Do you know which is the most loved course at the prestigious Yale University, so much so that one in four students has attended it? The science of wellbeing, a course held by Professor Laurie Santos to help young people chase away anxiety and depression and feel happier. Of course, we must not think that the goal is to achieve a life without worries or problems, these are part of the normal course of events, or that it is important to always be perfectly happy otherwise there is something wrong with us. It is not so, clearly. In us moods alternate, even opposite and sometimes one after the other, like laughter in tears, which must be accepted and observed without imposing a constant good humor that would only be an artifact. But we can certainly implement small tricks, as Professor Santos encourages, to achieve a state of calm, which can often lead to real moments of happiness. In fact, we must not believe that substantial changes to the environment, people and work are necessary to have these moments, on the contrary, often the total reversal of external life does not lead to the desired results. As the great Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa says, we can go as far as China but if we don't find liberation within us we won't find it anywhere. But then, what can we do to improve our quality of life and feel more serene and happy, often even in the stormy sea of life?
Yale's course, small tips for big benefits
Dr. Santos' course, free and online, is aimed primarily at teenagers but her advice applies to everyone. According to Professor Santos, first of all it is useless, in order to improve one's mood, to chase money, career and success, happiness is not there. Instead, it is important to take care of our social relationships, take care of our health and, as mentioned in the introduction, also accept feelings considered negative, such as sadness. Even sadness, in fact, comes for a purpose, perhaps to make us understand that we are assuming mentalities that do not reflect us, and if we drive it away, if we don't want to see it, then sadness will not be able to do its job. Every state of mind must be observed, in the here and now, without launching lapidary judgments and criticisms against ourselves, but also without holding it back. It's also important to train ourselves to stay in the present, trying to perceive with our senses what we're seeing, hearing, experiencing or touching. This helps not to take anything for granted and to get lost in the environment around us by detaching ourselves from worries and anxiety. Then, it is also important to turn our attention to others as well, helping where possible and offering our kindness (Laurie Santos, Yale University).
Happiness comes from kindness
Being kind is the key to gratitude and happiness, this is not only stated by Yale's professor Santos but is also reported by scientific studies. In general, kind people tend to experience more happiness and retain happy memories more easily (Otake et al, J Happiness Stud, 2007). And the best part is that the results are not long in coming. Already after a week of showing kindness we may notice that we feel more happiness (Otake et al, J Happiness Stud, 2007).
Happiness and yoga
Practicing yoga asanas, or positions, and pranayama, which are breathing techniques, helps to relax, to stay in the here and now, to detach from obsessive thoughts and, in the calm that these meditation techniques generate, real and precious moments of happiness can arrive (Monk Turner et al, Int J Yoga, 2010). Studies have shown that regularly practicing yoga pranayamas, such as Sudarshan Kriya, can double the likelihood of feeling happy and peaceful (Sloan et al, Altern Ther Health Med, 2021). Sudarshan Kriya consists of three breathing techniques. The first step involves closing the glottis slightly and breathing through the nose slowly for a few minutes, making a sound similar to the waves of the sea. The second step involves inhaling and exhaling in succession, always through the nose, fast and vigorous, for a maximum of ten total breaths, at the beginning. Then, with practice, it is possible to reach up to twenty breaths. Finally, the third step requires to inhale, to hold the breath and to emit the sound OM, prolonging the syllable until complete exhalation. This third step can be repeated two more times.
The essential oils of happiness
Some essential oils, if inhaled, such as when they are diffused in the room or poured on a handkerchief, can counteract anxiety and stress and promote a good mood. These essential oils are, based on studies, essential oils of lavender, rosemary, rose, ylang ylang, chamomile, jasmine, orange and geranium (Choi et al, Int J Environ Res Public Health, 2022). The synergies of essential oils are also very interesting, which enhance the anxiolytic action and are useful for instilling serenity. For example, the combination given by lavender and chamomile has been shown to effectively counteract anxiety and stress, as well as slow the rhythm of breathing and reduce blood pressure in the event of an ongoing panic attack (Fung et al, Int J Mol Sci, 2021).
Happiness is in nature
Ensuring at least 120 minutes a week of an activity in contact with nature, such as a walk in a park or in the woods, has been shown to lead to an increase in well-being and good mood (White et al, SciRep, 2019). These results have been seen in people of all ages and in all health conditions. The 120 minutes of the experiment can be achieved with a single large excursion or by adding up the time spent in nature with many small walks, the results are the same.
Happiness and serenity is also a matter of physical health
The pursuit of happiness, as we have seen, is simpler than one might think. And it is certainly worth trying to implement the little advice seen, also because it affects not only the mood, but also physical health. In fact, feeling good about ourselves, not fighting against our aptitudes, talents and feelings, not holding back sadness and not brooding on thoughts, feeling happiness and serenity are conditions also linked to good physical health, with a reduced risk of developing cardiovascular disease, hypertension and obesity (Dfarhud et al, Iran J Public Health, 2014). Those who do not indulge in sadness and depression even have a lower risk of getting cancer and, if so, are able to fight it more effectively (Dfarhud et al, Iran J Public Health, 2014). Not only that, a positive attitude and greater ease in feeling happy also improve the quality of sleep and help keep away from incorrect and harmful habits for health such as smoking or drinking alcohol in excess (Sin et al, Psychosom Med, 2015). Finally, calm, good humor and serenity make those who experience them live longer (Carstensen et al, Psychol Aging, 2011). In short, a true recipe for longevity!