In democratic societies, the well being of the masses – happiness for everybody – has become the focus of the “new science of happiness” and a main agenda of the state.
Happiness is more than the absence of unhappiness. Happiness is experienced both as fleeting sensations and emotions, and consciously appreciated as a permanent disposition of the mind.
EMOTIONS – Darwin speculated that the emotions must be key to the survival of the fittest. With the emergence of self-awareness, emotions have become a new evolutionary force. The emotional ‘good’ has become detached from the Darwinian ‘Good’, such that experiencing pleasure has become an end in itself. Other people are also principal sources of social alarm and thus of psychological stress. It is here that the great advantage of the neo-cortex becomes apparent: it functions as an arbitrator to attribute quality and strength to social factors. The thoughts and actions of particular individual can render us excited or leave us indifferent.
ENVY – is one of the most potent causes of unhappiness. It can be tempered or neutralized by mobilizing the neo-cortex. But the main source of stress for the human primate is probably fear and subjective sense of uncertainty, so the satisfaction of the need for security is a precondition for the unfolding of all other needs.
WESTERN LIFE – The west is especially rich in the things we call interesting, beautiful, delicious, cool, entertaining, and exiting. They make daily life more reinforcing, but they reinforce little more than the behavior that brings one in to contact with them. What is wrong with the life in the west is not that it has too many reinforces, but they are not contingent on the kinds of behavior that sustain the individual or promote the survival of the culture or species. The emotional responses to the pleasant stimulus also weaken or completely cease, if stimulus remains constant. This phenomenon has been called the Hedonic Treadmill.
SUFFERING – Totally eliminating the suffering and blindly chasing pleasure are not paths to happiness. Posters on buses in London and other world capitals with the inscription “There is probably no God, now stop worrying and enjoy your life” give false advice. A program of mass happiness is actually a delusion. Happiness cannot be a set goal sold as consumer good. It can only spring up as a by-product of pursuing long term goals, intermittent with negative and positive emotions.
Sustainable happiness results from what we do, not from what we have. –Chasing happiness as an aggregate of wealth and pleasure is a vicious spiral. A huge number of empirical studies show that vast amounts of material wealth do not make people happier once they have reached a certain level of financial security. Rather than crushing our spirits, the realization that we exist together for a narrow slice of time and space elevates us to higher plane of humanity and humility: a proud act in the drama of the cosmos.
HAPPINESS – Happiness isn’t just a vague, overwhelming feeling; it is a physical state of the brain – one that you can induce deliberately. Scientists have discovered that happiness or related mental states like hopefulness, optimism and contentment appear to reduce the risk or limit the severity of cardiovascular disease, pulmonary disease, diabetes, hypertension, colds and upper-respiratory infections.
IMAGING TECHNOLOGY – Functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) which maps blood flow to active parts of the brain, and electroencephalograms which sense the electrical activity of neuronal circuits- consistently point to the prefrontal cortex as a prime focus of happiness. Scientists are confident that this part of the brain is a proximal cause of at least certain kinds of happiness. That suggests that some people are genetically predisposed to be happy by virtue of their busy prefrontal cortexes and research in infants confirms it. Neuroscientists have also learned over the past decade that the brain is highly plastic. It rewires it self in response to experience and that’s especially true before the age of puberty. One might naively assume that negative experiences might destroy a happy personality. Optimists may simply feel less stress than pessimists and thereby avoid the noxious biochemical cascades that stress is known to trigger. Another likely factor: optimistic, happy type seems to take better care of themselves than sad sacks do.