Happiness, eternally coveted by human beings, is the ultimate goal that many of us yearn to achieve. We stubbornly find it but we don’t really know where to start looking. What is happiness? Where and how to find it? On the occasion of the International Day of Happiness, March 20, EFEsalud ventures to unravel happiness: from A to Z
When we talk about happiness, we tend to underestimate the complexity of the concept itself. However, happiness has been the object of study and reflection for centuries, so thinking that we can pigeonhole it within a single hermetic definition is an unrealistic idea.
Instead of defining happiness, EFEsalud has counted on the advice and collaboration of Silvia Álava Sordo, doctor in clinical and health psychology and director of the children’s area of the Álava Reyes Psychology Center, to take a tour of some of the elements that compose it.
In addition to the contributions of the psychologist Silvia Álava, we have used as a source of support the book “Deconstructing Happiness” by Margarita Álvarez, former president of the Coca-Cola Institute of Happiness and one of the 50 most powerful women in Spain, according to Forbes , as well as specific contributions from the World Health Organization and the new book by Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, ‘Without mud, the lotus does not grow’.
This is how we have forged our Alphabet of Happiness
Love: One of the fundamental words in relation to happiness. Give it and receive it. We begin this alphabet by talking about what many consider to be the elemental pillar of happiness, beyond romantic love. “It is not only about love as a couple,” Silvia Álava explains, “there are many types of love. You can be very happy without having a partner, one of the myths that is most often related to happiness ”.
Joy: An emotion totally associated with happiness, but the psychologist contextualizes: “Being happy does not mean always being happy, but having good emotional intelligence; being happy implies being able to perceive and manage all our emotions. I can be tremendously happy knowing that there are days in my life when I will be sad. “
According to the Royal Spanish Academy, it is the “set of things necessary to live well”. “Mental health and well-being are fundamental to our collective and individual ability to think, express feelings, interact with others, earn a living and enjoy life,” adds the World Health Organization (WHO). On the other hand, we cannot speak of well-being if there is not also emotional well-being.
Being compassionate towards others is closely linked to empathy and knowing how to forgive, conclusive factors in the construction of happiness. Self-compassion is something we tend to ignore, even though it is just as important. considers Silvia Álava.
‘Does money bring happiness?’ The eternal and enigmatic question has now become a topic. Despite the multiplicity of opposing answers, according to various studies, we can conclude that money is not used to buy happiness, but it does give well-being.
Setting goals and objectives contributes to our happiness. But “we must take into account what type of goal we are setting ourselves: it has to be a realistic and achievable goal. If it is not, we will feel frustrated when we see that we are unable to achieve it ”, warns the expert.
It is the ability that allows us to “put ourselves in the shoes” of another person to understand them better. This makes us more tolerant in social interactions, as stated in one of the articles published in EFEsalud.
“Being faithful to our thoughts, our values and our ideals is important”, Álava remarks. Peace of mind and positive emotions associated with being yourself are part of the formula for happiness.
There is a direct correlation between being grateful and being happy. “Gratitude is knowing how to give thanks. But not ‘thank you’ for mere education, but that ‘thank you’ that comes from within when, after an exercise in introspection, you recognize what others have done for you and are grateful for what you have ”, explains the psychologist who guides us in this Alphabet.
Silvia also puts the accent here. The sense of humor and laughter have a direct influence on our physical and mental health. “Having a sense of humor is having the ability to be critical and see a situation from another perspective. The fact of seeing things from other perspectives helps us to de-dramatize situations ”, she explains. “Also, laughing helps a lot, it’s very healthy.” Laughing is proven to help reduce stress, hypertension, and some research points to regulatory effects on the immune system.
Youth is not synonymous with happiness, but feeling young on the inside can be. Aging with a jovial attitude, feeling that we have strength and energy to face all our challenges, positively affects our happiness.
It is a discipline of science that focuses on studying human movement. “We can relate it to happiness in the sense of always staying active, not stopping still”, explains the psychologist. And is that one of the keys to living happy and healthy is to always stay active, both physically and mentally.
Setting goals, having objectives and purposes helps us feel, in general, fulfilled and happy. “When we are able to value the things we have achieved, we feel much better on a day-to-day basis,” Silvia Álava underlines.
Motivation is the engine of action and the main requirement to be able to carry out our objectives and achieve those achievements that make us happy, define the experts. We can say that unmotivated we are far from being happy.
It is an emerging applied discipline that consists of explaining the brain biological mechanisms that underlie happiness. In this discipline, it is considered that happiness does not originate in experience or circumstances, but is the product of a chemical process in our nervous system, our expert describes.
“It is the ability to see the positive side of things and it is one of the mental attitudes that will help us to be happier,” says Álava. An optimistic person is able to interpret reality in a more beneficial way for himself, avoiding being carried away by negative thoughts that distort reality.
“To forgive means to stop carrying a backpack full of grievances behind us,” explains the psychologist. Forgiveness is a decision that frees us from all those emotions that weigh us down and prevent us from moving forward. Getting to develop that “ability to forgive others and above all to forgive ourselves, plays a crucial role in our happiness,” she adds.
Understood as the balance of our emotions. “When we achieve that emotional balance, it is easier to achieve well-being and, therefore, it will help us to be much happier,” emphasizes Álava.
“How happy we can feel, in the short term and especially in the long term, depends largely on the type of relationship that we are able to establish with family, friends, partners and the people we come across in life,” he says. Margarita Alvarez.
One of the elements that influence our happiness is the feeling that we are resilient in the face of adversity. Having that “ability to come out stronger in the face of a stressful or traumatic life situation” is a way of positively managing failure and positively affects our happiness, estimates the expert from the Álava Reyes Center.
Defined by the WHO, as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not only the absence of diseases or illnesses”, it is one of the aspects that people give the most importance in relation to happiness. And Silvia Álava highlights that our attitude to illness is a determining factor: “It is true that being happy is complicated when you are ill, but you can always work on that acceptance and try to be as happy as possible. There are people who collapse in the face of a cold, while other people with very serious illnesses manage to be quite happy despite the illness ”.
“It is proven that happiness has a great impact on our health, physical, emotional and mental. “The important thing is not so much to be healthy to be happy as to be happy to feel healthy,” concludes Margarita Álvarez.
Having free time brings happiness, but in just the right measure. “If you have a lot of free time because you have very few things to do, time is devalued and it stops having that look that is giving us happiness,” Silvia Álava reasons.
As with money, it is not about how much you have, but how you invest it. Another very important aspect to take into account is the ephemeral nature of time and, therefore, the importance of learning to ‘be in the present’. Dalai Lama already warned in his day of the danger of not doing it: “The man who is anxious about the future does not enjoy the present. The result is that he lives neither the present nor the future; he lives as if he were never going to die and then he dies without ever having really lived. “
Unique: “Feeling unique is important to feeling happy,” explains Álava, who considers it crucial to realize that we are the only ones responsible for our happiness and those responsible for deciding what attitude to take in any circumstance that life presents us.
Bonds: The relationships we establish are a fundamental component in building our happiness. Silvia Álava emphasizes the importance of “maintaining security ties: ties with our parents, our friends, our children … because having ties with others strengthens a lot.”
Wonderlust: The pages we have consulted define this word as “a strong desire or impulse to travel and explore the world”. This term comes from German and is made up of two words: ‘wandern’ (to wander) and ‘lust’ (passion), it does not have a literal translation into Spanish but it synthesizes a philosophy of life. This insatiable desire to want to explore is associated with the natural human need to want to know and feed on other cultures, something positive and synonymous with happiness for many.
Related to the previous word, exploring is, according to Silvia Álava, “the ability to have an active mind and always keep learning”, an attitude that will lead us to a healthier and happier life.
It is the Danish name that has been used to baptize the idea of finding happiness in little things. “A happy life is not a monolithic and total happiness, but a daily happiness,” she points out in her book Margarita Álvarez. For her, happiness is not a state of constant nirvana but “the sum of positive moments that we encounter every day.”
One of the most important teachings of Buddhism is to recognize the existence of suffering in order to transform it. Instead of oppressing our suffering, if we accept it, we can transform pain into happiness and this can be achieved through the practice of mindfulness or mindfulness, as explained by the Zen master, Thich Nhat Hanh, in his new book ‘ Without mud, the lotus cannot grow. ‘