I have been thinking a lot about happiness this past year, and wanted to share with you (well, really, with myself), a brief summary of where my thoughts are now.
As you know, I achieved a state of extreme exuberance, which lasted for a number of weeks, following my plateau experience a few months ago. During this time, I wrote my book on happiness, but by the time I finished the book my exuberance had dissipated, and I started back on my search for authentic happiness – defined by the feeling of exuberance.
I detoured a little, researching different scientific topics with a strong preference to the biology of the brain, to include chemical influences on happiness and sadness, and autonomous brain actions and pathways, which help, explain how our brain works.
Having completed this tangent, I turned back to Happiness, and decided to look into the study of Happiness, and was surprised to find that very few people are looking at the question of Happiness. The general perspective is that by removing sadness, one finds Happiness. But intuitively, and through experience, I had come to believe that it only tells half of the story.
Looking on Amazon (my source for knowledge), I bumped into the idea of Positive Psychology, which seems to claim that Happiness can be fostered through Positive perspectives, among other things.
I am currently reading a book by the man who developed Positive Psychology, Flourish by Martin Seligman, and while I am only at the beginning of his book, I think this book will be a very positive addition to my thoughts on things, and want to already pull in a few ideas of his, to my model, which I will get to shortly.
Since models are easier to leverage with a name, I am going to title it the Comprehensive Happiness Model.
The basic idea behind the model is that Happiness can only be achieved when we have filled our five basic needs. These five needs are a direct reflection of our evolutionary path, and clearly provide our species the greatest chance to survive, or perhaps even thrive. When any of these needs are LACKING fulfillment, they leave sadness or depression in their wake.
Specifically, our body chemistry monitors these needs and provides chemical rewards to our brain when these needs are fulfilled though a feeling of happiness (contentment) much in the same way that it gives us “good drugs” when we eat or have sex. When our needs are not being fulfilled the lack of these rewards encourage us to action – like a junkie who withdraws. (Not so sure about the scientific base of happiness withdrawal, so further research is needed there.)
The five base needs include Lack of Fear, Control of Our Environment, Not Being Alone, Life-Meaning/Productive Action, and Self-Knowledge of Existence.
Here is where Positive Psychology comes in. By focusing our brain on the fact that our needs are fulfilled, we can create a habit (read The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg for a basic introduction, but it’s really more about creating unconscious processes), that our focus is on the positive and not the negative, and in turn keep our positive drugs flowing. Add to that the idea of Brain Elasticity, and after a while, we can change our focus from the evolutionary default of focusing on what is lacking, to the constant focus of what we have, and thus happiness.
As I said, it is a working model, but I think it is getting pretty close to the truth.