Are you Happy in Your Skin

What is happiness to you? For most of us this is not an easy question to answer. Longevity and Dermalogica decided to delve deeper into the subject. They invited inspirational speaker and psychologist Dr Hannetjie Van Zyl-Edeling to share her insights on cultivating happiness.

Dr  Zyl-Edeling’s great thirst for knowledge and creative exploration have taken her work from dietetics to psychology and further into hypnotherapy, NLP, astrology and complementary therapies. Edeling uses the latest science to show how our relationship to life is the key to happiness.

Your perception of happiness

“Happiness is your choice,” states Zyl-Edeling, “It grows from deliberately cultivating a positive outlook.” It depends on being present in each moment and having meaning in life. A state of happiness creates the invitation for pleasure and accomplishment rather than stemming from them. As Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage says, “It is the joy we feel while striving after our potential.”

Only 10% of happiness is influenced by external circumstances, so what about the rest? According to Dr Sonja Lyubomirsky, 50% of happiness is genetically determined and a whopping 40% comes from your attitude and lifestyle choices. From epigenetics we now know that our genetic inheritance is not set in stone and that behaviour trumps genetics by far.

Shawn Achor cites research on 275,000 people from across 200 studies and concludes that happiness is the precursor to success in all areas of life, not the other way around. For many, money is a measure of success and an essential part of our lives and survival, but beyond having basic needs met, that extra money makes very little difference to happiness levels.

Healthy brain happy you

“One cannot be happy unless your brain works well. It is the master controller of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health and wellbeing,” emphasises Zyl-Edeling, “And much of it is under your control.”

Our brain is filled with mood chemicals known as neurotransmitters. If these guys are unhappy, our whole perspective on life becomes distorted. Difficult times put pressure on our bodies to produce more neurotransmitters. They are the ammunition we need to deal with stress, and we need to do our utmost to keep the supply forthcoming through good nutritional and habits.


Dopamine is our motivational and movement neurotransmitter. It influences working memory. In excess it can promote addiction. When it is depleted it can lead to fatigue, obesity and even Parkinson’s disease.


Serotonin is our happy neurotransmitter. With adequate levels we have a sense of wellbeing, good sleep, rational thinking and the ability to enjoy life. Low levels are associated with depression, hormonal imbalance and food cravings to name but a few.


GABA is our steadiness neurotransmitter. When in balance it is calming and grounding. When depleted we become anxious irritable, clumsy and even sounds can seem unusually loud.


Acetylcholine is the creative thinking neurotransmitter. When in balance it supports flexible thinking and immediate memory. Too little has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease.


Rigged for survival

Our brain is genetically programmed for physical survival, therefore it focuses on what is wrong or out of place. But, as Zyl-Edeling says, “For many of us that is not our challenge at the moment. We want more from life and this negativity bias no longer serves us.” It’s time to switch our filters to positive and work on finding what’s good and right in order to be happy and successful.


The changeable brain

Surprising new discoveries in science show the brain is not fixed in its patterning and does not necessarily degenerate over time as previously thought. Embracing the concept of neuroplasticity, we now have a more enticing concept of mental health and aging. The brain is in fact changing all the time. It can restructure in relation to our experiences, focus and choices and is capable of developing new positive pathways at any age. But here’s the crux; this doesn’t happen by itself. Creating positive pathways takes conscious effort. The more we use a pathway the more hardwired it becomes. Through self-directed neuroplasticity we can build happiness into our lives, permanently.


Positive new grooves

Changing your neural pathways and filters for the better, involves training your thought patterns to focus on what you want, not what you don’t want. Round up the wild horses of your thought stream and tell them which way to go. In moments of unhappiness, make a change. Do something that you know lifts your energy. Go for a walk outside, phone a loved one, smell something lovely or listen to your favourite music. It takes five times more positive thoughts to cancel out an old negative pattern; so focus on the positive thoughts you wish to infuse for at least 42 days and voila, you have a new positive pathway! And remember to use it so you don’t loose it.



Brain food

Healthy food turns on the switches of our longevity genes. Nutrigenomics shows how good nutrients are essential for making neurotransmitters. Start with the best quality foods you can find where possible – free range, grass fed, organically grown, harvested when ripe – and then add supplements as necessary.


Good mood, brain and skin food:

  • Leafy green vegetables, especially watercress
  • Berries, especially blueberries
  • Seeds and nuts
  • Oily fish such as salmon, yellowtail, sardines
  • Spices such as turmeric (India has almost no Alzheimers and very brain deterioration)
  • Herbal tea such as green tea
  • Red wine
  • Coconut oil
  • Dark chocolate


Supplements such as the B vitamins, omega 3, magnesium and L-Theanine all help to build and balance our brain chemistry. Be sure to consult a professional for help in this regard.


Food and positive thinking are not the only things that ensure a rejuvenated happy brain. Exercise is imperative to form new neuronal pathways in the brain. Plus learning new activities or studying ensure the new pathways form beautifully and can even build around possible areas of degeneration.


Positive ageing

“Genuinely happy people also tend to be healthier, live longer and deal with adversity better than their negative counterparts,” shares Zyl-Edeling. Today it’s becoming much more common to live to a hundred and you want make sure your last years are excellent years. Choose to have a meaningful life and to be a nice person.


Compassion and gratitude are essential elements of true happiness. Choose to build these qualities into your life and brain on a daily basis. Look for what went well and remember your “pleases and thank you’s.” Zyl-Edeling reminds us, “Happiness is a choice – suffering is optional.”



Dr Hannetjie vab Zyl-Edeling runs a well-established psychology practice in Johannesburg. She is also a workshop facilitator and inspirational speaker on positive ageing, eating disorders, preventative nutrition, happiness and spiritual living. She is the author of the book “Over the Hill Moon – A Guide to Positive Ageing.” For Zyl-Edeling walking on the beach, playing in her art studio or garden and spending time with her family are just a few components that nourish her and hardwire happiness into her life.