#21 The Advantages of Living in Happiness
Everyone wants to be happy. But, how many people say why they want to be happy? How many people really think about the advantages of living in happiness? There’s a lot more to living in happiness than feeling a sense of elation. For instance, hundreds of people can benefit from one person living in happiness. So, what really happens to us and others when we live in happiness? This post explains the physiological, physical, psychological, and relational advantages of living in happiness.
What it Means to Live in Happiness
Before I continue, I want to remind you what it means to live in happiness. It means experiencing the elements of happiness; to live in peace and love, to have freedom, and to experience joy, satisfaction, and contentment. To live in happiness means you live in, with, and through the spirit of God.
Living in Your Nature is Hard
When you take up residence in your nature, you just go through life surviving as opposed to thriving and living in happiness. To maintain your residence/survival, you must constantly hunt or scavenge. Sadly, the things you pursue are things that make you feel sick so you can have something from which you survive. This sickness comes from the very emotions that allow you to survive – fear, anger, contempt, shame, and guilt.
Residents of the natural need these emotions to stay alive and develop a need to feel them so they can feel alive. Their cycle parallels the Israelites’ forty-year ramble in the wilderness. Life becomes an exhausting journey of dissatisfaction, murmuring, and unrest summarized as, “No rest for the wicked.” Living in your nature is hard.
You Can Reside in Happiness no Matter What
Living in happiness is like being in a particular state. For me, it’s like living in the state of Michigan (for you it’s wherever you live). Once I’m here, no matter what happens – tornados, floods, statewide shutdowns, etc. – I am still in Michigan. To get myself out, I have to drive, walk, or sail, over the state line.
While in Michigan, I can freely choose to go to different places within the state. If I go to a particular area of Michigan and really enjoy it, it’s easy to feel good about the entire state. If I go to a city I don’t enjoy, I’m still breathing air in Michigan, using Michigan roads, and eating and drinking in Michigan, which I do enjoy. Therefore, I am satisfied and content despite my lack of joy in that city. Similarly, if we lack a certain element of happiness, we still have the other elements so we’re still in happiness. Therefore, we can live in happiness no matter what.
It’s Easy to Live in Happiness
The elements of happiness are interdependent. So, it’s easy to live in happiness because you don’t have to go very far to get from one element to the next. And, since each element of happiness contains pieces of the others, having just one element quickly brings about all the others. For example, I might not feel joyful because of my current situation. But, if I hold my peace, I will soon feel satisfied and content, and be free of stress. I will be happier.
Our Emotions are Well Trained When We Live in Happiness
When you live in your nature, you feel, then you react. When you live in happiness, you do something, then feel. This allows you to manage your situation and feel better about it. Take the “current situation” example above. I had to do something in order to hold my peace. First, I had to think about what I needed to do to hold my peace. Then, do it. I could have held my tongue, found a quiet place to pray or meditate, did deep breathing, did a fun activity, repeated a calming phrase to myself, or went for a walk.
Unlike living in your nature where your emotions are quick to take the lead, when you live in happiness, your emotions are well trained. Your thoughts lead your emotions and God leads your thoughts. This prudent chain of command results in better decisions and the ability for you to handle unfavorable situations in a favorable way. It’s especially useful for handling disappointment which happens when we don’t get what we want.
Living in your nature might get you what you want so you don’t have to experience disappointment. But, living in happiness gives you the freedom to want whatever you want and be satisfied with what you get.
Our Nature Opposes Our Happiness
Our nature opposes our happiness. Therefore, the effects of living in happiness are the opposite of living in your nature. Post #20 explains the disadvantages of living in the natural. When we live there, we suffer. When we live in happiness, we continue to get happier.
Physiological Advantages of Living in Happiness
Research shows that living in happiness causes chemical reactions in our brain that directly affect our physical health, psychological health, and relationships.
Our natural emotions come from the area of our brain that also regulates our vital organs. Therefore, our bodies react to our natural emotions and our natural emotions react to our bodies. When we are afraid, our heart rate increases, breathing is rapid, and digestion slows down. If we had tachycardia, shortness of breath, or IBS, we would feel afraid (anxious).
Higher levels of happiness affect our bodies similar to the way fear does. When we are elated, our hearts race and pound, we may feel light-headed, and we can’t sleep. Our bodies’ responses are similar, but the causes are better, so the outcomes are better.
Our survival emotions produce stress hormones that tense our bodies to fight or run. Extreme happiness produces hormones and neurotransmitters (chemicals that cause brain cells to connect) that contribute to relaxed healthier bodies.
More Stress = Less Happiness = More Stress Hormones = Less Good Health
The hormone that prepares our bodies to fight or flight is Cortisol. This stress hormone is released when we sense danger or feel threatened. Cortisol is supposed to be used as needed, not long term. But, when we live in survival mode, we constantly produce Cortisol and that results in adverse conditions such as impaired cognitive performance, suppressed thyroid function, decreased bone density, muscle weakness and fatigue, high blood pressure, lower immunity, and increased abdominal fat.
Advantages of Dopamine
When we experience pleasure, anticipate something good, or are extremely happy, Dopamine is released. Dopamine functions as a hormone and a neurotransmitter. Simply put, Dopamine lights up the joy center of our brain. Like many things, Dopamine is good in moderation. Too much or too little can have negative consequences. People who live in happiness maintain a well-balanced Dopamine level. This gives them healthier brains and bodies.
Dopamine contributes to learning, motivation, and attention. The prefrontal cortex area of the brain is where thinking and memory take place. When there is an adequate level of Dopamine in that area during an event, we are motivated to be interested and remember it better. Dopamine also helps us focus and stay on task.
Good levels of Dopamine contribute to the good health of our vital functions including heart rate, blood vessel function, and kidney function. It’s also involved in regulating sleep and mood.
Suffice it to say, happy people have good levels of Dopamine. Therefore, they have better moods, are better rested, and have the potential to be more focused and motived which leads to greater success. They have better overall health, which leads to longer more productive lives.
This next section explains additional advantages of living in happiness. Specifically, how the elements of happiness affect the physical, psychological, and relational aspects of our lives.
The Elements That Make Up Happiness
The fullness of our lives is made up of happiness and our happiness is made up of the elements joy, peace, love, freedom, satisfaction, and contentment. To appreciate the benefits of these elements, it’s important to understand their meaning. I used Noah Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language, compact ed., (Working Lion Press), to define the elements because of the purity of its originality.
Joy: The passion or emotion excited by the acquisition or expectation of good; the gratification of desire or some good possessed, or by a rational prospect of possessing what we love or desire. Synonyms are blessedness, satisfaction, and contentedness.
Peace: A state of quiet or tranquility; freedom from disturbance or agitation (fear, terror, anger, anxiety).
Love: An affection of the mind excited by beauty and worth of any kind, or by the qualities of an object which communicate pleasure (or gratification).
To further understand love, the Bible gives a thorough description of what our behaviors ought to be when we love. In summary, love is patient, serene, kind, thoughtful, not jealous or envious, does not brag, is not proud or arrogant, is not rude, is not self-seeking, is not overly sensitive or easily angered, does not hold grudges, does not take pleasure in injustice, and rejoices in the truth. When we truly love, we love without conditions, choose to believe the best in others, remain steadfast during difficult times, and endure things without weakening. Love never ends.
Freedom: A state of exemption from the power or control of another.
Satisfaction: That state of mind which results from the full gratification of desire; repose (to rest in confidence) of mind or contentment with present possessions and enjoyment. Synonyms are contentedness, joy, and gratification.
Contentment: Rest or quietness of the mind in the present condition; satisfaction which holds the mind in peace, restraining complaint, opposition, or further desire, and often implying a moderate degree of happiness. Synonyms are satisfied, gratified, and overjoyed.
No Excuse For Not Living in Happiness
There is no excuse for not living in happiness. God made the elements of happiness available to us as evidenced in Scripture: We are promised joy; Jesus gave us his peace; God gave us love through His son; God gives us satisfaction in His goodness; we have freedom through our acceptance of God; we have contentment in knowing God will never leave us.
Advantages of Living in Happiness
The elements of happiness are always available to use. They are what we need to be happy and they make us healthy. But, it is our choice if we want them. And, in order to have them, we must do something – we must follow Jesus.
Here are are the physical, psychological, and relational advantages of living in happiness.
Research shows that people who are happy live healthier longer lives. Besides the benefit of good Dopamine levels, happy people are reported to have:
- Lower blood pressure
- Less risk of cardiovascular disease
- Lower incidence of coronary artery disease
- Lower risk of stroke
- Higher functioning immune systems resulting in fewer illnesses
- Lower risk of injury
- Fewer pain symptoms
- Better eating habits
- More exercise and activity
- Decreased inflammation
- Faster healing and recovery
- Better digestion
- Improved sleep
- Slower signs of aging
It’s also worth noting the benefits of laughter that especially come from joy. Research shows that a good chuckle increases Dopamine. This is a similar reaction to what alcohol and drugs do. Laughter resolves tension and releases inhibitions.
In addition, laughter helps decrease blood glucose levels, increases pain tolerance, increases the activity of several critical antibodies and natural killer cells, which are essential in anti-tumor defense, and contributes to a healthier heart.
When we experience joy, peace, love, and freedom, our brains experience the same. This results in:
- Our thoughts are more open to creativity and inventiveness
- Better problem solving
- A better understanding of forgiveness
- More thoughtful decision making and fewer regrets
- Less loneliness
- Being more mindful which makes us more self-aware. Leads to:
- A better sense of reality. This allows us to be more accepting.
- Better awareness of our physical and emotional pain (When we are aware of our pain, we can focus on it instead of who caused it or how to get rid of it. Meditation experts teach that focusing on the pain itself alleviates it.)
- A positive frame of mind that leads to:
- A better outlook for the future – more optimism
- Satisfaction and contentment
- The ability to gain more knowledge and wisdom
When we are peaceful, we quiet our minds. This allows us to think more clearly, see the truth, and opens us up to faith and gratitude. It allows us to hear God’s voice.
Life is relational. We cannot exist without some kind of relationship. We have a relationship with ourselves, with God, and with other people. Our happiness affects our relationships and our relationships affect our happiness. The common denominator in both of these situations is us. Therefore, we are responsible for what we present to others and how we receive what other people give us. We can never predict how people will respond to us. Even if we are happy and treat others accordingly, there is no guarantee they will respond in kind. A quiet mind, joyful heart, and loving spirit will overcome whatever response we get from others. This prevents feuds, hostility, and regrets.
Better relationships with Ourselves and Others
When we live in happiness, we will be better to ourselves. We’ll have better self-esteem and love for ourselves. Since we can only give what we have, those who live in happiness have many good things to give to others.
Joy is the one element we can see. Smiles, laughter, whistling, singing, humming, and cheerful voices are obvious indicators of joy. When we see someone who is joyful or happy, we feel safe because the person isn’t threatening. We will want to be with that person.
While we cannot see peace, love, freedom, satisfaction, and contentment, we can sense it. People who have these elements behave in ways that relay confidence, trust, and faith and other people sense that. People who live in happiness are inspirational and role models to those who are struggling in the natural.
Most people want someone to depend on, especially when they are in a vulnerable position. These folks rely on the people who live in happiness for comfort, strength, and courage.
Better Relationship with God
We can only be happy by following God. He wants us to follow Him and lead others to Him. People who live in happiness are the stewards who do just that. God gives us what He has and we give others what we have.
Living in Happiness Give us a Better Life
When we live in happiness, we have better relationships in our families, at work, with friends, at school, and in our communities because we know where our happiness comes from and how to secure it. We are not afraid to pursue it and are always grateful to have it. When we live in happiness, we relate to the grace and mercy of God. We receive His gifts with constant gratitude. And, we share His love with the hope of being good and faithful servants.