Happiness (hedonia) is described in scientific literature as the “presence of positive emotions and the absence of negative emotions” (Ryan & Deci, 2001). In a more broad context - wellbeing is thought to be made of hedonic and eudaimonic principles – these describe our sense of personal meaning, actualisation and purpose in life, all of which contribute to the sensations of happiness.
Let's get into the theory of it all:
A hedonic view of psychology is a theory which suggests that the avoidance of pain and the seeking of pleasure are motivating forces which drive behaviour – forming a foundational part of behaviourism and psychoanalysis.
Eudaimonic principles in psychology proposes that happiness or eudemonia is the ground of morality – in that what is good will bring forth happiness. This perspective suggests that humans strive to act in ways which will bring happiness – this connection is somewhat more subtle in nature suggesting the human capacity for altruism which allows for a capacity for humans to act for the greater good and draw a sense of happiness from this.
There are hundreds of theories around happiness and what makes a human feel the sensations of happiness.
Evolutionarily speaking biology exposes that we have all the 'hard matte'r needed in order to thrive in this lifetime: namely our brains and bodies, which in the pursuit of wellbeing, and springing from our waterfall of neurochemicals that the brain produces, allows for challenges to become something which can be a source of pleasure, driving us towards a sense of achievement.
Neurochemicals are produced in the hundreds – with only a fraction of them being fully understood and examined scientifically. Point being that the mystery of the body endures, however we do have somewhat of an understanding of some of these few masterful molecules control the ways in which we feel.
Happiness is generally equated to emotions which arise due to external stimuli – be it people, items or events – and while these can be contributors they are not bound to these ‘things’ and rather is due to neurochemicals which are fired and create the emotion which we then interpret as happiness.
So happiness can almost be entirely liberated from the external reality – in that knowing we are, in so many ways, free from the idea of needing to externally search and rather seek it in the self and allow for these brilliant chemicals to express themselves.
What are these chemicals?
The pillow talk, cuddle, cuppa tea, loving touch hormone.
This is by far one of the most comforting chemicals our brains transmit. Oxytocin is released through any form of care and pleasure – be it from self or other. This can look like a foot massage from a loved one, pleasure or even just a looong self-soothing hug. This has been observed extensively amongst breastfeeding and pregnant mothers where this hormone is produced abundantly. The feelings associated with this hormone are warmth, comfort and that kind of ‘butter-in-the-sun’ melting – it also stimulates serotonin and dopamine aiding in reducing levels of anxiety.
So how do we stimulate this cuddle chemical?
- self-love rituals
- playing with pets/ animals in general
- holding hands
- sharing emotional intimacy.
The driver hormone
Dopamine is what gives us the ‘get it done’ mentality, seeking the pleasure of reward-driven behaviours. Dopamine hits are easy to achieve – simply set a goal and do it, studies have even shown that the simple task of excitedly setting that goal can trigger receptors. These days the navigation comes in on where we get that dopamine from – is it a social media hit or is it doing a yoga class – the choice is always up to the individual but the impact on mental health, wellbeing and actualisation is very different.
- perform acts of kindness
- set goals
- make a plan
- be intentional
- listen to music
Natures pain-killer and picker-upper
This giddy like molecule is produced by the Central Nervous System and is best known and experienced when induced during aerobic and anaerobic exercises. Endorphins aid us in dealing with pain, can cause light-headedness and can mask discomfort which is why it is related to the CNS fight, flight or freeze response. This is a very ‘yang’ based chemical, based on movement, power and the pushing of limits.
- Exercise (even a 30 minute walk has shown to reduce depression, boost moods and stimulate endorphins)
- laugh – like a lot !
- physical intimacy
The best known happiness chemical
We all know Serotonin due to it being one of the key chemicals used in anti-depression medications (SSRI’s). Did you know that your gut is actually the one to thank when it comes to 95% of your body’s natural serotonin production? (for more read our microbiome blog here) So when we look at happiness from a Serotonin point of view, instead of looking at the head look at your gut, your gastrointestinal tract and everything that you consume. Ensuring that you eat the kinds of foods which are supportive to your gut microbiome health is essential when managing mood and keeping a positive mindset.
- Eat foods high in Tryptophan such as oats, nuts, seeds, pineapples, eggs etc, as well as high-fibre and wholefoods
- sit in the sun
- go for a massage
- do yoga
More about emotions
Emotions which are most times labelled as ‘negative’ such as anger, envy, frustration etc are wonderful teachers in which are able to identify triggers and unconscious beliefs or thought patterns which may be hindering self-growth and happiness.
Most times, because of the negative associations we formulate around these kinds of emotions, we punish ourselves for feeling them, suppressing and medicating them to go away – however beneath the surface one could be feeling anger due to a triggering event which causes dis-ease in the body, instead of learning the means of dealing with and locating its roots, it is ignored and stored within the body, mind and spirit.
Think of understanding emotions as finding a secret route traced out on a treasure map, one which shows you the direct link between the trigger/ lived experience and the vast expanse of our consciousness.
In that way these and all emotions are to be celebrated – how better to understand the world around us and ultimately the self through a trigger which can then be clearly seen and understood.
So what can these triggering-ly beautiful mirrors teach us about ourselves?
This surfaces when we feel undervalued and/or exploited, anger is the ‘do’ emotion, it asks you to take action to assert the welfare of ourselves and others. A lot of times it can be a driving force towards becoming more helpful. When experiencing this emotion ask yourself what steps can be taken and how to clarify what could be and should be
Fear & anxiety
Fight, flight or freeze - that is the question.
Fear is one of those emotions and experiences in life when it is obvious to see that we are very much evidently still animals – like am impala ready to run in the face of a lion our adrenaline pumps, heart races and vision narrows – but here’s the shocker, most of the time there isn’t a lion, it’s just someone from a call centre trying to sell you a new contract or a balloon popping in a children’s birthday party. Simplified, I know, but fear is our survival emotion. Most of our anxieties and fears are formulated in childhood – the idea is to locate where these experiences originate from – on a cultural, ancestral or trauma informed scale. Once we see we are able to surrender and show ourselves deeper compassion and trust to heal.
It’s only human, to compare oneself to another, this an ancestral condition we have faced longer than times memorable. The perception of our success and therefore happiness is one of relative proportions – financially, romantically and personally. Boiling down envy is a tender exposure which presents the ultimate complex many of us face – that inherently there is a shame, lack, resentment, inferiority and/ or hostility within our own psyches which can provide an opening for seeing the areas in which we are self-doubting. Notice it, and instead of feeling the hostile energetics, appreciate where the other is in their lives and use their achievements as motivation and encouragement to set goals and allow yourself to live in better alignment with self.
The truest indicator that we have neglected a part of ourselves – mind, body or spirit.
Sadness and grief can manifest into dis-ease incredibly quickly, asking for an immediate attention to the need for a nourishment of self. Crying is one of the best means of releasing sadness, and allowing for it to be let out from the entire being and shed from self; there are many age old stories about the benefit of crying as being a tool to remove toxins and reduce heart disease risk - modern science has now observed that having a good cry actually releases different chemicals and neurotransmitters than tears of a different nature. Sometimes all one needs to do is see the self and provide a space to practice self-love to soothe any sorrows in order to restore the spirit.
I had a moment of clarity when it came to regret – the question I posed to myself was that if I trust in life, and all that is destined for me to learn on this journey then how can I regret one thing?
This simple pondering may seem reductive in some senses but often times when we think of the ‘if only I’d done’s and the ‘I wish I…’s we add an a layer of pain onto an already painful incident. Allow for a repositioning perhaps – these are opportunities for growth and learning, a painful yet powerful launchpad off of which are able to make memorable and effective changes in our lives in order to transform old patterning’s – highlighting out opportunities to be authentically autonomous as opposed to being powerless.
So to be clear - no emotions are bad – rather they are beautiful “tools carved by eons of human experience to direct us where we need to go” – says psychologise Mathew Hutson. Opportunities for us to be able to experience the fullness of what it means to be human and deepen our relation to self, and therefore other and world.
The body is able to reflect this transformation in perception and deepen the ability to communicate these triggers and opportunities for growth.
Mental health is slowly becoming increasingly de-stigmatised and we want to celebrate all of our herbal friends and mushroom lovers who are seeking ways in which to support your or a loved one’s mental health and wellbeing.
Some honourable mentions of herbs for mental health (read 13 herbs for mental health) :
- Gotu Kola
- Lemon Balm
- St johns wort
Celestine, N., 2017. [online] PositivePsychology.com. Available at: <https://positivepsychology.com/happiness/#:~:text=In%20scientific%20literature%2C%20happiness%20is,the%20absence%20of%20negative%20emotions.> [Accessed 24 August 2022].
Culliford, L., 2012. Spirituality and Emotions (Spirituality for Beginners 14). [online] Psychology Today. Available at: <https://www.psychologytoday.com/za/blog/spiritual-wisdom-secular-times/201209/spirituality-and-emotions-spirituality-beginners-14> [Accessed 7 September 2022].
Anima Mundi Herbals. n.d. Plant Medicines. [online] Available at: <https://animamundiherbals.com/> [Accessed 7 September 2022].
https://www.apa.org. 2022. American Psychological Association (APA). [online] Available at: <https://www.apa.org/> [Accessed 24 August 2022].
Ryan, R. and Deci, E., 2001. On Happiness and Human Potentials: A Review of Research on Hedonic and Eudaimonic Well-Being. Annual Review of Psychology, 52(1), pp.141-166.