Head of Psychiatry at Rashid Hospital commented saying: "Addiction can happen to anything, especially if it has a good reward."

The feeling of happiness is a combination of hormones in the brain specifically endorphins, dopamine and serotonin. Being happy obviously feels good. As human beings it is normal to want to feel good all the time.

The problem is, with the vast range of emotions that make up the human experience, a constantly happy state is not sustainable.

The consequences of this pleasure seeking mentality is that when we find ourselves feeling any other negative or neutral human emotion – such as sadness, anger, or discomfort, we try to get out of it immediately.

We think something is “wrong with us” if we don’t feel good. So we numb it, drug it, avoid it, bury ourselves in work to forget it

What exactly is happiness?

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, a Professor of Psychology at the University of Michigan and is one of the founders and leading figures in positive psychology, defines happiness as ‘things that make life worth living’.

In a funny way, any kind of addiction that we have, is an addiction to happiness. Specifically the pleasure that we get from not feeling negative emotions. When some people want to avoid feeling uncomfortable feelings like sadness, awkwardness, sorrow or anxiety, they resort to doing something that makes them ‘happy’ or makes them ‘not feel’ negative or neutral emotions.

This action could range from eating a bowl of pasta with cheese to drinking alcohol or doing drugs. Other people pursue the temporary feeling of happiness with TV, shopping, sex or surfing the Internet.

One of my personal pursuits of happiness is making sure that I am almost never home and always never alone. I love going out with people.

As an extreme extrovert, I get a high from leaving my house and meeting my friends every day. I love being around big groups. Even if I sit and quietly browse my phone without interacting with anyone, I am addicted to the happiness of being ‘out and about and having humans around me.

Other ways that people seek happiness/pleasure is finding a food they love and then overdoing it. This kind of addiction could lead to health issues and an overweight body. Wearing the same shoes every day because you love them so much, could lead to them wearing out faster.

Even healthy habits that bring you happiness can be too much for your body. Exercise is fantastic when we do it every day, but when we exercise for hours on end, our bodies wear out and then we’re just in pain.

Sometimes happiness doesn’t come from doing an action, but it could come from a person. When you are addicted to chasing the feeling of happiness, you could end up ruining a relationship with someone who makes you happy, because then want to spend all your time with that person, which could get overwhelming.

You talk to them when they aren’t around and feel really sad when a day comes and you don’t see them. This phenomenon may seem like falling in love, but deep down if you know you are with this person for the high and the feeling they give you, then you know something isn’t right.

When buying new things makes you happy and you end up having a need to shop in order to maintain that feeling. This dangerous addiction could lead to debt.

Happiness broken down

According to Dr. Saliha Afridi, a Clinical Psychologist at Lighthouse Arabia, all human beings strive to be happy. And happiness is a 3-part formula:

1. A life of pleasure

2. A life of engagement

3. A life of meaning

You cannot just engage in one or two of these and be happy — all three must be present.

What Amy and many others like her are doing is chasing pleasure, rather than happiness.

Anytime we engage in something pleasurable- whether it is shopping or eating our favorite food, go on a sought out vacation, or checking our favorite technology app- we have dopamine released in our brain. Dopamine is also referred to as the ‘reward neurochemical’.

Thanks to popular culture and it’s heavy emphasis on consumerism — people are convinced that pleasure equals happiness — when in actuality — authentic happiness can only be attained when you are living a life of values, engaged in activities that draw upon your character strengths and using it to make a positive impact within your community/world.

In this day and age, we are being sent messages through advertising, media and even our society telling us that in order to feel happy we need to invest our energy, and resources, on external factors such as clothing, a gym membership, makeup, beverages and food. That these are the things that will give us the one way ticket to happy-ville.

The trick is, you need to be emotionally content all by yourself. Your happiness should not depend on something or someone. It should be created inside of yourself.

And you need to understand that there is no such thing as a constant state of happiness. If you are always happy, you don't realise its value. Everyone should experience pain and sadness so that they can understand the significance of what they have been given in life.

Dr. Saliha also told Gulf News: "You cannot chase happiness — happiness is founf on the inside  and it can only be attained when you know who you are, you know what your strengths are, you are living a life anchored in values and you are using your strengths to benefit your family and community.

I think the culture of ‘positive thinking’ and ‘happiness’ can really backfire because people start to believe that they have to feel good all the time and they catastrophize any sad or negative feelings that are a normal part of life. People have bad days and days where nothing goes right or when people are in a lull- it is important to be able to experience the range of emotions and not go from one moment of pleasure to the next."

How to be 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. Practice 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-yearlong 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.