Muriel Cooper
Psychologist in Mornington

Happiness and success


Reaching happiness and success

Articles about achieving happiness, success and sustaining relationships.

Tamar Valley clouds - Dalai Lama quote

Why is it so hard to be happy? People are often puzzled as to why happiness doesn't happen to them more often – or as much as it seems to happen to others.

Clue number:

  1. Is the origin of the word itself, and
  2. How the brain creates happiness as an emotion

ThermometerEmotions are one of the most challenging things about being human. Other animals don't think about it – they just react. However, humans have evolved to have morals, a conscience and a code of conduct called 'manners'.

Being able to control our emotions is very important to us. It help us to have healthy relationships – it helps us to belong (extremely important to us), and it helps us to feel good.

Every emotion is functional – to a point. For example guilt is functional – it stops us from breaking the law and makes us apologise when we've done wrong. But when guilt gets out of control (e.g. ruminating and beating ourselves up for things in the past we can't change) – then that is far from functional. It just doesn't work for us at all.

An easy way to remember whether an emotion is helpful, or unhelpful – is to think of it like a thermometer.

If the emotion is in the red – it's too hot, or intense.

If the emotion is in the blue – it's too cold, or soft.

Think of purple as 'just right'.

Smiley ballThis famous 'smiley face' icon is famous for a reason. It makes us want to smile back. Why?

In our brain we have mirror neurons and these mirror neurons are our key to decoding the emotions and actions of others. As Marco Iacoboni, a neuroscientist at the University of California at Los Angeles says of mirror neurons, they "are the only brain cells we know of that seem specialized to code the actions of other people and also our own actions. When I see you smiling, my mirror neurons for smiling fire up, too, initiating a cascade of neural activity that evokes the feeling we typically associate with a smile."

But, Is the ball really smiling? After all – it's only a ball.

Well, as good as.

According to Dr Owen Churches, from the school of psychology at Flinders University, Adelaide, emoticons (including the smiley face), is a new form of language that we're adapting to have and when we see a smiley face icon, the area of our brain that recognises real faces, lights up.

So far so good; when we see a fake smile (or a real one on an actual person), it makes us feel better.

I'm OK

  1. You feel reasonably contented most of the time with occasional spikes of happiness (and maybe the odd 'downer')
  2. You don't have 300 unopened emails in your inbox
  3. You strive – but don't expect to be perfect
  4. You don't take things too personally and if it seems that way you can tell yourself "It's not my problem if they think that way anyway"
  5. You have a healthy sense of control – you are not overwhelmed and things aren't getting away from you (have a plan – remember the brain loves a plan)
  6. Even if things are going badly for you, you have a healthy sense of perspective ("Even if the worst case scenario happens – it won't be the end of the world")
  7. You are able to set time aside for yourself to do enjoyable things and be content to be by yourself
  8. You are able to like yourself with all your loveliness and your faults
  9. You are able to forgive yourself for your perceived iniquities
  10. You are able to self-sooth through encouraging self-talk and the occasional self-hug
  11. You are able to accept discomfort – (for example Stress/ Anxiety/ Depression) – and know that it will pass
  12. You are able to practice worry control and stop ruminations ("Stop – go away – don't want you now!"). Don't forget to re-focus or distract afterwards.
  13. You know which coping mechanisms work for you (e.g. the 6 second breath – action and distraction)
  14. You nurture healthy relationships with partners, family, friends - and yourself
  15. You are able to be patient
  16. You persist – even when the going is tough
  17. You adopt a positive attitude and you are able to adjust your attitude when you mindfully notice it could do with an adjustment
  18. You do not adopt a victim mentality and take up your own power
  19. You are kind and compassionate to yourself and others
  20. You are able to find something to be grateful for every day

If things get too tough – remember talking to someone is the way to go.

Lifeline Australia - 13 11 14
Mensline Australia - 1300 78 99 78
Beyondblue - 1300 224 636
Suicideline Victoria - 1300 651 251
Suicide Call Back Service - 1300 659 467
Kids Helpline - 1800 551 800