Guest Blog by Manette Richardson, RDN, CDE, LDN
Diabetes Consultant to Helm Publishing, Inc.
Have you ever wondered, What is happiness? And why some people are happy and some not? Well, my husband and I recently went to a workshop on “The Habits of Happy People” presented by Brian E. King, PhD, sponsored by the Institute for Brain Potential.1 We went hoping to learn the “magic” of why some people were always happy, and whether we could be missing out on something. We learned more than I could ever imagine. My husband and I are both healthcare providers, I am a diabetes educator and he is a speech pathologist. We were intrigued how we could incorporate the understanding of happiness and better health with chronic disease and depression that often accompanies it. I want to share some key messages that touched me personally and professionally.
What is Happiness?
Happiness is an emotional state with positive or pleasant emotions. It implies the presence of something positive (not just the absence of negativity).
Happiness and the Brain—The Biological Basis2
A person’s overall happiness is objectively measurable. You are biologically wired for happiness. Specific genes are part of a pool that provides a blueprint for the intrinsic states of happiness. Happiness however has many influences. More positive emotions and a greater feelings of well-being happen when the left rather than the right prefrontal cortex of the brain is activated. It is believed that the left prefrontal cortex controls negative emotion, so by stopping the negative, you get more of the positive. They believe we have the power to make ourselves happier by choosing positive lifestyle choices.
Unsustainable Sources of Happiness
We often think improving life’s circumstances will make us happy forever – such as seeking a better job, a bigger home, a faster car, or a new relationship, but ultimately, as external conditions change, happiness is fleeting. We can be left empty and wanting.
Sustainable Sources of Happiness
Intrinsic happiness occurs naturally. Humans have genes that can be activated by our positive thoughts, personal emotional patterns, and learned behaviors.3 Mindfulness, meditation, and selfless actions unlock the part of our brain that produces natural happiness. For example, the ability to seek and find humor and laughter in any given situation works wonders. It may take work but it is a gift you can give yourself.
Life is funny with all of its quirks and contradictions, but it may not always seem so funny when you encounter a tough situation such as finding out you have diabetes or other health issues. The ability to gain a new perspective on a bad situation through humor is a real testament to character. Looking for the humor in everything helps to reduce stress and to make others smile. In my diabetes self-management classes participants are asked what they do for physical activity. One recent answer, “I get plenty of physical activity, I am a master with the remote control.” This one gesture of humor resulted in our laughter and the patient’s positive perspective on incorporating physical activity as part of his self-management goal. Encourage your patients to laugh, think happy thoughts, meditate, and watch funny movies as therapy.
How Are Emotional Styles Associated with Happiness?
Your personal emotional style is likely connected to your interpersonal success, your personal well-being, as well as your physical and mental health. It impacts our dealings with those we come in contact with as a healthcare professional and as a person dealing with the diagnosis of diabetes.
Do you know your Emotional Style?
Unfortunately, most people do not realize what emotional style they actually have. When you know your style, you can better understand why you react as you do and how you can adapt to other styles to reduce barriers and build relationships.
“The constitution only gives people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.” Benjamin Franklin
“Happiness depends less on what happens to us and more on how we view the past, enjoy the moment, and create the future.” Brian E. King, PhD1
September’s blog will review the “Six Emotional Styles of the Brain and Habits of Happy People.”
- “The Habits of Happy People” presentation by Brian King, PhD sponsored by Institute for Brain Potential.
- “The Role of the Brain in Happiness: Advances in neuroscience reveal fascinating details about how the brain works. Published on February 19, 2013 by Ron Breazeale, Ph.D. in In the Face of Adversity
- “How to Trick Your Brain for Happiness” by Rick Hanson. Accessed: September 26, 2011. http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_to_trick_your_brain_for_happiness. Rick Hanson explains how you can intentionally change your brain to create lasting happiness and well-being.