by Aishwarya Jain
You may have heard of this story before: an Australian nurse, who spent her life caring for patients on their death beds, researched and recorded her observations about the most common regrets of the dying. Among the top regrets listed by people was: ‘I wish I spent more time with my loved ones’.
There was no mention of accomplishments, social status, career, monetary success, or sex.
It all begins in the human brain
Harvard psychologist and bestselling author Dan Gilbert found human relationships and the amount of time that people spend with family and friends as best predictor of their happiness. Loneliness is bad for the mind and leads to mental health problems like depression, stress, anxiety, and a lack of confidence. This are in turn linked to physical ailments like heart attack, cancer and diabetes and more.
Think about it, when you’re low, you might find yourself withdrawing from friends and family, doing work at home rather than at your office or a coffee shop, you would do anything to be away from people. Why? Depression isolates you. It makes you feel alone even in the middle of a crowd. And often, people who are sad actually end up physically separating themselves from others.
What exactly happens here: When you are sad or depressed, your body releases the stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. An excess of stress hormones in your system lead to high blood pressure, which in the long run result in symptoms for heart attack like chest pain, shortness of breath, arm pain and sweating and more. But it all begins in the human brain.
Your experience of your journey through life boils down to the chemicals in your brain. Happy, sad, mad, anxious, you name it – they can all be traced back to what’s going on inside your head.
Retrain your brain for happiness
So, how can happiness happen in the brain? It’s easy, we should just remember humans are social animals. Our brains operate best when we interact and connect with others.
When someone is sad or suffering from depression, their oxytocin (the love neurochemical) levels are at an all-time low. So, in a sad mind, oxytocin can sometimes be released when it shouldn’t be, or too little is released when it should be. This is why sadness reduces our social interaction. This is why when you are sad, you do not feel like initiating social contact with another person. However, counter-intuitively, spending time with your loved ones works better than even antidepressants.
Spending time with family and friends boosts happiness by boosting the release of the oxytocin hormone. Oxytocin is the nature’s gift to us for feeling happy. It is found in the brain, as well as in the ovaries of women and in the testicles of men. It is released through closeness with another person and helps create intimacy and trust to build healthy relationships. Oxytocin floods the brain when a person gets a high during orgasm, when we spend time with our loved ones, and when mothers go into labour during childbirth and later on, when they are breastfeeding their children.
Recent research has established that a daily dose of oxytocin can help reduce incidences of headaches, while making you look younger , enabling a positive attitude, and decreasing the chances of many deadly diseases. Oxytocin is indeed magical .
Happiness is easy: A curated guide
Spending time with your loved comes in many forms .
But most of us are caught up in a hectic whirlwind of activities where we are unable to spend time with family and friends, in turn creating a depressed world.
Here are 5 ways in which you can maximize the time you spend with your loved ones, and get the oxytocin flowing in you:
- Give and receive hugs: A hug will make you and others happier. A 20-second hug, along with 10 minutes of hand-holding, reduces the harmful physical effects of stress, including its impact on your blood pressure and heart rate .
- Be around other people: As you start to feel your mood going down, go somewhere like a coffee shop or office , mall or a park . You don’t even have to interact with people to benefit; just be around people to lift up your mood.
- Have a family meal : Family meals are good for the soul. We used to hear this from people, but now it’s scientifically proven. These days, everyone has busy schedule, and it’s not always easy to meet for dinner as a family. But it’s important to do it as much as possible. Science is beginning to show what we always knew: the more we eat together, the happier –- and healthier we’ll be.
- Exercise Together: Did you know that more than 40% of participants drop out of a fitness program shortly after it begins, if they attend it on their own? But if they work out with a friend, the dropout rate decreases to just 6%. This suggests that one of the best reasons for exercising with friends is the social interaction. Also, studies say that the couples who exercise together are happier together, and it is a happy consequence that it helps increase the sexual attraction between them
- Celebrate with each other: What comes to mind when I say the word ‘festival’? Doesn’t it fill you with a flush of energy, emotions and happiness. Happiness shared is happiness doubled and festivals are merrier when spent with the family. So make sure you celebrate important occasions with your near and dear ones.
Now you got the hacks. Whenever you find your mind drifting into a gloomy past or a worrisome future, come back to the present moment, and think of ways to release oxytocin hormones instead.
What would your biggest regret be on death bad? Save yourself from the regret.
Aishwarya Jain is an award-winning entrepreneur, researcher of happiness and well-being, founder of IM Happiness, and business head at the ART Group.