Embrace hapiness

Tips for Healthy Living with Josje Smeets
Text —  Toos Hofstede / Photography — Josje Smeets


Is a lifetime of happiness achievable? Meet Josje Smeets, the Happiness Psychologist. As a professor of positive psychology at Maastricht University, she not only imparts the secrets to happiness but also guides individuals and organisations towards better health and resilience.

Josje emphasises, “Scientific evidence shows that a positive mindset and healthy lifestyle not only foster optimism but also enhance one's immunity and longevity. It's a remarkable revelation.” Josje's mission is to demystify intricate theories and convey them in a relatable manner, which she accomplishes through her roles as blogger, author, coach, educator, and even theatre performer.


According to you, happiness can be created. Can you briefly explain how that works?

“When it comes to happiness, there's a lot more within your control than you may think. The field of psychology can grapple with the elusive nature of happiness, as it remains inherently subjective. However, one point of consensus is that a substantial 50% of our happiness is coded into our DNA. This genetic predisposition means that if your grandmother experienced burnout or depressive episodes, there could be a hereditary vulnerability in your family. Achieving and maintaining happiness may require a bit more effort for those with such genetic backgrounds.

Contrary to the common misconception, only 10% of our happiness is dictated by life circumstances, a surprisingly low percentage. We often believe that we can boost our happiness by having a more empathetic colleague, moving to a new house, acquiring the latest fashion or a fancy car. However, any changes in your circumstances typically result in short-lived happiness, driven by dopamine. Whether it's indulging in that chocolate bar, scrolling through social media, making impulsive purchases, or pouring an extra glass of wine, these actions trigger dopamine, providing only momentary satisfaction.

The key to enduring happiness lies in that remaining 40%, primarily in your mindset. How you navigate life's twists and turns, your reactions to challenging colleagues, and your ability to resist impulsive actions are all pivotal. Of course, in situations involving loss, illness, or living in a war-torn area, circumstances play a more significant role. Yet, on average, your life circumstances have only a 10% impact on your overall happiness level. What truly matters is cultivating resilience, which is built through the experience and triumph over setbacks. This is where the happiness hormone, serotonin, takes centre stage. Serotonin fosters contentment with the present, alongside a tranquil mind, and an enduring sense of peace. To achieve long-term happiness, we must learn to resist the allure of short-term dopamine highs.”

So, the majority of happiness, approximately 40%, rests in our hands. How can we encourage the production of serotonin? 

“It's a straightforward, albeit perhaps unexciting, journey. It involves building a solid foundation based on peace, cleanliness, regularity, nurturing relationships, and having a sense of purpose. Learning to be content with yourself and minimising stress is crucial. Investing in robust rituals that aid in generating the right hormones is the path to sustained happiness.”

Josje Smeets


Healthy Rituals for a Happier Life



Rise and shine. Bid farewell to snoozing and kickstart your day with activities that infuse you with positivity, tranquillity, and happiness. For some, it's the invigorating energy of a morning run, while others find solace in a 15-minute meditation or a cup of coffee accompanied by the daily newspaper. This morning routine triggers the release of adrenaline, enhancing your focus and equipping you to tackle stress more effectively.



Wind down gracefully. Cultivate an evening ritual that caters to your needs, helping you unwind and ease into a relaxed state. This downtime could involve reading a book, taking a leisurely stroll, or engaging in activities that help reduce adrenaline levels. This relaxation paves the way for the production of melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone that aids in peaceful slumber.



Meditate for serenity. Carve out time for introspection and let your thoughts flow without attachment. The practice of meditation allows your mind to let go, facilitating the production of serotonin, which fosters a sense of calm.



Get active. When you're burdened by stress or mental overload, make physical activity your ally. Exercise is a potent means to activate all four happiness hormones simultaneously: dopamine (for instant joy), serotonin (for relaxation), endorphins (natural pain relief), and oxytocin (instilling empathy). Just 30 minutes of continuous exercise releases these hormones and keeps them active in your system for up to 12 hours. Morning workouts can be particularly effective, fortifying you for the challenges of the day, while evening sessions promote restful sleep.



Plan for long-term happiness. Prioritise self-care and gratitude. Set goals that contribute to your enduring happiness, and build a support network to help you on your journey. Whether it's good friends, your partner, or a like-minded colleague, sharing your aspirations and checking in on each other periodically bolsters your self-confidence and overall happiness. Through this mutual support, you and your network uplift each other, fostering a sense of well-being."

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