Recent studies show the positive impact of maintaining a happy attitude on health

JUST KEEP SWIMMING: Sophomore Danielle Guthrie laughs with her teammates during swim practice. According to Guthrie, she often feels happy from bonding with her other swimmers. KATHLEEN BERTSCH / PHOTO

JUST KEEP SWIMMING: Sophomore Danielle Guthrie laughs with her teammates during swim practice. According to Guthrie, she often feels happy from bonding with her other swimmers. KATHLEEN BERTSCH / PHOTO

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It was her birthday, but sophomore Parmida Mostafavi was still required to go to Farsi school, a religious school. Although, she said she didn’t really have the intention to go to school on a birthday, she decided to attend anyhow. When she arrived, she was surprised to find friends, family and many other members of the community celebrating her birthday and offering her food and cake.

JUST KEEP SWIMMING: Sophomore Danielle Guthrie laughs with her teammates during swim practice. According to Guthrie, she often feels happy from bonding with her other swimmers.KATHLEEN BERTSCH / PHOTO

“I didn’t expect it at all and it was like the entire Persian community. It was really fun, and I was really happy how an entire community would do something like that for me,” Mostafavi said.

In a similar context, “happy” is also how Mostafavi said she feels after doing exceptionally well on a test.

“Everyone kind of expects me to do well, but I know that’s not always the case, so it makes me smile when I get a good grade on something,” Mostafavi said.

What is it that creates this feeling of happiness, and how does it affect our everyday lives?

In the dictionary, “happiness” is defined as a state of well-being characterized by emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy, and it is what humans have been pursuing unconsciously since their very beginning. But to what extent can such trivial feelings impact a person? Some argue that it is nearly in line with survival itself. The American Declaration of Independence, in particular, places strong emphasis on “the pursuit of Happiness” and includes it as one of the three “unalienable Rights” of people. The document may be right, for a recent study reexamines the issue of happiness and how it should not be dismissed merely as a social concern.

In the study published Oct. 31, 2011 at the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the world’s multidisciplinary scientific serial, a group of researchers assessed 3853 individuals based on their moods during the day. The subjects were asked to rate their feelings of positive emotions described as the “positive effect” (PA) four times per day as researchers monitored them over a course of five years. With age, health and lifestyle factors in account, they concluded that the people who rated themselves the happiest had a 35 percent reduced risk of death in contrast to those who rated themselves the least happy.

According to the researchers’ interpretation, the changes in emotions affect the levels of cortisol (a key stress hormone) as well as other regions of the brain that manage blood vessel function and inflammation.

With this compelling research in hand, there may be questions about what it takes to attain “happiness.” According to counselor Stephanie Aikins, there are several factors that galvanized the feelings of happiness. One of the predominant factors is being authentic to oneself—that is, conforming to one’s personal values and core beliefs.

“When people are congruent to whom they are, they are happy,” she said. “Also doing things that one truly enjoys and truly gets something out of makes that person feel happy and fulfilled. It speaks to your core values and to who you are.”

Though grades, according to Aikins, are usually the impacting force to students’ happiness, there are other subtle areas that people don’t commonly acknowledge. Areas such as self-convictions and peer relationships are often seen correlated to the person’s mood and happiness.

“I think most teenagers are, for the most part, happy,” Aikins said. “However, having said that, I think a lot of teenagers struggle in knowing themselves and knowing who they are, so sometimes they find themselves in situations where they don’t feel happy… or they find themselves in relationships that are not good for them. Learning that it’s great to be true to oneself is part of what makes people happy.”

Sophomore Emma LaPlante, who evaluates herself as a relatively happy individual, concurs and also said happiness is more from the person’s own decisions rather than from the consequences of actions.

“I feel like a lot of times, it’s like a decision you make—whether you want to be a happy person,” LaPlante said. “It’s something that you can consciously decide, and you have to work at it. You have to take responsibility of being happy, and you can’t rely on other things. This is why I feel like I’m happy, because I don’t just rely on good grades or people. I am thankful for what I have, and I work for myself.”

Mostafavi said she feels happiness is something to live for, something that makes life worthwhile and that peer connections is just another alternative route to happiness. She also said she believes that gratitude, whether it is to or from a person, makes her feel pleased with herself.

“I’m happy when I make someone else happy. It feels good when you see someone else smile because of something you said or did,” Mostafavi said. “When people actually think about others’ happiness—like when they take other people’s feelings into consideration—and they go out of their way to do something for them: That’s something that makes me happy.”

Danielle Guthrie, a member of the swim team and sophomore, said she not only feels happy from strong family-like bonds with the swimmers around her that are her teammates, but also feels happy from simply making her dad smile or laugh.

According to Aikins, having quality in relationships is a huge factor in a person’s happiness. She said she advises those who seek happiness to unplug themselves from their TV, computer, cell phone and gaming systems, and instead reallocate their time to socializing, exercising and taking occasional nature excursions.

“Spend time talking in person to friends and family about a variety of topics,” Aikins said. “Texting, Twitter and other methods of communication alike just don’t give the same quality as does spending time interacting positively… Finding happiness is a continuous struggle for adults even, so for teenagers it’s the beginning of that journey.”

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