The United Nations’ World Happiness Report, in conjunction with the International Day of Happiness, which fell on March 20, has some bad news for the citizens of the US. For the third year running, Americans are less happy than they were in 2015. In fact, as a country, we have dropped in the ranking every year since the first report was published, and sit, rather uncomfortably now at 19, well behind Costa Rica, Switzerland and Ireland.
There is a quote currently trending rather appropriately, probably as a result of the bottom dropping out of our collective happiness, which goes something like, Happiness is the new rich and health is the new wealth. So then, the 50 million-dollar question is, are you happy? Am I? Are we as a community, culture or world, happy people, and by the way, what makes us happy? These are big questions, maybe some of the biggest. And if polls and reports are anything to go by, the answer from a staggering 70 percent of us is a disappointing, no, not really.
Although most of us strive for happiness, meaning as a race, humans do not naturally seek un-happiness, reports show, here in America, people are struggling more than ever before.
So, what is happiness and maybe more importantly, what’s been making us so unhappy?
External vs. Internal Happiness
For the lucky few on this planet who are not faced with constant peril, like living in a war zone or grappling with a terminal illness, external happiness is generally tidal, ebbing and flowing throughout our lives, both in and out of our control.
However, environmental factors, or external happiness, are only half the story. A new paradigm in aging research designates approximately fifty percent of our tendency for happiness as genetic, meaning some of us are just born with ‘happier genes’. So lately, the anti-aging scientific community has been spending a lot of energy on a little protein called situins (SIRT1), which many describe as holding the key to ‘genetic happiness’. A further breakthrough study at Harvard University has identified that the key coenzyme, NAD+ (Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide), which works hand-in-hand with SIRT1, actually decreases dramatically as we age. In other words, without proper stores of NAD+, SIRT1 becomes less effective at supporting the myriad of vital functions in the body, not the least of which is cognitive health. The good news is, even if heredity has dealt us a poor hand, investigations now point directly to the success of reinvigorating these shortfalls at the cellular level, especially as we age
Let’s break down happiness
As intangible as the idea of happiness might seem, when it takes the form of a hard-scientific model, it is surprisingly quantifiable. In her widely read book, The How of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky, Professor of Psychology at the University of Riverside, CA, who studies happiness in the US and elsewhere, created a simple pie chart to break down happiness based on her investigations. According to the research, around half of our happiness is innate or genetic. The remaining fifty percent is then divided loosely into two slices. The smaller portion, approximately 10 percent, cites circumstances out of our control, like war or famine, as obstacles or facilitators to our happiness while socio-economic standing, poverty, illness, geography may all contribute.
The last piece of this happy pie encompasses the thousands of deliberate external choices we make for ourselves. Things like the partner we choose, our career, the lifestyle we live and the moral or maybe more impactful, the immoral decisions we make throughout our lives, all play a significant role in our overall happiness. Ultimately, it’s about the choices we make for ourselves and the consequences, good or bad, of these choices.
Can we define happiness?
Knowing all this, how can we possibly define happiness? Easily, as it turns out. Studies start by separating personal or environmental happiness into two distinct categories. The first focuses on how we characterize our individual happiness through positive emotion; joy, contentment, affection, love, etc. Happier people tend to spend more time ‘living’ inside these emotions.
Professor Lyubomirsky admits not even the happiest among us is capable of staying in these feelings all the time, and that happy people will experience sadness too, but asserts happier people measurably spend more time in a positive place, emotionally and bounce back from bouts of unhappiness with more resilience.
The second component is personal fulfillment. Happier people are more content with their accomplishments and are acutely aware of how they are progressing towards their life goals.
But, no matter how we build intentional happiness around ourselves, if we are straddled with a genetic deficiency or a decreased capacity for happiness as we age, is the deck, in the end, stacked against us?
Do you have happy cells?
So, how does our genetic tendency for unhappiness affect us and what does it look like at the cellular level?
Cellular health, which relies on the presence of SIRT1 and NAD+ in the cell, is proving to be intimately linked to happiness and ultimately to our physical and mental health. Authors Abel and Chatterjee, researchers at the Department of Biology, in the University of Pennsylvania, published findings on the importance of sirtuins in ‘genetic happiness’, in Biological Psychiatry, the Journal of Psychiatric Neuroscience and Therapeutics, entitled, To Stay Happy, Keep Your SIRT1 Active.
SIRT1 regulates cell processes, including the aging and death of cells and their resistance to stress. These proteins are also found to reduce depression in chronically stressed animals. But SIRT1 is only half the story. The measurable loss of NAD+ identified by Harvard scientists as we age is so significant that by the time we reach our fiftieth year, we are roughly working on half our original stores. To add insult to injury, NAD+ continues to drain to nil in our 70’s and 80’s. Science is now looking for ways to keep these critical levels up, by using a precursor coenzyme to NAD+ called NMN (Nicotinamide Mononucleotide).
But how do we restock NAD in our cells? Again, thanks to innovative bio tech companies like Herbalmax, in Southern California, the answer is not as difficult as it seems.
Senior Research Scientist at Herbalmax, Mohamed Shaharuzzaman Ph. D, explains the process of replenishing NAD stores with Nicotinamide Mononuclotide or NMN. “NMN is an active precursor coenzyme to NAD+, and has been identified as the key coenzyme to life in all cells. The exciting research at Harvard University by David Sinclair, has catapulted NMN into the mainstream nutraceutical industry and has facilitated its everyday use as a safe and highly effective way to replenish NAD+ supplies.”
Biotech engineers at Herbalmax, leaders in science-based nutraceuticals, have developed a 99% pure NMN product called Reinvigorator. The Reinvigorator product is one in a premier line of Herbalmax’s pioneering nutraceuticals designed to help support cell function as we age. “Reinvigorator replenishes NAD stores as they begin to dramatically fall after we approach our later forties, ironically, when we need them the most,” explains Dr. Shaharuzzaman. “Giving our cells the significant boost they need for continued muscle strength, cardiovascular health, and cognitive clarity.”
The research doesn’t end with Sinclair, not by a long shot. Since the later-part of the twentieth century, a wide range of depression-related studies have also centered on how the SIRT1 and NAD+ relationship positively affect unhappiness.
Health effects of Unhappiness
In 2009, The Atlantic reported on one of the longest-ever running examinations on the human condition. A longitudinal grant, which began in 1930, followed 268 Harvard, then undergraduates. As of 2019, the results keep coming in. The most startling findings included the aging undergraduates who showed signs of depression and cognitive decline by age 50, 70 percent had died or were chronically ill by age 65.
But which is first? Does a continued state of unhappiness enable illness to set up camp in our cells, or is cellular damage the reason we succumb to disease? By all accounts the answer is probably both happen at the same time, and the effects of happiness on wellness and disease, like anything is cyclical and spirals either up or down depending on which is dominant.
The decline of our cells into disease as we age is certainly profound and the connection between longevity and maintaining a happy outlook throughout our lives is, as science has established, inextricably linked. This new paradigm in aging and wellness will continue to unravel but one thing is certain, every day presents a new opportunity to choose to live happier than the day before.