Would you believe that “HAPPY” is the password for the Virgin Lounge wifi? I actually smiled when I keyed in “HAPPY” into my phone. It’s one of those words that has a transforming effect. You just burst into smiles when you greet someone HAPPY Birthday, HAPPY New Year, HAPPY holidays.
How do I key in “HAPPY” into my brain system so that I can use the data to live well? Is it as easy as wifi access in the Virgin Lounge?
It turned out, as Professor of Harvard Dr Daniel Gilbert put it, that the brain has the capacity to manufacture happiness when we choose to key in happiness into the system. That’s why we often hear that happiness is a choice. Key in happiness and you get happiness!
HAPPINESS IN MOMENTS
Happiness is what we get when we get what we want. A very happy moment for me was when I finally remembered the flavour of the muffin after a few hours of racking my brain. It was a distinct flavour but I totally forgot the name of the ingredient. Nothing could help me recall and I decided to leave the matter alone. It was in the most unlikely phrase in an English comprehension book for senior school students that I found the answer to my search and prayer: ‘A rhubarb is a rhubarb is a rhubarb.’ Imagine my happiness when I got what I wanted!
I have told the rhubarb story many times over and each retelling carried the same sense of happiness as when I opened that book with that phrase popping out of the page. My brain has the capacity to manufacture happiness again and again for me as I repeat that beautiful story.
Can you recall some of your stories of happiness when you get what you want?
You wanted that scholarship and you got it; you wanted to learn cooking and you got into a cooking class; you wanted to visit your friend at his house and you bumped into him at the shopping mall etc. Big or small things can make you feel happy.
Yet when you ask people what make them happy, many of them are tongue-tied. Some don’t know what they want so they don’t know how to feel happy even when they get them.
Shawn Achor, the American happiness researcher, recommended writing a gratitude journal for 21 days recording 3 new things each day that you are grateful for. Being mindful of what you want and being deliberate about how you get it will help you experience happiness at a tangible level.
“I am grateful that I could study on a scholarship.”
“I am grateful that I can cook green Thai curry.”
“I am grateful that I met my friend at the shopping mall.”
I am already looking forward to tomorrow to record another 3 new things I am grateful for. The anticipation itself even makes me feel happy as it holds for me the great possibility of getting what I want.
Happiness gives the body a great boost. Endorphins are released into the blood and alter the state of the body. The mood is elevated and the pain is reduced. The body works out a new energy to cope with the challenge. “A cheerful heart is good medicine.” (The Bible, Proverbs 17:22)
HAPPINESS IN MEANING
What if life is not so wonderful and memories are not so fond? Dr Gilbert’s research revealed that the brain can still manufacture happiness even in unpleasant times. He quoted the example of Moreese Bickham who was put in prison for 37 years for a crime he didn’t do. Moreese made an astounding statement, “ I don’t have one minute’s regret. It was a glorious experience.” He is not alone. St James in the Bible (James 1:2-3) says, ‘Is your life full of difficulties? Then be happy, for when the way is rough, your patience has a chance to grow.’ What! That’s furthest from how an average person would perceive happiness!
Perception is everything! How we view our external world determines our inner world. Moreese and St James nailed it – their lives are testimonials of research findings that 90% of happiness depends on how you process the external world.
Events in the external world are sometimes out of our control and if our happiness is controlled by them, then we will always be like a yoyo swinging with each twist. But if we recognise that there are always alternatives and way-outs in every situation, then we can stay calm and can even be happy.
Work at being excellent in manufacturing positive perceptions. It’s in the capacity of your brain. Lead your brain to have a high level of ‘ikigai’, a beautiful Japanese word that means ‘the reason for living.’ We want to wake up every morning with a good reason for living.
In an experiment where people were exposed to 3 minutes of negative news and SOLUTIONS, it was found that they became more creative and not negative at all. If you need to listen to negative news, do listen to the solutions as well. Happiness pathways are created as problems become possibilities and walls become doors.
Happy are the problem-solvers for they will inherit happiness!
HAPPINESS IN MIRRORING
Happiness can be perpetuated. The happiest people are the people who have people to laugh with, to smile at, to talk to. There is a restaurant in Northbridge in Perth that is called “Pleased to meet you.” I thought it was a strange name at first but it is slowly warming up to me with its great message. When you are delighted to see your friends, it’s contagious. They will be equally pleased to meet you. We have mirror neurons in our brain that copy the behaviour of people around us. That’s how we brand cultures – that’s a fun-loving bunch; it’s a friendly country; they are a happy-go-lucky family.
Rather than waiting for another to smile at you and say hello, be the first one to do so. You will get a mirror effect that will surprise you. I had the funniest thing happened to me when I was a young adult. I lived in an apartment and the lift stopped at every floor. That day, the lift opened and I saw my elderly neighbour whom we called , ‘Ah Pei’, a respectful word in my Chinese dialect for an older male person. I must have shocked him with my enthusiastic tone that he mirrored back to me, ‘Ah Pei.’ I had a good laugh after I exited from the lift.
What do you want mirrored to you? If it’s happiness, then you need to project that image to get its expression.