Do you know one of those people that whenever you’re around them you feel better? Your mood improves. Your outlook on life gets better and you feel happy! It’s like they have an aura of positivity around them and when you step inside their circle, you feel good too. Feeling happiness and pleasure is contagious. When one person feels good their friends do and so do their friends, friends. It’s a cascade effect of happiness.
Feeling happy is good for your brain and the more often we feel happy, the easier it is to experience happiness!
Dopamine, a feel good neurotransmitter, is involved in our pleasure/reward system as well as with coordinating movement, learning and attention. When we feel pleasure and happiness, dopamine is activated and affects both behaviour and cognition. People who are happy live longer, experience less depressive symptoms and experience better overall health. They also experience less cognitive impairment. This could be due to the fact that each time the dopamine receptors are activated, the easier it becomes to re-activate them. In other words, make happy a habit and in no time it will be more than a routine, it will be a part of who you are.
Humans are social animals developing connections with others throughout their lives. Not only is it a biological imperative, it’s also a spiritual and emotional need. We don’t do well in isolation.
Our network of associations provides support, and helps us survive and thrive. In fact, science is demonstrating that social interactions with friends or family are one of the most important contributors to being healthy, lucid and happy while getting older.
But it does matter who you’re hanging out with! You want to be happy? Get together with happy, positive people! Or at least with people who are friends with happy, positive people. If you know someone that is happy, you’re over 15% more likely to be happy. And if a friend has a friend who’s happy, you’ll still be over 10% more likely to be happy. John Kabat Zinn says, “We resonate with one another…because we are interconnected. Being whole and simultaneously part of a larger whole.”
Nowhere is this truer than in our seniors. My dad has been in a home or hospital for the past three years. Mom tries to visit him every day. But her health is not the greatest and some days she just can’t make it. Those are the days her social network kicks in and comes to her rescue: taking turns helping him with his lunch, talking to him, and maybe reminiscing about days past. Other friends invite mom for dinner when they know she’s too exhausted to cook. Nobody visits for long, they don’t need to, they just need to reach out and show mom that someone cares and is there. It keeps her sane, and moving forward.
Build a better brain? Then build a strong social network and make happiness a habit!
“No man is an Island, entire of it self;
Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
If a clod be washed away by the sea.
Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were,
As well as if a manor of thy friends or of tine won were,
Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind;
And therefore, never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.”
John Donne, Meditation XVII
Mind Medicine Prescription
- Surround yourself with positive and happy people.
- Get together with friends and enjoy good conversation, a brain building game of Scrabble and a good dose of dopamine.