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The secret to happiness

Who knew? The secret to happiness is going running with your friends in a gorilla suit.

I have become very interested in personal resilience lately, and over the weekend I watched the award-winning documentary film 'Happy'. The documentary explores the science of happiness, which has burgeoned over the last couple of decades, especially in the US.

Research indicates that while 50 percent of the level of happiness any individual experiences is determined by genes (called the 'genetic set point or range'), only 10% of an individual's happiness is determined by circumstances such as income, status, age, where you live, or even health. A whopping 40%, these happiness scientists tell us, is determined by the actions we choose to take in our everyday life.

Dopamine - often referred to as a 'happy chemical' - has a pivotal role to play in all this. Dopamine is an organic chemical in the body and functions as a neurotransmitter—a chemical released by neurons (nerve cells) to send signals to other nerve cells. But scientists say that, just like our brains and muscles, we use it or lose it.

Exercise stimulates the release of this happy chemical - even better, they say, is doing exercise in novel or different ways. Running a charity race with friends dressed in a gorilla or bee suit is apparently ideal (this is a triple-whammy because strong friendships and altruism are both big dopamine-boosters). On days that this isn't a goer (that'll be most days, for most of us), even just altering the route of your daily run or walk is a helpful dopamine-boosting tactic.

I found this documentary really insightful, and recommend it to anyone interested in better understanding the science of happiness.

The trailer and video clips from the film can be viewed here.

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