How to be happy: Happiness is a choice, not a genetic factor

Scientists believe that only 40% of happiness is a genetic factor, while the other 60% depends on ourselves and how we decide to manage our lives. Sedentariness, irregular lifestyle, lack of faith and empathy towards others are all factors that increase our unhappiness, leading us progressively into the dark. A mood disorder, a sense of melancholy (μελαγχολία “melancolia” composed of μέλας = black and χολή = bile) a concept already well known and studied since the times of classical antiquity, an emotion characterized by constant discouragement and emptiness. This state of mind today more than ever has been identified in a real pathology, depression, which according to a study by the World Health Organization, afflicts more than 264 million people. A melancholic, sad mood, with behavioral symptoms that can decrease the degree of mood from mild to severe, compromising the sociality and psychology of the individual.

You are not alone

Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), commonly known as clinical depression, is one of the most common mental disorders in the world. No matter the age, race or socioeconomic status, when happiness begins to drift away from our lives, something must be done to change this ruinous inertia of the spirit, otherwise it will act like a metal ball on an inclined surface: its progressive motion will not stop. To change the dynamics of this scenario must also intervene another force, coming from outside the subject and able to change its behavior. But do not expect that our “sphere” will no longer roll downward, because as much as we can act on the motion, we can not change the slope of the “surface”.

However, if the bad news is that the depression does not heal completely, the good one is not only that millions of people are able to manage it without particular affliction and damage to their lives, but also that some people are even able to benefit from this “diversity”. People who usually suffer from mood disorders are also those with more creativity and imagination, more gifted than the average to develop analytical thinking.

Overthinking and circling around the same thoughts with apparently little control is considered one of the negative symptoms of depression, but this can act like fevers, it can be a good thing for the body that has a tendency to get stronger

According to a recent study by the Clarkson University, depression can promote analytical thinking and persistence, useful qualities in complex tasks, and more able to break down complex problems into smaller so therefore easily solvable.
In addition, depression makes us more concentrated. While overthinking and circling around the same thoughts with apparently little control is considered one of the negative symptoms of depression (and many drugs try to fight this very aspect of personality), but as two eminent researchers, Andrews and Thompson, “depressive rumination” as well as fevers, can be a good thing for the body that tends to get stronger.

What makes us really happy

Some people seem to be born with a happier and more lighthearted predisposition than others, but while there may be a predisposition to depression, this does not mean that you will be destined to be unhappy forever, because for the majority (60%) happiness depends on our lifestyle and other environmental factors that we can change.
Happiness is certainly determined for each of us, by different factors, although it can be generically stated that there are some universal components that can fight anxiety and unhappiness. Happiness is typically determined by three main components:

No matter what you do, the important thing is not to stand still but try to move forward

  1. Satisfying one’s primary needs. It is really difficult to be happy when the basic needs, those essential to life, cannot be satisfied. A home, food on your table, access to drinking water, are all essential elements for good health, not only physical, but mental. A true society, intended as a community of righteous people and governed with justice, must be able to guarantee these needs for everybody, with no distinction. The key to balance is the guarantee of primary needs and the continuous separation from secondary ones (futile and harmful).
  2. Feeling involved in something every day. St. Benedict in his monastic rule condemned boredom as the evil that inevitably brings us closer to sin, as a rabbinical saying goes: “Being busy is good, it keeps you out of trouble”. Whether at work, through interpersonal relationships, or during hobbies, it is very important to feel involved in something, because inactivity is the enemy of mankind, it leaves an entry window for the Opponent, the evil. But this “something” should not only be a pleasant recreation activity, but mostly something that is carried out with sacrifice, and that will allow us to “reap the fruits” of our efforts. No matter what you do, the important thing is not to stand still but do something and move forward.
  3. Having a clear purpose in life. What you do in your life is very important for your well-being.Sometimes you naively think that if I had “that bank account” I would be happy, or if I “lived in that house” I would be satisfied, or if my aspect looked “that way” I would like myself. But happiness cannot be sought in “those things” outside of us, happiness resides inside, otherwise it would make sense why so many very wealthy and famous people end their lives dramatically. What really matters instead is “getting enriched” with goals and aspirations, this is a key factor for happiness, because you can’t feel good about yourself if you don’t grow and feel part of something bigger. No matter what you do, the important thing is to do it with conviction.

Increase your happiness

You become happy, and to remove the feeling of unhappiness and concern when occurs, you need commitment and knowledge. There are proven ways to increase happiness, and among them the best known are through physical exercise, spending time in a spiritual practice, walking or spending time in nature or volunteering.

Happiness is only partially determined by genes, the rest is reduced to our lifestyle and other environmental factors that you can, and indeed need to control

Research indicates that we can inherit many traits including optimism, self-esteem and happiness. So although there are genetic factors that could predispose us more or less to happiness, there are also elements external to our body that, even in difficult moments, lift our spirit concretely and with immediate effect:

  • Spending time in nature. Nature helps you to reflect with simplicity and therefore more serenely than the usual way people think. We can humble ourselves in front of the greatness of Creation that surrounds us, reduces stress and helps us feel more connected to the world, which can lead to a greater sense of satisfaction.
  • Spirituality. Faith, meditation, religion, belief in a higher power can all help enormously our mind and balance. Actually, episodes of anxiety and panic attacks are almost totally absent for those who really believe, and the reason why is quite obvious: we have faith that GOD, as a Father, will not abandon us, and that that state of mind we are experiencing, however painful it may be, will anyway lead us to something good. Certainly the darkness in the tunnel remains, but through spirituality we can find the strength to keep walking to get to the light that inevitably lies at the end of the path.
    Moreover, faith gives a greater feeling of having a purpose in life. We were not created just to live, reproduce and die, but instead we are connected with our ancestors and called to improve the gifts that GOD has given us, first and foremost life itself and our existence.

You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy
(psalm 31, 11)


  • Exercising. Physical activity is not only useful for the body, but also for the mind. It releases dopamine, relaxes us, distracts us and makes us feel better with ourselves and our body. Although in moments of depression emotions ranging from deep sadness to apathy, and the simplest tasks may seem overwhelming, if you force yourself to do even a small physical activity, the results will be immediate. There is no need to run a marathon, because walking, yoga and even some static stretching release the same benefits.
  • Nutrition. Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, said that the best medication for oneself was found in nutrition. A healthy diet can have a huge effect on one’s self-esteem, health and consequent happiness. Many studies, including research from the Nutrition Journal has shown that a diet more based on vegetables helps improve mood and health in general.

There are three keys that open every door: “thank you”, “please” and “sorry”.

  • Be grateful and show kindness. There are three keys that open every door: “thank you”, “please” and “sorry”. We should be conscious of the blessings we receive, and the prayer of thanksgiving does exactly that: never forget what we have already received, not asking for more. If we realize that until a few decades ago without sufficient access to the food resources we have today, electricity, medicine, and many other concessions that are taken for granted for our generations, but that until not long ago were not even available to the Kings of the Earth. If we understand this, we can only be thankful and kind to our neighbors, because this prosperity has fallen on us.
  • Laughing. A good smile cures many illnesses. People who can find humor even in the darkest circumstances are also often able to increase their happiness.
  • Do some volunteer work. Doing something for others distracts attention from oneself and makes them feel good. Evidence of the correlation between volunteering and well-being has gradually accumulated over the years, and this is explained by some recent research. Although we cannot regularly engage in volunteering, there are always small daily act of kindness, something we can do to help others, both in our families and elsewhere, that is called Tikkun Olam in Hebrew.

Working on your brain

You can work on your brain, on the way it “receives” impulses. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, which means that brain and nervous system cells use it to communicate with each other. It is an hormone that maintains our mood and general well-being, while regulating various others brain functions such as appetite, learning, sleep, memory and cognition. Serotonin is mainly found in the digestive system, but it is also found in blood platelets and throughout the central nervous system.
Serotonin is produced from the essential amino acid tryptophan, which enters our body through food and is commonly found in foods such as spinach, nuts, cheese and meat. Tryptophan deficiency can lead to lower serotonin levels, and therefore to mood disorders such as anxiety or depression.

Foods that increase seratonin:
Soy products
Chicken and turkey
Seeds and nuts like pumpkin seeds and nuts

We can therefore increase happiness by increasing serotonin levels, and there are absolutely natural ways to increase it inside our body, including exposure to direct light (sun or light therapy), body exercise, an healthy diet, meditation (which for religious people can also consist in prayer or hymns), or a hot herbal tea (the hypericum “Hypericum perforatum” is a plant that has been used for centuries as a natural remedy for mental health, and is widely prescribed against depression even today and known as Saint John’s wort.


Depression can make life so grey that you never know where and when the sun will shine again. In these moments it will be of fundamental importance to try to move away from the darkness, because to the worst (but as well as to the better) there is no end. We must move away from negative thoughts, distract ourselves with something constructive instead of destructive such as constant thinking and rethinking, because we often erroneously count and remember all our misfortunes, but we easily forget all the blessings and joys we have received.
We must therefore be focus not only on different activities, but in particular on other subjects. Let’s talk to a friend, or to a relative, but not about our misfortunes, let’s focus on something else, let’s take a tour in the middle of nature, let’s do a little work that we had left aside and maybe after taking a nice hot bath, and we will discover that serenity can be reached more easily than what we expected.

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