Happiness is the Best Anti-Aging Cream

"Live, love, laugh and be happy" - Red Red Robin by Harry Woods

As a kid, I woke every morning to my mom singing “Red Red Robin.” The song was my alarm clock. It was hard to get up grouchy when the instructions for the day were so loud and clear: Live, love, laugh and be happy.

These days as a working mother of two, I wake up tired - already plotting the day and how I will cram everything in, including time for myself, which has become more like a distant dream than a real part of my schedule. I wake up in survival mode.

I know I'm not the only mom who feels this way. Stress is a very real factor of modern life. Stress ages you, I remind myself, as I put on my anti-puff eye cream, along with anti-wrinkle, anti-everything miracle cream and take a deep breath. I smear on another cream that makes me look, well, less tired.

I tiptoe into the kitchen, hoping to grab a quiet breakfast before everyone else wakes up. Enjoying my five-minutes of solitude slotted into the kind of schedule that would make grown men cry, I sip my green tea and reflect on these things.

I’ve been researching happiness for this blog, trying to understand what makes life meaningful. All the happiness experts seem to be men. Do they change diapers? Would they find pleasure in the broken sleep patterns of new motherhood? Then I remembered I have two happiness experts in my own home. My children.

My infant, Sienna, spends a good part of her day laughing. She is the very image of the laughing Buddha. Chubby and bald, with deep dimples when she smiles.

Alessio and I went to a birthday party the other day. A magician was there. He was terrible as magicians go. One of his tricks was smashing a banana in his hands. The 20 or so toddlers at the party thought this was the funniest thing they’d ever seen. They were rolling on the floor laughing. Legs kicking in the air. Loud belly laughs. I had to laugh too. Laughter is contagious, it’s true. Not only that, it boosts the immune system and reduces stress.

Everybody on earth wants to be happy. It’s more than just a nice thought. According to the latest research in positive psychology, happiness is a fundamental human need. Well-being is related to longevity and good health. One study found that a “happy” person lives 9 years longer than an “unhappy” person.

But what creates happiness? First off, a person must have their basic necessities covered. After that, material wealth has little bearing on happiness. Common happiness factors include close friendships, a meaningful life, and work that is satisfying and enjoyable. New evidence shows that gratitude and generosity also have measurable effects on well-being.

For decades, Hungarian psychology professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (noted for his research on happiness and his unbelievably long name!), has been studying satisfaction in everyday life. He coined the term “flow” to describe the state of greatest satisfaction: being so immersed in an activity that you lose sense of time and self, and questions of whether you are happy or not are beside the point. You simply are.

Kids achieve this state quite easily. “Flow” is their natural way of being. Remember what it’s like to play on a swing? That buoyant happy feeling as you rise toward the sky, a little higher each time.

Play is as important for adults as it is for kids. Neuroscience links play to increased creativity, reduced stress, and deeper bonds. Even at work, a playful attitude encourages energized thinking and better communication.

My formula for happiness: Play more. Worry less.

You may not be able to change your crazy schedule, but you can change how you relate to your tasks. Next time you go to the park think of it as playtime for you and your child. Turn off your cell phone. Engage. Act silly. Play in the sandbox. Swing your heart out. Your child (and inner child) will love it too.