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How problems can make you feel happy

Yes, you read correctly: Problems will make you happy! In psychological research something that looks like a contradiction at first glance, turns out to be a simple but important truth. Because, whoever is never confronted with obstacles or difficulties also never gets a chance at a very important happiness component: The sense of having faced and mastered a challenge.

Mastered problems create happiness”, so the german brain researcher Gerald Hüther, “because the feeling of happiness is always generated when disturbance and excitement in the brain turn into calm and harmony.” Here the sense of having mastered the problem on one’s own is important, i.e. the feeling of happiness is at its most intense if one has experienced the potency of one’s own action. Obviously we always appreciate it when someone comes along and deals with a difficult task on our behalf – however, when we were able to handle it ourselves the happiness effect is considerably greater and longer lasting. That has something to do with the reward system in our brain. The principal role is presumably played by the neurotransmitter dopamine that is increasingly excreted when you deal with a problem and in the process have to concentrate on specific facts. This alone creates a pleasant feeling. The expectation that you may possibly – hopefully – succeed in what you are doing already releases the body’s very own opioids that act to further intensify positive emotions. As soon as you actually succeeded in solving your problem, the triumph is accompanied by a truly intensive and sustainable high.

Naturally you could rightfully argue that this entire mechanism only works if you actually manage to solve the problem and that it doesn’t if you fail. Correct. Naturally there are also problems in most people’s lives that cannot be resolved that easily. Nevertheless, it is a positive approach to be aware that one should not always acknowledge life’s difficulties with frowning, a rolling of the eyes and moaning but appreciate them as the potential source of good feelings. A preferred saying in therapeutic circles is: “Problems are opportunities in disguise!” Therefore: Consider the problems you face during the days to come with this in mind and consciously experience and deliberately and consciously celebrate your small and miniscule problem solving successes!

Dividing large problems into smaller parts is another good approach – first of all, they are usually easier to resolve and secondly, in doing so the highs occur more often. Why don’t you try a few easy problem-solving tasks like for instance a Sudoku or a crossword puzzle, just for a start? Rubik’s Magic Cube is in vogue again; and for the professionals: Rubik’s Revenge is an advanced version. Naturally there are also brainteasers that are perfectly suitable for playful problem solving. I have compiled three of those for you that are relatively well known – just for a little dose of happiness in between. Have fun!

A father and his two sons are standing on the bank of the Mississippi. They would like to cross the river by boat. The boat only carries a total weight of 120 kg. The father himself weighs that much and his two sons weigh 60 kg each. How are all three of them going to make it to the opposite bank?

You own a total of 30 socks, 20 are white and 10 are red. Since you are not all that neat, you generally throw all of them into the same drawer. Unfortunately, this morning you have to get up very early and - due to a electrical power outage - have to grab a pair of matching socks (either red or white) out of the drawer in a pitch-black bedroom. How many socks do you have to pull out of the drawer until you can be sure that a matched pair is among them?

Connect the dots below with four lines without lifting the pen!

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