What Does It Take to Be Happy?

Menopause & Aging Well


Happiness is such a loaded emotion. Some days I wake up feeling happy. Others, not so much. Especially in this so-called midlife, when so many things around me are in flux.

But since it feels so much better to feel happy than to feel unhappy—not to mention the health-enhancing effects of happiness—throughout "those" days when I am inexplicably cranky, moody or just plain unhappy, I try to remind myself of a few things:

This is not permanent. Happiness can, and does, fluctuate.

  • Force a smile, even if you don't feel smiling. A study bears this out. Smiling may actually influence our physical state by lowering our heart rates. It also, amazingly, makes you feel happy (even if you're not when you start out).
  • We are, to a certain degree, in charge of our own happiness, just as we are in charge of our thoughts. "The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts: therefore, guard accordingly.…" said Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius.

Then there are those people who are just naturally happy, and they don't have to figure out how to get there—they just wake up that way (and stay that way pretty consistently throughout life).

What's their secret? I've often wondered. Perhaps they've perfected the art of happiness, have their own, enlightened way of wading through all the impediments to get to the heart of the (happy) matter.

Well, yes, there are those who make a determined effort to be happy and succeed. They're able to easily shrug off feeling bad and instead, are really, really skilled at letting in only the good. For them, happiness is not elusive; rather, it is extremely reachable, attainable and sustainable.

And then there are the real lucky ones—the ones who are born with the "right" gene.

Scientists at the University of Warwick found that there is a gene that regulates the hormone serotonin in the brain; people with short forms of it tend more toward unhappiness or depression, while those with longer forms of it enjoy more happiness, due to the higher levels of serotonin in their bodies.

Lucky ones indeed. And those are the people I love to hang around with, because their happiness is contagious. Yes, it truly is, according to another study—and you don't need to read a research paper to know that. Just like your chances of becoming overweight are greater when your friends and their friends gain weight, and smokers are more likely to give up cigarettes when their friends and family give up smoking, hang around with happy people and you're bound to pick up on their good fortune.

After my recent visit to Aruba for a belated birthday celebration with my mother and sister, I'm convinced that the people of Aruba are some of the lucky ones who are born with the happiness gene. It all started with my arrival at the airport …

Welcome, indeed!

Continued with a wonderful greeting in front of our hotel … 

Frank always had a smile on his face!

Then on to more happiness at happy hour, toasting with my sister, Lynne …

Clink!

Continuing with our happy waitress who always made me laugh …

Trying to pose like my happy waitress!

And helped line up the three of us for this family photo …

Me, Mom and Sis

By the end of our five-day trip, I had a giant dose of happiness. The only thing that got in the way was the day I had to leave. I was so sad.…

No!!!!!

But I know now that happiness can be easily achieved. It doesn't just take a beach. It takes opening yourself up to enriching experiences, surrounding yourself with happy people and knowing that even if you've come up short in the happiness gene department, happiness is still out there if you look hard enough.

And with regular practice and repetition, happiness can become us.
 
This post originally appeared on mysocalledmidlife.net.

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