Happiness is one of those emotions that is challenging to describe. Let us find out: What is happiness in psychology? What are the hormones of happiness? And how this knowledge can help you to live an overall happier life.
Partly because Happiness is a very abstract and variable concept; even the same person would most likely describe it in many different ways depending on the mood they are in at the time.
However, if there is a scientific subject capable of assisting us in understanding happiness as objectively as possible, it is psychology. So, let us look at what this phenomenon entails, based on a study conducted by psychologists over the years.
Happiness in Philosophy
There are numerous approaches to finding out: what is happiness in psychology. The earliest research into it arose from philosophy several centuries ago, particularly during the Renaissance, when humanism evolved, and focus was placed on the well-being of human beings as something having a value in and of itself.
Because there were practically no technological tools and solutions to study emotions and mental processes at the time, the task of these thinkers was to distinguish between different definitions of happiness so that they did not pass from one to another without realizing it and to maintain consistency when attempting to study this phenomenon. Thus, rather than contrasting hypotheses with objective evidence, it was mostly a conceptual activity centered on arranging concepts.
As a result, two perspectives on happiness emerged: the indulgent and the life satisfaction perspectives. As exemplified by utilitarian thinkers like Jeremy Bentham, the former asserted that happiness was, above all, a question of making pleasure triumph over displeasure so that enjoyable experiences would outnumber those that produced pain or displeasure most of the time.
Several proponents of this view said that, rather than striving to “refill the reservoir” of enjoyable experiences on an individual basis, the goal should be to have as many people as possible feel as much pleasure as possible.
In a nutshell, this lively style emphasizes the need to regulate and administrate behaviors and experiences connected with pleasure while avoiding situations that create unpleasantness.
The notion of life satisfaction, on the other hand, highlights the idea that human beings are happy or unhappy based on an overall appraisal of their lives, a process that extends beyond the act of experiencing the present moment and the stimuli that reach us from our surroundings. Thus, people who can positively assess their life trajectory and prospects based on what they have learned about themselves and their method of interacting with the world would be content.
What is Happiness in Psychology
So far, we have seen a few essential ideas emerge from philosophy, but what is happiness in psychology?
Finally, in the second half of the nineteenth century, a branch of philosophy dedicated to studying behavior and mental processes broke free from its speculation-based origins. It moved on to the search for evidence and empirical evidence in general, giving rise to psychology. With this transition, certain philosophers’ objects of study came to be redefined to be approached scientifically.
A mental state with a high emotional charge that is also founded on ideas and beliefs could be the answer to our question: What is happiness in psychology. In this view, pleasure includes emotional and cognitive components (i.e., thoughts structured in interwoven concepts, often through language). And, from this perspective, it considers both the short-term logic of hedonism and the long-term logic of life fulfillment, which is inspired by more abstract and long-term mental operations.
Although there is no clear consensus about happiness in psychology, numerous intriguing results move us closer to a more nuanced and comprehensive view of happiness. They are as follows.
- People adapt their capacity for happiness to crises.
When people suffer tremendous discomfort or a big crisis that impacts their quality of life, one of the hallmarks of happiness is that it adjusts by decreasing the minimal needs for pleasure to a lower threshold. People, for example, tend to believe that if they lose their capacity to see with their eyes, they will be unhappy. Still, research shows that persons with acquired blindness are typically just as happy as the rest of the population.
- The amount of happiness changes in response to social cues.
The individuals heavily influence the way we are or are not happy we look up to and the living situations we assign to them. Individuals who live in worse conditions, for example, are less pleased if they are exposed to many other people who live in much better situations.
- Financial success does not ensure happiness.
Although having all we need to live comfortably increases our chances of happiness, it does not ensure happiness. Furthermore, at some point, the lifestyle that is usually required to sustain a high level of wealth appears to cancel out the beneficial influence that these material objects bring in the form of hedonic pleasure.
- Our stories about our existence determine our happiness.
In some ways, the philosophers of the life satisfaction idea of happiness were correct: it is impossible to be happy if all we do is fill our lives with pleasant moments. This accumulation-based reasoning does not always correspond to a sense of progress in life or doing something worthwhile for oneself or society.
What are the hormones of happiness?
One of the most frequently heard terms in psychology and health sciences, in general, is something known as “the hormones of happiness.”
The quartet of serotonin, dopamine, endorphins, and oxytocin typically holds joy. When attempting to condense such an intense and abstract sensation as Happiness to primary biological responses, this statement, which has nearly become a mantra, may sound harsh and unsophisticated.
Our emotional states, however, are not the result of magic. Even at the risk of seeming excessively biologistic, it is a truth that biological mechanisms must support our ideas, feelings, beliefs, and other psychological elements. The central nervous system is that support, an organic mechanism that supports many neurological phenomena and biochemical processes responsible for how we feel and react.
Yes, we can confirm the existence of the hormones of happiness, but, more accurately, we would say that neurotransmitters give us happiness.
The distinction between “neurotransmitter” and “hormone” is subtle, and few individuals distinguish between the two names in practice. It is equally legitimate to speak to serotonin as a hormone or a neurotransmitter, albeit the latter word is preferable when discussing its functions at the level of our brain.
The critical difference is that neurotransmitters are chemicals transferred by neurons, whereas hormones circulate in the circulation and have a slower impact. Many chemicals that operate as neurotransmitters are hormones, depending on their location and context.
Whether we are talking about neurotransmitters or hormones, the reality is that there exist molecules that, when released into the synaptic region of neurons, cause mood changes. Happiness, like other moods, is a product of brain chemistry. The same chemistry has been used in psychopharmacology to develop medications that attempt to improve patients’ health with various illnesses by interfering with the synthesis and absorption of particular neurotransmitters.
What exactly are the hormones of happiness, and how big is their emotional impact?
Although everyone has experienced happiness, explaining it has never been a simple feat. For this reason, philosophers have fought for thousands of years about what it is to be happy, what causes it, and how our soul operates such that we sense happiness.
Because the purpose of this article is not to engage in a philosophical debate, we will define Happiness more pragmatically, using the exact definition that scientists have used to look for it in the brain: it is the subjective feeling of well-being and positive emotions that we feel when we achieve something pleasant.
According to this description, neuroscientists and endocrinologists have determined that four distinct molecules play a critical role when we experience Happiness: endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin.
Endorphins are neurotransmitters and hormones that have a calming effect and aid in reducing physical pain. For example, when we experience a rapid surge in stress levels, the increase in endorphins causes us to feel less pain from any injuries we may get in that troublesome or dangerous circumstance. Pain is related to discontent, and hence it may be claimed that it separates us from happiness, but its absence does not ensure it either. And something may be stated about the feeling of relaxation that endorphins can occasionally bring; for example, we can be tranquil yet incredibly bored.
Serotonin is frequently associated with feelings of well-being. Still, its functioning is far more complicated, and it may “unfold” through various routes and chain reactions involving several molecules interacting with each other and with neurons. In reality, an overabundance of serotonin may be highly damaging to the body; the most prominent example is serotonin syndrome, which can be generated as a side effect of various psychiatric medicines.
Dopamine is linked to romantic relationships and affection. However, this characteristic alone explains why it cannot be a source of happiness: it is inextricably related to social experiences, interactions with other people, or beings we love or develop to love through time.
Oxytocin is also associated with affection but not with falling in love. It has been shown that its existence is related to long-term interactions, resulting in a more stable and prolonged release process in the human body. It must, however, be “maintained” by something other than the organism: those ties with others.
What is happiness in psychology? As you’ve already seen, it is not so easy to describe because we all see it from different perspectives. But if you want to profit from this knowledge, we have an article about How To Train Your Mind To Think Positive Thoughts.