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Mental Health

This is the Key to Happiness, According to Science

The pursuit of happiness and how to achieve it has been a common subject of discussion in society. Since the dawn of philosophy (think Aristotle and Socrates), we philosophize over the secret formula to happiness. What makes humans happy? What makes us happy? Finally, we have some scientifically proven answers to humanity’s inquiries surrounding the key to happiness.

Connections

The truth is that happiness relies more on your social life than what you think. Apart from Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, in-person interactions are indeed necessary to our happiness. It’s a trend to be asocial and to opt for isolation in order to protect ourselves from others. What if these barriers, more than protecting you, are forbidding you from experiencing happiness? We are social creatures. This idea is supported by the humanitarian approach of philosophy and the dedicated research of neuroscience. According to Michael Platt, a biological anthropologist from the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine: “Human beings are wired to connect – and we have the most complex and interesting social behavior out of all animals” (Sukel, 2019). This statement connects with another scientific approach on happiness. Robert Waldinger, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, directed a study initiated in 1938 called the Harvard Study of Adult Development where researchers monitored the health and happiness of two groups of men from different backgrounds and economic statuses. One group was composed of Harvard students and the other one was a group of men from Boston’s poorest neighborhoods. After studying these 724 men, Waldinger proposed that the clearest message obtained from this seventy-five year study is that good relationships keep people happy and healthy. Moreover, researchers discovered that health and happiness are achieved through social connections. These types of connections involve more than keeping track of one’s Instagram follower count. Rather, it refers to enriching our relationships with our community, family, and friends. Waldinger states that the studied individuals that had stronger connections lived longer, were healthier, and felt happier than those who were lonely. Even in moments of physical pain, those who had good or ‘warm’ relationships were able to endure corporal discomfort and remained happier than the lonelier individuals. 

“Giving is better than receiving”

How come giving, which refers to losing something to provide for others, could be something enjoyable to the giver? Our bodies are designed to ‘reward’ us after performing an act of kindness by releasing dopamine and oxytocin into our system. This release of chemicals, collectively called helper’s high, enhances us into accomplishing more and more altruist acts. This helper’s hormone “produces endorphins in the brain that provide a mild version of a morphine high”(Baraz, 2010), thus we receive pleasure in exchange for giving. Although this approach seems immoral in many ways, science provides a justification of why giving is part of human nature; satisfaction. Regardless of what your reason is to give, whether selfish or self-less, the euphoric emotion of sharing will always be present in some form or another. 

Human connections heavily influence your emotional state. Moreover, it has deeper effects that contribute to your physical wellbeing. Social connections are a neurological necessity that impacts our mood and, as they say, “you receive what you give”. 

References

Baraz, J., & Alexander, S. J. (2010, February 1). The helper’s high. Greater Good. Retrieved November 28, 2021, from https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/the_helpers_high. 

Sukel, K. (2019, November 13). In sync: How humans are hard-wired for social relationships. Dana Foundation. Retrieved December 6, 2021, from https://www.dana.org/article/in-sync-how-humans-are-hard-wired-for-social-relationships/.

Kiara Roman is an undergraduate student at University of Puerto Rico Rio Piedras campus. She's part of the Natural Sciences Faculty and majors in Biology. Besides doing science studies, she enjoys developing creative skills and putting them into practice by cooking, writing, or drawing. She's here to grow as a creative scientist and share her imagination with others.
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