fitness, thoughts

Happiness – choice or genetics?

Some days I feel terribly unhappy.
And that’s normal okay. I think there are just so many factors out there which can easily impact our mood that it’s hard to not have a bad day now and then.
But I don’t want to drag people into it – that’s not fair.
There was this moment where I found myself saying things out loud I already knew I would regret later. Inside, I was aware of the fact that this feeling was created by myself and not from the person opposite me but I couldn’t help it. Sometimes I am angry with the whole world where as the only person I am actually angry with is me. I guess it’s just too easy to blame others that we forget to look at ourselves first.

Happiness is your nature. It is not wrong to desire it. What is wrong is seeking it outside when it is inside.

I observed my feelings and mood changes for a while and what I found was actually not that much of a surprise:
– After I physically worked out I felt more balanced and happier
– On days I made poor food choices I felt fatigued and was easier to irritate
So yes – surprise, surprise! definitely no surprising discovery. Which leads me to an interesting topic…

The set point theory of happiness
According to Researcher David Thoreson Lykken, happiness is approximately half determined by genetics, only 10% by circumstances and 40% by intentional activity.
Happiness-Chart1I will repeat what I’ve just said up there so you understand, what exactly I want to say:  “(…) happiness is approximately half determined by genetics, ONLY TEN PERCENT by circumstances and 40% by intentional activity.
Let’s not focus too much on the genes having approx. 50% of an impact (different studies vary from a little less to more) because it will just freak out those people who see the glass half empty and not half full; that only confirms it, doesn’t it?
Anyway moving on, what I want to express with this is that I was really surprised to hear that the circumstances of each individual has an impact of only 10% of their happiness level (I cannot be the only one surprised by this?).  But then I thought yes – the more we have, the less we appreciate. The less we appreciate, the harder it is to be happy. Catch 22.
So I guess, it’s great news – to all of you moaning about not being rich, or not living in the right city, complaining about not being tall or skinny enough – it does not matter. Don’t make those circumstances responsible for your unhappiness. It’s still in your hands. Because the 40% “Intentional activity” stands for stuff we can control, activities we choose to do.

That’s where I come back to the statement I made earlier: “After I physically worked out I felt more balanced and happier”. Of course I did. Working out is my main hobby and it makes me feel good about myself, it makes me feel strong; and whenever I learn something new I experience this great feeling of achievement and it satisfies me. But besides me loving physical activities, it’s also proven to be the best way to release Dopamine.

Dopamine – Angel and Devil at the same time
Dopamine is  a chemical in the brain necessary for feelings of pleasure and happiness. (to keep it very short and easy). This explains all the happy selfies on Instagram you see, when you search for the hashtag “postworkoutfeels”.
Now we know Dopamine is released by physical activity and that makes us feel great but so does eating chocolate and fries. Why is that?
So, there is a system in our brain called the reward system and it is there to “reward” us when we do something right – do things that encourage our survival. This includes eating – especially fatty, salty and sugary foods.
Therefore, eating makes us ‘happy’, thanks to our reward centre releasing Dopamine. Whenever we eat fast food and junk food which is loaded with sugar and fat, we experience this chemical high. This explains why some of you automatically reach for the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream bucket or chocolate when you’re sad, without even thinking about it. The human brain is wired to seek behaviours that release Dopamine – even if those weaken our bodies (food, drugs, alcohol, etc.).  The problem though is that modern junk food releases an unnatural, massive amount of feel-good chemicals and a healthy meal however releases ‘only’ a moderate amount.
That’s why people often reach out for sugary and junk foods to regulate their moods. But you cannot fill the bath tub by running the kitchen sink. It’s not going to happen.
If you are unhappy, eating food which is processed to death will not change that. In fact, it will make it worse. The meal itself will probably make you feel ‘happy’ in a chemical sense but not for long. The poor quality food is in your body long after the Dopamine release and it’s there to fuel your body, to keep you going. And in my experience, that does not work so well when eating empty calories*¹, does it?

Not getting the nutrition your body needs, will slow you down
After I eat too much highly processed food I feel fatigued and tired – quoting myself: “On days I made poor food choices I felt fatigued and was easier to irritate“. Those times I will stay on the sofa and ditch everything else. I am not only feeling unwell that day but I also won’t be doing anything about it. After a heavy meal I will certainly not workout and I experienced that I struggle concentrating. All the activities I could have done to become happier, seemed too much effort in that very moment. And the activity I’ve just done (eating too much junk food), definitely did not contribute to my wellbeing in any positive way and only triggered regret. That’s why I am moody on days I’ve made poor food choices.
Coming back to the set-point theory of happiness again, I mentioned  above, saying that a persons happiness is almost half (40%) determined by Intentional Activity. If you choose the right activities during your days, you will live a happier life – it’s the small things that can make a difference. For me, it’s definitely not overeating on my own but it can be working on handstands, listening and dancing to music or watching a film with my boyfriend, snuggled up in a blanket eating popcorn.
Find out what works for you and make conscious decisions on how to spend your time – and stop complaining.

Every man is the architect of his own fortune.


*¹empty calories = calories derived from food containing no nutrients.


1 thought on “Happiness – choice or genetics?”

  1. Pingback: ANNI MOVES

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