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The Journey to Understanding Happiness: What Does It Mean to Be Truly Happy?

Colorful sign posing the thought-provoking question 'What does it mean to be happy?' with additional text on 'Understanding happiness' and 'Achieving happiness in life', indicating an exploration of happiness concepts.

What does it mean to be happy? This question has puzzled philosophers, psychologists, and ordinary people for centuries. Understanding happiness is more complex than it may seem. Achieving happiness in life is a journey, one that involves a deep understanding of our own minds, emotions, and the neuroscience behind it all.

Theories of Happiness can be broadly categorized into two main types:

  • Hedonic Happiness:
    • This theory conceptualizes happiness as experiencing more pleasure and less pain.
    • Some theories suggest that happiness is a by-product of other, more meaningful pursuits in life.
    • Other theories propose that happiness can be purposefully increased or enhanced.
  • Eudaimonic Happiness:
    • This theory views happiness as the result of pursuing and attaining life purpose, meaning, challenge, and personal growth.
    • Some theories see happiness as the ultimate end goal for humans.
    • Other theories argue that directly pursuing happiness is pointless, though seeking different meaningful experiences and feelings may contribute to greater satisfaction.

The Neuroscience of Being Happy

Our brains play a crucial role in our perception of happiness. Neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin, are often associated with feelings of joy and contentment. When these chemicals are released into our brains, we experience a sense of happiness. However, neuroscience has shown that happiness is more complex than just a surge of positive neurotransmitters.

Research my team and I conducted at NYU in 2020 suggests that happiness is linked to the activation of certain areas in the brain, such as the prefrontal cortex, which is associated with positive emotions and the ability to suppress negative ones. Additionally, neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to rewire and create new neural pathways, plays a significant role in our ability to experience happiness. Understanding and harnessing this ability can increase our capacity to be truly happy.

The Pursuit of Constant Happiness

As humans, we often feel pressure to always feel happy. Society, media, and even our expectations can lead us to believe that happiness should be our default state. However, this is not realistic and is also potentially harmful. It’s important to understand that it’s okay to feel down sometimes. Emotions are part of the human experience; they all have their place and purpose.

Neuroscience shows us that our brains are wired to experience various emotions, not just happiness. Negative emotions, like sadness or anger, can signal us to pay attention to something in our lives that needs change or care. They can also be a normal response to life’s challenges and losses. Trying to suppress or avoid these feelings can actually lead to more distress.

The Illusion of Happiness

It’s what most people are pretending to be. Comparing yourself to anyone else is not only futile but also irrelevant. Your concern should be to uncover your truth and live according to that.

When you try to be like someone else, you are trying to live according to what you think it means to be happy like them. And the unfortunate truth is that most people are pretending to be happy. They may boast about their successes or perceived achievements. But true happiness is a vibration that is undeniable and needs no proof.

The Role of Pain in Achieving Happiness

True happiness isn’t the expression of happy chemicals floating through our brains. True happiness comes from the willingness to face ourselves. Only through some of my most painful experiences have I come to live in true happiness.

When I was willing to sit in the despair of divorce, I was ready to face the truth that I had become numb from feeling, and when I did the difficult work of healing, I came out the other side. Sometimes I felt lighter, other times, I felt lost and frightened, but I always had a deeper understanding of myself.

The Concept of Being Happy and Social Perception

Being happy has nothing to do with whether or not people like you. Doesn’t it feel great when people like you? It’s like the high school experience I always dreamed of, but, unfortunately, I never had. I was bullied and made to feel like an outcast, which can be a traumatizing adolescent experience. Once I graduated and went to college, something changed. I started to attract exceptional people and became more comfortable with myself. I loved them, and they loved me back.

And then someone slipped through the cracks, and I experienced someone not liking me again. It stings, right? No one likes not being liked. But I also realized this wasn’t my problem but the other person’s problem. As long as you’re good with who you are deep down and as long as you’re facing yourself each day, it’s not your problem if someone else doesn’t like you. It’s their problem because, more often than not, people are reflecting on their relationship with themselves.

When someone doesn’t like you, it should not threaten your happiness. Your happiness is yours. It’s your relationship to yourself and your own life. What another person thinks about you can sting, but it doesn’t have to change how you feel about yourself.

Woman experiencing a moment of realization about what it means to be happy, achieving happiness in life after receiving brain-based life coaching, symbolizing understanding happiness and the benefits of neuroscience.
A transformative moment: this woman discovers what it means to be truly happy, achieving a new level of joy after embarking on brain-based life coaching, a journey of understanding happiness and harnessing the power of neuroscience.

Achieving Happiness: A Balanced Approach

So, how can we achieve happiness in life? The answer lies in a balanced approach combining understanding our brains and effective brain-based life coaching strategies.

Firstly, it’s essential to understand that happiness is not a constant state but a series of moments. Recognizing and appreciating these moments when they occur can significantly enhance our sense of well-being.

Secondly, we can use our understanding of neuroplasticity to our advantage. Engaging in activities stimulating positive emotions and thoughts can help our brains form new neural pathways associated with happiness. This could include activities that bring us joy, fulfillment, or a sense of achievement.

Lastly, brain-based life coaching can provide personalized strategies to help you to be happy. This approach uses insights from neuroscience to help individuals understand their unique brain patterns and how they can influence their emotions and behaviors. It can provide tools to manage negative emotions effectively, set and achieve personal goals, and cultivate a positive mindset.

The Interplay Between Mental Health and Happiness

There is a strong relationship between mental health and happiness. When people are happy, they are generally healthier, form better relationships, make friends more easily, and succeed more in life. The sources contributing to happiness also provide a buffer or protection against mental illness, explaining the close relationship between the two.

A recent study found a strong, positive correlation between happiness and mental health in college students, even when gender and socio-demographic variables were considered (Shafiq, Nas, Ansar, Nasrulla, Bushra, & Imam, 2015). This close tie between mental health and happiness underscores the importance of making happiness a priority for parents, educators, researchers, and medical professionals.

Are You Ready to Begin Living the Life You Desire and Deserve?

Understanding happiness and achieving it in life is a journey that is difficult to embark on alone. After 20 years of rigorous academia, I have become a venerated expert in neuroscience and brain-based coaching and counseling. I am quite different from other life coaches or therapists in almost every possible way. Since I founded MindLAB Neuroscience 23 years ago, I have aimed to debunk all the traditional modalities that kept clients on their therapists’ couches for years or even decades.

I created a cutting-edge approach to “CHANGE the way people CHANGE,” I am so proud of the thousands of lives I have positively impacted and the many clients who have become my closest friends.

I customize every program for every client to meet their unique goals while always keeping their personalities, lifestyles, and mental states in mind. I provide 24/7 guidance and support so my clients are never left to make a wrong decision or do something without the proper contemplation.

I invite you to visit my website MindLAB Neuroscience, where you will learn much more than expected. Feel free to peruse the pages, download my free E-Book on mental clarity, sign up for my weekly newsletter, and read through the many blogs and published articles I have written.

When you are ready to finally make the changes you have been putting off, I would love for you to schedule a consultation with me and start your journey toward understanding and achieving happiness today. By embracing the full range of human emotions, facing our truths, and understanding our unique selves, I will navigate your path to true happiness.


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Picture of Dr. Sydney Ceruto

Dr. Sydney Ceruto

A Pioneer in Neuroscience-Based Coaching

As the founder of MindLAB Neuroscience, Dr. Sydney Ceruto has been a leading force in integrating neuroscience into coaching and counseling for over two decades. With three master's degrees in psychology and two PhDs in behavioral and cognitive neuroscience, she is widely considered a top expert in her field.

Harnessing the power of neuroscience-based coaching, Dr. Ceruto's innovative approach focuses on neuroscience, neuroplasticity, and neural pathway rewiring to foster lasting positive change in mental health.

Dr. Ceruto holds esteemed memberships in the Forbes Executive Council, Positive Performance Alliance, Wharton Executive Education Program, the International Society of Female Professionals, and executive writing positions for Alternatives Watch, Brainz Magazine, and TED: Ideas Worth Spreading.

Dr. Ceruto's accomplishments include:

  • The 2022 CREA Award.
  • A lead research position at NYU Steinhardt.
  • Volunteer work with Covenant House and the National Alliance for Mental Health (NAMI).

Her science-backed method of Neural Rewiring has successfully guided thousands of clients toward happier, more productive, and more resilient lives.