Happiness does not come from what you have and who you are. It solely relies on what you think - Buddha

We know this much that we need happiness in our lives. We have been in pursuit of happiness from time immemorial. Even governments have happiness as a part of their constitutions (USA) and measurements(Bhutan). Did we capture happiness or are we just merely chasing it?

Do we understand what is happiness according to our biology? This topic has been bugging me for a long time and I found some answers which I want to share with you.

We have been destroying the planet as a human species for our happiness and wellbeing. Our average standard of living is a far greater than the kings who lived here 1000 years ago. But are we happier? Let us look at data

This is self reported happiness from various countries.

The data is all over the place but surely we are not more happy. Between material wealth and mental wealth, looks like we declined big time.

On this note, you should read this essay/book: On the suffering of the world to understand more about suffering. There is a specific argument in the book which talks about one animal that eats the other derives less pleasure in the process where as the other animal suffers less compared to the animal that is eating it. Fascinating isn’t it?

Typically we suffer more than we are happy as a human race. Happiness is rare. Just try this experiment. When you get 500 rupees from scratch card in Google vs loosing 500 rupees as fine for late credit card payments, jot down your happiness levels on a 5 star scale.

I bet you will suffer more by losing in fine than gaining that money from scratching. This loss aversion is what we behavioural architects play with. Happiness is not random or by chance. There is a process.

So what happens in the brain?

The answer lies in the mesolimbic dopamine system. It is in the center of the brain. The neurotransmitters Dopamine and Serotonin control functions like rewards, pleasure and play a big role in our happiness.

Several studies have been conducted in terms of rewards and cues. Poor rats.

So we found out that whenever we get a reward (no expectations, surprise) there is a high neuronal activity. Interestingly when you get a cue and then a reward there is no neuronal activity when you get the reward. The activity does happens during the cue but not during reward. Worse if you give a cue (excitement in neurons) but not deliver the reward, there is suffering. The neuron feels cheated 🤕

The expectations of a reward did not give you happiness and worse it gives you suffering.

There was a famous experiment conducted to understand happiness. They found that after a year both the winner and the loser felt the same level of happiness. The phenomenon behind is referred to as Hedonic Treadmill.

We need to constantly strive to stay in the same place. Even if you win 1 cr today, your happiness will be normalised in one year. You need be on the treadmill and keep pursuing. You will start taking things for granted. Worse you will suffer your material wealth. Nothing keeps you happy forever. Worse even if you lose an arm, your happiness is normalised in one year. So happiness and suffering gets normalised. Your material wellbeing and mental wellbeing is not the same. You may get wealthier but not happier. So how to stay happy?

Strategies to stay happy

  1. Key is to manage expectations. Remember that cue and reward study with rats? The lack of expectations keeps you happy. Marcus Aurelius, Sadhguru, Gautama are all saying the same things. Be grateful that you are alive. Be privileged that you get to live like this. That is what morning meditations and gratitude journal is all about.

    May be this is why kids are so happy at all times. They have no expectations and they are happy about everything. A sight of flower, smell of mom etc.

    You can deliberately say I am not going to expect anything today. This is what even Krishna preached Arjuna. Just do your work and do not expect outcomes. He understood neuroscience for sure.

  2. If you need to expect something then expect some suffering in the day. There is some tax that you pay for living on this earth. This keeps you off the hedonic treadmill by design.

  3. Eudemonia is a form of happiness that comes from doing (P.S: Hedonia is our normal pleasure). I refer to Eudemonia as hard dopamine because it comes from doing hard work. When you are skilled at something and you are able to put your skills to work, it gives immense happiness. When a doctor does a complex surgery for 12 hours and breakthrough toughness, he/she feels happy. There goes some explanation for passionate workaholics (guilty I am ).

  4. Happiness is a process. We must do it daily. There is nothing called as Happily ever after.

  5. Your dopamine receptors cannot be bombarded so much that you become numb to dopamine (aka happiness). So stay off your social media and news. If possible stay off the screens for at least 4 hours everyday from screens.

We will specifically talk about dopamine detox tomorrow. Till then stay happy 😉

🥂to gratitude!

Was happy to sleep a little more today. So forgive the 9:24 AM 😅

Yo! Thanks for reading. Means a lot to me as attention is the hardest currency 🙏

If someone in your circle will benefit from this series, please pass them the details and ask them to subscribe here

If you would like to connect with the human behind the series, you can find me on Twitter and LinkedIn