1.The feeling of happiness is related to a certain state of a biological structure of our brain called “limbic system.”The neurophysiological perspective:
The limbic system, also called “the emotional brain,” is the center of our feelings. Another name for this structure is the “paleomammalian brain.” This part of our brain is related to our phylogenetic development as a species. The limbic system is fully developed only in mammals. The development of feelings in mammals was one of the biggest steps of evolution. The limbic system allows mammals to build social groups by providing feelings that regulate social interaction between its members. A smaller part of the limbic system, called nucleus accumbens, is the proper center of pleasure.
In the 1950s, James Olds and Peter Milner discovered that rats with electrodes implanted into their nuclei accumbens repeatedly pressed a lever activating this region. The rats did so in preference to eating and drinking, eventually dying of exhaustion. In 1962, James Olds repeated these experiments with monkeys and obtained similar results. Other studies have found the same mechanism in cats, dogs, dolphins, and humans.
The limbic system and its subordinate part, the nuclei accumbens, do not exist on their own. The limbic system is tightly connected to the frontal cortex which is the center of our consciousness.
Simply speaking, human “consciousness” is the part of our mind responsible for logical thinking, including all the achievements of human civilization. When we think something, those thoughts arise in the frontal cortex. From there the information is sent to the limbic system. The limbic system “decides” if something is pleasant or not. The researchers Olds and Milner also found that electrical stimulation of nuclei accumbens served as a reward for learning new behaviors and problem solving. On this level, matter (the material structure of the brain), is related to the spirit (psyche/soul). The “normal” feeling of happiness is connected with the proper content of our thoughts and actions.
We know that consuming alcohol and drugs, such as cocaine, amphetamines, or heroin, cause a stimulation of the nuclei accumbens. The usage of alcohol or drugs is like a shortcut to the center of pleasure. At the end the consequences of alcohol and drug abuse are not less destructive than those experienced by the rats pressing a lever.
When patients seek mental health care because of depression, psychiatric drugs can be used to improve their mood and restore their feeling of happiness. From a neurophysiological point of view, antidepressants intervene with some brain structures by increasing the amount of so called mediators/neurotransmitters (mostly serotonin and norepinephrine) elevating the patient’s mood to a normal level. Antidepressants, contrary to street drugs or alcohol, do not possess any euphoric effect and are not addictive.
2. Psychological perspective:
The discipline of psychology is divided into two large factions. One faction is analytical psychology (also called “depth psychology”) which tries to glance into the depths of the soul. This psychological school of thought is historically related to the first established method of psychotherapy: psychoanalysis developed by Freud.
The other faction is behavioral psychology which regards the psyche according to a stimulus-reaction model. This is a kind of response-apparatus that shows a certain behavior complying with the stimuli given. These psychological methods act on the level of programming and reprogramming of certain psychological behaviors examining processes in terms of quantity and trying to mold psychological treatments into standardized methods.
Both of these schools of psychology deal with people’s dysfunctional reactions (illnesses), as they try to balance their individual needs creating better adaptations to the surrounding world. They are dealing more with the issue of the lost adaptation than with the goal of a “happy life.”
One particular method of psychoanalytical treatment, psychotherapy, developed by Carl Gustav Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist, psychotherapist and the collaborator of Sigmund Freud, deals with the holistic view of life of an individual. Jung observed that a deeper layer in the human psyche exists, which he called the “collective unconscious.” This is a kind of a blueprint for human development present in all humans.
During the first period of life the achievement of an adaptation to meet the needs of society, this includes the creation of a certain social status, including the family foundation and upbringing of children, is the most important goal. In the second part of life spiritual needs are more predominant.
Jung created the term “individuation” which means to fill the pre-existent blue print for life with content. According to this model happiness is related to a transformation of those needs into successful actions in the outside world, and also (especially in the second part of life) in a psychological challenge related to the spiritual development of the individual.