3 Tips to Happiness; A Matter of Perspective

Perspective is a strange phenomenon. By definition, the same thing appears different depending on your vantage point. The “firm” view we think we have of any object or situation is termed perception. This sensory fluidity makes it hard for us to be sure that our reality is valid, and has a profound impact on our sense of self, our happiness, our WHealth.

Happiness is tightly correlated with sense of value. When we give to others, we unleash a chemical cascade in our brains and bodies that includes oxytocin and serotonin. Oxytocin is sometimes referred to as the “love hormone”, and its release is clearly associated with positive emotions. Serotonin is the mood chemical, and intimately responsible for happiness. The anticipation of giving has similar benefit. When we feel valuable, or valued, we have decided that we have something to give to others, something others want and value. The anticipation of giving, even if it doesn’t translate into an act of generosity, makes us feel good.

So, how do we make the assessment that we are valuable? We look at ourselves in a virtual mirror. Several different perspectives form the reflection we see. The most objective perspectives come from close friends and family in the form of direct feedback. We’re sometimes lucky enough to have this. For the most part though, our culture is discrete and sensitive, and for good and bad reasons, we often lack this valuable input. So, we’re left to guess what others think of us, using subtle clues like body language to guide us.

The suboptimal nature of these sources leaves us intensely dependent on our own opinion, based on our own perspective. Our close proximity to ourselves makes this a difficult and hazardous exercise. In a well-intentioned effort to impose objectivity on our self-evaluation, we hold ourselves up to others. “Am I more valuable than Mary? Do I give more than Joe? Do more people seek me out than Heather?” These questions are motivated by an earnest effort to assess our value in order to satisfy deep biological instincts that drive happiness, or not!

Stated simply, if we judge that we are valuable relative to Mary, Joe and Heather, our bodies respond with the production of chemicals that make us feel good. We are happy. If we draw different conclusions, our bodies deny us the chemical reward, and we become sad (or worse).

How then do we ensure that we have an accurate opinion of ourselves? Most of us are afraid that we will overestimate our value. We have learned from experience that this is not a pretty sight. So we invoke conservatism as a default. But this has profound risks, because this instinct leads us towards an error that we scientists refer to as sampling bias. Our modesty tricks us into comparing the best contributions of Mary, Joe and Heather, against our own failures. Other writers have suggested this is like comparing our own blooper reel against the highlights of other peoples’ movies (blockbusters actually).

Three insights protect us against these self-effacing pitfalls and help us avoid unhappiness:

  1. Remember that your view is always only a perspective. Make sure that you formulate an opinion based on multiple perspectives. Use the insight of friends and family to inform these important opinions. Invite input both actively and through an open and accepting disposition.
  2. Avoid sampling bias. Ensure that you are comparing apples with apples. When you reach for the video library, be sure to select your highlight reel.
  3. Live with gratitude. Practice this powerful mindset. Keep a gratitude diary. Chronicle the many personal assets and achievements that you are proud of. Actually, you’re writing the script for your highlight reel.

The biological consequences are profound. When your thoughts (in this case about yourself) are enduringly positive, your cognitive brain overrules any fears generated by your conservative, protective brain centers (known as your primitive brain), and your prevailing perspective is positive. This triggers the release of “happy-hormones”, and you feel good.

Your WHealth is in your hands!

Have fun,

Roddy

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