Happiness, what a delightful little word we came up with to describe such a confusing topic. A sensation that usually goes side by side with a smile from a loved one, laughter, sunshine, appreciation of life, a feeling of fulfillment and an overwhelming energy that urges you to want to do and achieve more. Some will even argue that happiness and the meaning of life, are one..”The meaning of life is to do what makes you happy”, or “Find meaning in your life and then you’ll be happy”, we hear people say oftentimes. Man, what a bunch of bullshit…People are being (un)intentionally so vague when describing happiness, even a child catches up to the fact that they don’t really know what they are talking about.
So…what exactly is happiness?
The dictionary, defines it as the quality or state of being satisfied, joyful, pleased, etc. It’s a nice emotion, a feeling of positiveness. It’s the sum of the action of a bunch of different chemicals sitting on receptors in your brain, making you feel like you are doing a good job living life.
All living things, including our own species, are fundamentally nothing more than biological containers for their DNA. Our bodies and our brains, as well as all the emotions they are capable of feeling were designed and molded by millions of years of natural selection to serve one single purpose: To promote the propagation of our DNA beyond the temporal confines of human life as efficiently as possible. No matter how deeply distorted we choose to interpret them, from a biological perspective, emotions were designed by nature to do just this: To promote, reward, or punish behaviors, ultimately ensuring that our basic needs are being met, (in)directly achieving the purpose stated above. After all, the word emotion originates from the Latin word “emovere”, which means “to set something in motion”.
Hierarchy of needs:
It looks pretty straightforward then, if I manage to satisfy all my basic human needs, then I should feel happy, right? Here is where it gets a bit complex though. Where do I start? It may sound like a stupid question, but, what are my needs?
Luckily for us, a famous 20th century psychologist named Abraham Maslow figured it out. He came up with a pyramid build of 5 basic human needs, towards which he observed human behavior tends to turn to, moving upwards in a hierarchical fashion as soon as the most fundamental needs at the bottom of the pyramid have been met.
- Physiological needs: Food and water, clothes and shelter, and sex.
- Safety needs: Personal and financial security, health and well-being.
- Social needs: The need to feel loved by those we consider “our people” and the need to feel accepted by some sort of social group.
- Esteem needs: i) The need for self-respect, ii) The need to be respected by others
- Self-actualization: This final part of the pyramid refers to what a person’s full potential is, and the realization of that potential. It is the need to accomplish everything one can.
Of-course the human brain is a complex organ and capable of being stimulated by multiple desires at the same time. This is perhaps the reason we feel so confused all the time, ending up feeling overwhelmed and powerless, and turning towards stereotypical modern society behaviors to shut our brains off with momentary satisfaction. For example, does it not feel easy and comforting to be able to indulge into the “order pizza and binge-watch Game of Thrones” habit to trick our brain from pushing us towards an existential crisis? Well, it doesn’t really have to be this way…You know now that when you feel sad, or unfulfilled, that is just nature’s way of saying: “You are not satisfying your needs, do something to change that”. Happiness will be the reward for the action you’ve taken, simple as that.
So next time you get this weird feeling of unfulfillness, before you start feeling compelled to write a novel, or to dramatically change your diet, or to go buy a self-improvement/spirituality/philosophy book, have a look at this pyramid. Chances are, you have been keeping to yourself for a little too many days; you probably feel like avoiding socialization (routine situations/conversations that do not exceed an impaired comfort-zone do not count) and this has negatively impacted your sense of belonging, your self-esteem, and your sex life. Maybe you don’t currently have financial safety and you feel unsure about the future. It doesn’t really matter. Whatever your problem is, the problem-solving process will always be the same: Identify the problem, get your ass off the couch, hit the bar…joking…get your ass off the couch and take appropriate action. It doesn’t matter if your actions bring immediate results or not, your brain will reward the effort anyway.