What Is Happiness and How Can We Achieve It?

Whenever there’s a perceived economic downturn, many people often feel more anxious and depressed. We see this pattern going back to the Great Depression of the 1930s, which many economists considered the worst economic downturn in history. And with all the news and negative publicity that occurs during times of economic downturn, it’s no surprise that many people often find themselves feeling more depressed or more anxious. When we have a decline in a patient’s mental health, we often can see it as a decline in happiness. So often in psychiatry, we may use descriptive terms to refer to symptoms, such as:

However, these are just descriptive terms, and they don’t necessarily account for someone’s lived experience of a mental illness, but rather it could be from a recession, loss of a loved one, job change, moving, or health condition. These life changes can trigger depression, worsening ADHD, or anxiety. Regardless of the cause, we can say that for someone experiencing mental health conditions that aren’t controlled, whether it be again bipolar, depression, or ADHD, there’s some sort of unhappiness that someone’s going to experience, at least from time to time.

So consider someone who has assets in the stock market and suddenly experiences a decline in assets, maybe due to a recession. So later, the person experiences this depressive episode. It can perhaps be brought on by the loss of finances, but was it the circumstances that were the issue? Is it hereditary or due to genetics outside someone’s control? What was it that made the person more susceptible to depression? Was it something more?

In this discussion, I will incorporate some of the latest emerging research findings to answer the question better about what really is unhappiness. And what practical, holistic steps can somebody take to move into a state of happiness? To improve their symptoms and create lasting positive change and wellness. 

When we talk about happiness, we’re talking in terms of how it’s tied to mental health and wellness. Because again, if somebody is unhappy for an extended period of time, we would classify them as depressed, not simply unhappy. Happiness can be defined broadly as an emotional state with life, satisfaction, fulfillment, joy, and contentment. And there’s an overall consensus that life has positive emotions and satisfaction.

Does Money Bring Happiness?

So what is happiness? Traditional research tells us something called the set point theory of happiness. These are three main things that affect happiness levels. These could be considered set points, life circumstances, and intentional activity. I’ll explain each of those three and how they relate to happiness. I’ll give you practical steps that you can take to make that make a big difference for many of my patients. In simple terms, the set point theory of happiness means someone tends to return to their baseline level of happiness. 

Think of somebody who wins the lottery. You’ve all heard that people are excited; they’re happy. But six months later, research shows us that they are no happier than they were before and may be less happy due to having more problems. Some people in the industry believe that 80% of happiness depends on genetics. This concept has been refuted by more recent studies that have shown that it’s not necessarily the case that your genes doom you. Someone’s personality traits, thoughts, behaviors, and feelings will generate a more consistent state of happiness. And so there’s also research that suggests that older people are happier because they have different goals that people pursue as they age. 

There are also circumstances in which many people try to change, thinking it will incorrectly change their happiness. But research shows that people tend to revert to the same level of happiness even when their circumstances are changed. There are certain circumstances that people can change over time that will lead to greater happiness. For example, having more income doesn’t necessarily mean being happier. Happiness is achieved only when people reach a certain level of finances beyond what they need to survive. This is due to people being able to come out of survival mode. Having more income alone doesn’t necessarily mean more happiness.

So if we experience an economic downturn and somebody loses income, and if their happiness is tied to money. Their happiness may be temporarily affected or, long term resulting in depression. It’s thought that circumstantial factors, such as life events, age, gender, income, health, relationship status, geographic setting, culture, and region, actually only make up about 15% of someone’s happiness. On average, let’s estimate about 8% to 15% because research suggests that people adapt quickly to life, and then when they tend to adapt to their circumstances and create sustained changes. 

Going back to the lottery winner example, when people have a change in their circumstances, there’s going to be a change in that emotional state. But once somebody experiences that ceiling effect in their emotional state, everything else that compares to that is deemed lower and not as exciting. So people have a threshold, and they adapt to that. Thus, happiness is actually an internal state. It’s tied to your internal experiences. But it’s only the value that we assign to the external experiences that creates happiness. 

The Intentional Activities For Happiness

Now we need to ask,” how is happiness achieved?” When we’re talking about intentional activity, this is the third component of happiness. Remember, we talked about circumstances, and then we talked about the set point theory of happiness, which is the tendency to revert back to your baseline. So intentional activities are positive actions or helpful patterns of thinking that we can choose to act on. So these have a profound impact on long-term happiness when repeated over time. Instead of allowing the circumstances to control you, you decide your internal set level of happiness for yourself. This mindset can have a more far-reaching impact on someone’s circumstances. So, in other words, it’s the stories we tell ourselves. It’s the culmination of belief systems that give rise to happiness. Whether you believe you’re happy or you’re miserable, it’s those thoughts and behaviors that make up the intentional activity. 

When behaviors are done in consistent, repeatable patterns, whether habits or things we tell ourselves or self-taught, they will profoundly impact our happiness. For example, say somebody is consistently engaging in exercise, they do a program that boosts happiness, then they’re likely to be, you know, more content over time. Or likewise, say somebody volunteers; volunteering has been shown to boost happiness consistently across studies. When somebody gives to others, they focus on being more valuable to themselves and others, so they place a higher value on themselves because they’re giving to others. Happiness is thus an internal state, as we’ve been discussing. 

When you change your belief systems, you change your attitudes about yourself. And so this is going to have a lasting impact. Other examples of intentional activities may include self-generated personal goals and seeking personal goals of attainment that lead to greater satisfaction. Research shows that gaining material possessions only leads to temporary happiness. When we seek the correlation between happiness and money, it is actually the experiences that people have that lead to more happiness. When someone increases their income level, it isn’t the material possessions that make them feel happier. It’s their experiences that money allowed them to have. Whether it is traveling, they were volunteering, attending conferences, having life-changing experiences, or choosing a career more aligned with their goals. 

Daily Habits For Happiness

The timing of the activity is key when it comes to creating daily rituals or habits in one’s life. Again, these habits take on the form of actions as well as what we tell ourselves. Another example of an intentional or internal activity is expressing gratitude. Research from Harvard shows that simply taking a few minutes to experience gratitude or feeling grateful at least once per day was strongly correlated with significant increases in happiness. 

People experiencing gratitude were more likely to experience higher empathy, significant improvements in health, lower inflammation, optimism, less depression and anxiety, chronic disease burden, relationships, and societal health; the list goes on and on. Research consistently shows that when you create that internal state of happiness ahead of the action, the mind actually responds as though the action already happened. 

I know that may sound like a loaded statement, but that simply means that your physiology starts to change when you create that internal state of your genetics. There are noticeable changes in chemical processes. When talking about life satisfaction over a long period, research shows that helping others leads to happiness. For example, one study that looked at students performing five acts of kindness over six weeks reported a significant level of happiness compared to students who just went about their day as they usually would. 

We can only discuss intentional activities by also talking about goal setting, studying the essential areas of one’s life, practicing forgiveness, and optimistic thinking. Someone may think spiritual practices, like meditation, are an important goal. These are all things that, when done at the right time, at the right frequency, will add up and create more value for the person, ultimately leading to more happiness. 

Someone could be experiencing a set of circumstances but have habits that reflect an internal state of happiness and are not negatively affected by a downturn in the economy, for example. Thus happier people have a more stable sense of self and what they want in life, so they seek out planned activities and choose their own internal experiences, which leads to an inner state of happiness. We can talk about when we’re creating these intentional states as essentially creating what’s called habit installations. 

We’re talking about instilling habits that are set up to create rituals that lead to unconscious habits over time. These habits must be timed correctly and done in a specific way. Often it only takes just a small amount of change each week. One of the things we often recommend to our patients is only to improve 10%. People will often want to do something for a long time, whether it be exercise, but it only takes about a 10% improvement, and that’s repeatable and consistent. When someone varies it a little bit, taking a different route when they run or journaling at a different time, about a different topic, or meditating in a different setting, the idea is when you create that variability and the activity. You tailor it to the individual, leading to more of an enhanced effect. We look at the individual when creating this. 

Happiness Case Study

We’ve all heard the expression stop and smell the roses. This applies to our discussion, meaning that we may not necessarily be aware of our habits as we go about the day. So consider that people are often in a hurry in the morning. I recall a 30-year-old patient who started a new job after graduating college. She never really had enough time for relationships. So she came to us on antidepressant medication, which had helped her. She had had numerous other trials of antidepressants, but still, her symptoms persisted. She was anxious, overworked, had trouble sleeping, was exhausted in the morning, and lacked enjoyment in things.

She had been married for a few years and found her level of happiness initially higher; then, she returned to the same level of happiness. She discovered through working with us that she had a lot of inner conflicts and things she was going through that kept her from experiencing more happiness. She felt like she was identifying with her previous emotional state. She was stuck in the path of things she’d experienced in her life that she couldn’t get beyond herself. She was just stuck in that approach.

Through doing a series of habit installation protocols, meditation, changing her medications to a different dose and frequency, as well as adding supplements and other morning rituals, she was able to do quite well and ultimately overcome depression. She entered a mental state that displayed multiple signs of happiness. Eventually, from a clinical perspective, she ended up in remission, when somebody had few to no symptoms of an illness. So it’s essentially considered to have been resolved. When we take this holistic approach, patients often do better than a standard psychiatry visit or just medications. So many people will usually make the mistake of trying to change their circumstances. 

They find that they’d be happier if they only had this job or experience. The truth is they would if their belief systems told them that. But eventually, they’ll become desensitized to the experience and revert to the same level of happiness. So there’s a famous quote by Gandhi that sums us up in which he says that happiness is when what you do think, what you say and what you do are in harmony. Put another way, we’re all a prodigy of our thoughts and become what we think. Where you place, your intention is where you place your energy and your action. 

How We Can Help

That brings us to how we can help. So you may be reading this thinking you can relate to some of this. Maybe you’ve had some challenges with depression, anxiety, or ADHD, some losses recently, or a job change. Whatever the reason may be, it’s unique to each individual. The truth is there is no one size fits all approach. The difference between our approach and what we provide is a holistic approach, whereas other psychiatry practices may offer more of a standardized approach by providing evaluation and medication management. We find that doesn’t treat the underlying problem in almost all cases because it’s not so much a chemical imbalance that is the underlying cause, but it’s much broader than that. It’s someone’s belief systems, internal state, what they tell themselves, and their psychology that really has to shift.

Even traditional therapy may not always be the answer, as it may deal more with symptom management alone. People need more than that to get beyond themselves and identify what they want to change and become. That brings us to our approach of providing medication management, evaluation, supportive therapy, and much more. We offer a holistic framework that allows patients to excel and reach an optimal state of wellness. We also provide nutritional approaches, supportive therapy, performance coaching, and numerous other strategies incorporating functional medicine and ayurvedic methods using this sort of habit installation approach we provided as an example. This is just one of many techniques we use to enhance treatment. So if you are interested in learning more, you can self-schedule an appointment today.

Experience Quality and Holistic Care For Your Mental Health Here in San Diego

If you are seeking ways to achieve happiness, look no further if you need a psychiatrist here in San Diego. Psychiatrists San Diego, Psychiatric Care NPs, offers telemedicine to patients in San Diego California. Furthermore, we offer convenient online prescriptions and accept various insurance plans. 

Additionally, our providers’ qualifications can be found on the highlighted link and genuine patient reviews

We provide excellent psychiatry services similar to those of an in-person visit. A variety of services are readily available to you, including psychiatric evaluations, medication management, nutrition, wellness, and other aspects of your overall health. Our goal is to help you achieve mental wellness!

Starting your journey to a healthier mind is just one click away! You can easily schedule an appointment online or connect with us at (619) 771-0083 today.