HAPPY

“Let us be grateful to the people
who make us happy;
they are the charming gardeners
who make our souls blossom”

― Marcel Proust

The current era of corporate as well as metaphysical and self-help marketing jargon have already developed new-fangled techniques to be happy at work as well as surmounting the daily challenges of life and of course there are the pharmaceutical ‘happy pills’ from flourishing pharmaceutical companies. Whether any of these are long lasting or even authentic – who knows? Possessions, money, material things may promote an illusion of happiness. Are we running from depression and chasing after happiness like a drug addicted society chasing after endomorphins?
I wasn’t aware of any sense of happiness as a growing teenager; Yet in my twenties an insight arose that the whole meaning of life was to be happy – to ‘dance’ with life’s experiences in a meaningful, sincere, caring and joyful way. Suddenly in my late fifties it was clear that unhappiness is part of life. A deep understanding arose that unhappiness is not flawed.
There are moments in time where we all experience true happiness – a window into a timeless moment that renews energy and translates into being blissful.
What brings the warmth of happiness to humans as individuals and even as a community? A friend recently mentioned that a national and even regional devotion to a sports team and the excitement involved in competitive games can bring with it an element of community spirit and shared exuberance when ‘their’ team wins. Since I am not a sports fan, I would not find myself part of any momentarily cohesive group of celebrators.
It became apparent in my own life, that to be happy was to value this precious gift of living and to sense a mutual respect towards our fellow humans.
I feel happy when soaking in warm mineral hot springs surrounded by the magnificence of nature, which is a meditative state of being where breathing becomes naturally deep and a sense of timelessness brings the awareness of our existence as part of a bigger cosmos. Dressing in cheery clothes, swimming and playing in the azure ocean, writing books and sharing precious time with like-minded friends has brought joy into my life. When happiness rests in my heart and body, insights arise and I understand the value of this precious gift of life. I have learned to value those times of contemplation and timelessness, where insights and wisdom arise from a deeper place. It is said that mindfulness and solutions unfold from a chain of events in the brain that logic alone can’t resolve. In moments of restfulness alpha waves arise in the brain, those alpha waves shut down the visual cortex to minimize distractions which allows awareness and creativity and this in turn facilitates ideas bubbling up to the surface – the brain ‘blinks’ and a burst of gamma waves produces moments of insight. I find these occurrences give me a feeling of energized optimism.
As a teenager, happy times seemed scant, except when dancing alone as well as during some treasured ballet lessons. In my twenties I came upon the idea that the whole meaning of life was to be happy – to dance through life in a meaningful, sincere, caring and positive way. I had the spontaneous insight that this condition of happiness affects others too with a heightened sense of optimism. It spreads!
In my late fifties it was clear that unhappiness is part of life, where a vital understanding and acceptance is fundamental in realizing that unhappiness is not a flawed predicament. It is not a defect. The acknowledgement of this balance in nature brings contentment; paradoxically a preoccupied desire to hunt for exclusive happiness has the effect of keeping us in a state of discontent
Happiness is thought to be a state of well-being characterized by positive or pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy. A variety of biological, psychological, religious, and philosophical approaches have striven to define happiness. Various research groups endeavor to apply the scientific method to answer questions about what happiness is, and how it might be attained. It is of such fundamental importance to the human condition that, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness were deemed to be unalienable rights by the United States Declaration of Independence.
Philosophers and religious thinkers often define happiness in terms of living a good life.
Personal income has more than doubled in the past 50 years in the United States, yet happiness levels have not increased. Recent research has shown that only 10% of our happiness is due to our external circumstances. A full 90% is based on our inner environment. 50% of our happiness level comes from our genes and 40% comes from intentional activities like self-reflection, mindfulness, and gratitude.
The power of mindfulness is explained by recent research in neuroplasticity. We now know that the adult brain grows 5,000 new brain cells every day. So we can rewire our brains to be happy, compassionate, and kind. All that it takes is practice.
Practicing forgiveness has tangible physical and emotional benefits for ourselves and others. Forgiveness reduces tension, depression, anger, and stress. It is directly correlated with physical health.
How we spend our money is as important, if not more important, than the amount of money that we make. Giving to others releases endorphins, activating the parts of our brains that are associated trust, pleasure, and social connection. Being altruistic and spending money on others leads to higher levels of happiness. Happiness, in turn, increases the chance that we’ll be altruistic in the future, creating a positive feedback loop of generosity and happiness.
Experts have concluded that counting our blessings has a measurably positive effect on well-being. Practicing gratitude not only increases general contentment, it improves the amount and quality of sleep. Science has shown that we are significantly more productive when happy. When feeling optimistic our intelligence, creativity and energy levels rise. Dopamine, which floods the brain when we are naturally affirmative, not only makes us happier, but also activates all of the learning centers in the brain. Success is aided by happiness.
Experience has shown that through practicing and maintaining a feeling of contentment, we make those we come into contact with happier and this has a domino effect. Finding happiness is not a selfish pursuit, it is actually bringing energy to those around us.
Humans through science and meditative practice have begun to better understand the neural bases of states like happiness, gratitude, resilience, love, compassion and so forth. We can stimulate and strengthen affirmative feelings with this awareness. The Canadian scientist Donald Hebb says, “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” We can increasingly train our neural network to develop positive states of mind. As the brain changes, the mind changes, for better or worse. Extra activation in the left prefrontal cortex is associated with positive emotions. By ignoring the negative, you get more of the positive.
When people consciously practice gratitude, higher flows of reward-related neurotransmitters like dopamine are accessible. Research suggests that people who are thankful in life, experience a general brightening of the mind. When we feel romantic love and see a photo of our ‘darling’, the brain becomes more active in the caudate nucleus, which is a reward center – a resulting sense of euphoria is experienced.
As neurons fire together in patterned ways based on the information they are processing, neural structure changes. Thus the mind can also change the brain in lasting ways. Busy regions of the brain start stitching new connections together and existing synapses become stronger and build out more receptors. The hippocampus, a part of the brain involved in visual-spatial memory, becomes thicker. In other words, neurons that fire together wire together, even to the point of being observably thicker. People who maintain some kind of regular meditative practice actually have measurably thicker brains in certain key regions. One of those regions is the insula, which is involved in what’s called interoception – tuning into the state of your body, as well as deeper feelings. Practicing mindfulness and undisturbed breathing as well as staying present with what’s going on inside ourselves is becoming a significant form of self-awareness. When focusing attention through meditation, the neural basis strengthens. This is known as self-directed neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is the malleable nature of the brain; self-directed neuroplasticity means doing it with clarity and intention.
Attention is like a spotlight, shining on things. But it’s also like vacuum cleaner, sucking whatever it rests upon into the brain, for better or worse. If we rest our attention routinely on what we resent or regret, then we’re going to build out the neural substrates of those thoughts and feelings. By giving attention to things for which we’re grateful, wholesome qualities in ourselves and the world around us, we build up very healthy neural substrates. More than 100 years ago, before there were machines like MRIs to validate the impact of mindfulness, William James. the father of psychology in America, said. “The education of attention would be an education par excellence.”
Gaining more control over attention one way or another is really crucial through the practice of mindfulness. Today we are constantly bombarded with stimuli that the brain may struggle to manage, and this points to a beneficial relevance in meditation.
I have personally felt uplifted when reflecting, focusing and meditating in undisturbed interludes. Insights and clarity come to me in those moments of quiet contemplation. This makes me feel happy.

“If you correct your mind,
The rest of your life will fall into place”

Lao Tzu

If you are honest, people may cheat you.
Be honest anyway.
If you find happiness, people may be jealous.
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have
and it may never be enough.
Give your best anyway.
For you see, in the end, it is between you and God.
It was never between you and them anyway.”

― Mother Teresa

All Rights Reserved. Copyright Charmiene Maxwell-Batten©2013

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HAPPY

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Artist's Description

This is a chapter from my latest book titled ‘Sounds of my Soul’. I have written about various themes that we as humans may often reflect on as we encounter the various thoughts and reflections during our Life’s journey.

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