Happy in winter

22. December 2020

Is that even possible?

Is that even possible?

In order to answer this question, we first have to clarify what “happiness” actually means. Happiness is so individual that everyone understands something different by it. The pursuit of happiness is as old as humanity, and for many it is an eternal quest. Often we stand in the way of our own happiness.

We start by brooding over everything, dwelling on our problems or constantly comparing ourselves to others. However, this process of comparison makes us unhappy and wears us down.

Addicted to monetary wealth

The search for happiness is a universal phenomenon and our yearning for it is tremendous. Many people believe that money makes us happy and are downright addicted to achieving financial prosperity. And of course it has been scientifically proven that poverty and financial problems make you unhappy.

Financial prosperity doesn’t make you happier

Money does have an effect on our well-being, but the effect is often overestimated. Being financially well-off has only a limited influence on our happiness, and above a certain income level there is no appreciable increase in happiness. To put it another way: money doesn’t make you happy, but it reassures you.

The motto “It’s my life” has never been more popular. We want to create our own living environment, and we want it to be perfect. More and more books are offering advice on how to maximise happiness, causing many of us to overestimate how happy we can be.

The important thing is to find the equilibrium and balance that you need in life. Constantly striving to be happy doesn’t help. Everyone has to find out for themselves what makes them happy, for example, surrounding yourself with people who are important to you.

The human pursuit of happiness

The Greek philosopher Aristotle believed that if you led a good life, you would be happy. He made it a point to have a good attitude towards life. For Aristotle, happiness was the purpose of life. The term for this is eudaimonia. According to Wikipedia, philosophical texts describe this as a successful lifestyle in accordance with the requirements and principles of philosophical ethics and the balanced state of mind associated with this.

The “pursuit of happiness”, as it was entitled by Thomas Jefferson, was even included as a fundamental human right in the United States’ Declaration of Independence, the founding document of the first modern democracy.

Today’s best-known proponent of the path to a happy existence is the Dalai Lama. For him, the first step in the pursuit of happiness is learning. He also believes that a variety of approaches and methods, such as suitable meditative exercises, must be practised over time to overcome negative states of mind such as hatred, jealousy and anger.

Activating your happy hormones in winter

Our hormones are primarily responsible for producing feelings of happiness. These have proven to be endorphins, oxytocin and the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin. These messenger substances are released in the brain when we feel good. When our brain is producing an abundance of happy hormones, our well-being increases and feelings of happiness are triggered. We need to produce the hormones to trigger these feelings of happiness in the body, and as we know this is a very individual process.

The cold, wet, dark winter depresses our mood

Once happiness hormones are released, our motivation increases, we have more energy and vigour, and we feel a sense of elation. Our body remembers what the trigger was, i.e. what made us feel elated or put us in a good mood. So then we try to repeat this process.

For example, eating chocolate can make you feel good because it contains tryptophan. Warming up with a hot chocolate on a cold winter day will definitely give you a mood boost. But the crucial hormone for feelings of happiness is dopamine.

To make a sufficient amount of dopamine, we need vitamins B6, B12 and folic acid. The happiness hormone is released when we get what we want. And that can be anything: a bowl of hot soup or a delicious mulled wine, and suddenly you have a smile on your face. In other words, when we do things that make us happy, the happiness hormone dopamine is released. So treat yourself more often!

Serotonin helps to protect against low moods in winter. It is produced in the gastrointestinal tract and in the brain; it protects us against bad moods, poor concentration, sleep disorders and listlessness. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, i.e. a messenger substance which stimulates nerve cells.

Fruit which helps us to produce serotonin includes pineapples, bananas and plums. Tryptophan, the precursor to serotonin, is found in nuts, seeds, pumpkin seeds, whole grains, bananas, chocolate with a high cocoa content, mushrooms, beans and curd.

Sunlight, fresh air and nature

Endorphins are released during exercise, so we should exercise all winter if possible. Endorphins are released during intense exercise, but also when laughing. Laughter has a particularly stimulating effect. And walks in nature can also boost our endorphin production, thus stimulating feelings of happiness.

So get outside and into the beauty of nature – after all, sunlight also stimulates serotonin production. In 2016, American researchers found that the sun makes all the difference to our emotional well-being. If sunlight is lacking, we can also boost our serotonin production with daylight lamps.

Other paths to winter happiness

It’s well known that there are a lot of sheep in New Zealand and therefore also wool, and researchers there have found that crocheting makes you happy. Before now, knitting has been considered a winter mood-enhancer, with earlier studies showing that it lowers blood pressure, relieves stress, and promotes creativity and logical thinking. You can also try painting and drawing, making music and composing your own songs. All creative activities increase your well-being.

In winter, when it is dark, you should treat yourself to a time-out. There are many ways you can do this. Massages and soothing baths, for example, are never a bad idea, and you can also enjoy them at home, which is handy given our restricted travel options at the moment.

A spa weekend in your own bathtub. Soothing baths relieve tension, allowing your body to produce important messenger substances. Lucky you if you have a home sauna now that the public ones are closed.

A sauna session has a detoxifying effect and strengthens your immune system. This in turn promotes the production of happiness hormones, which we need during the dark winter days. But don’t set yourself insurmountable challenges in your search for winter happiness. Small changes, a delicious meal, a good book, a glass of wine and good friends can bring you a lot of joy. Happiness researchers understand “happiness” as “life satisfaction”.

Finally, the importance of touch

According to Leipzig haptics researcher Dr. Martin Grunwald, cuddling is essential for survival. Monkeys do it, ring-tailed lemurs do it, penguins do it. But humans hardly do it any more, or not nearly enough, Grunwald told “mdr”.

According to the researcher, being touched releases cuddling and happiness hormones, and cuddling makes us measurably happier. But the stats make sad reading: “Primates spend an average of an hour and a half every day touching each other. People over 30 in a stable partnership often don’t even reach five minutes”. So, now that it’s lovely and dark outside, what could be better than snuggling up on the sofa together?

To make the most of your happiness potential, we give you tips on how to relax this winter.