The Psychology of Happiness

Authentic happiness is broken down into three core values: positive emotion, engagement, and meaning. Though we can't stay authentically happy 100 percent of the time, we can be aware of the signs that indicate distress as well as the techniques that help our mental health and well-being. 

Simply put, stress is the feeling of emotional strain and pressure that affects your mindset and way of life. Though we typically think of stress as only a psychological pain, small amounts of stress may be desired, beneficial, or healthy. This positive psychological stress, also known as eustress, helps determine our motivation, adaptation, and reaction to a particular environment. However, excessive amounts of stress, also known as distress, can be harmful to our body or well-being.

According to the Mayo Clinic, your body undergoes a natural stress response. that communicates with multiple regions in your brain.  When we encounter a perceived threat, our hypothalamus sets off an alarm system made of nerve and hormonal signals to release a surge of hormones. These include adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline increases our heart rate, elevates your blood pressure, and boosts energy supplies. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases glucose and other sugars in the bloodstream. However, long-term activation of the stress response and overexposure of cortisol creates distress to our body’s processes, whether mental or physical. Some of these responses include the onset of anxiety, depression, insomnia, body dysmorphia, heart or digestive issues, and memory impairment. 

It doesn’t always have to be this way. There are techniques to help. And that is our mission at Students for Happiness. 

Though we all experience distress from time to time, using a positive psychological model enables us to heighten our well-being and create authentic happiness. The science of happiness has to do with the neuroanatomy of pleasure, an important contribution to our experience of happiness and strong mental health. Dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and other endorphins are the quartet responsible for our happiness. However, increasing the signaling of these neurotransmitters causes cortisol and other stress hormones to decrease, providing relief. According to the American Psychological Association, though many events can trigger these happiness neurotransmitters, there are ways we can intentionally cause them to flow:

Dopamine is released when the body feels achievement. It motivates us to take action towards our goals and desires. To create a surge of dopamine, we must break down our goals in life into bite-sized pieces. Therefore, rather than celebrating when we completed a huge goal, we may create a series of small goals that release dopamine. 

Serotonin levels have shown to increase when we feel important or valued. Therefore loneliness or a disconnect are the effects of the absence of serotonin. Gratitude practices and appreciating our past achievements are effective ways to manually produce serotonin. Showing ourselves and other gratitude reminds us that we are appreciated and that we have much to value in our lives. Serotonin is a way to give our lives the concepts of purpose, connection, and meaning. 

Finally, Oxytocin levels build when humans feel intimacy, trust, and true connection. Oxytocin allows us to build healthy relationships with important individuals in our lives and improve our everyday social interactions. Hugs are efficient and simple ways to increase oxytocin levels - when someone gives or receives this gift, it alleviates feelings of isolation by letting us know we are not fighting alone. 

The psychology and neurological perspectives of stress and happiness work hand-in-hand. If we are able to take a few minutes of our lives using a positive psychological model and care for ourselves and others, we can build our own authentic happiness - together! 

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