The Psychology of Happiness: Two Ways to Be Happy

What do we know about the psychology of happiness? What are the two main routes for achieving happiness, from a psychological standpoint?

At a high level, the research on the psychology of happiness posits two approaches for achieving and maintaining happiness. The first approach deals with expectation-driven happiness which depends on personal expectations. The second approach deals with biochemical or drug-induced happiness.

Keep reading to learn about the psychology of happiness.

The Psychology of Happiness

Although there are many things that can bring you happiness, at a high level, psychologists have defined only two routes for developing and sustaining a happy state of mind—psychology and biochemistry:

1) Personal: Human happiness depends on personal expectations. Different experiences and lifestyles create different levels of expectation and, therefore, different requirements for happiness. For example, if you’ve unwillingly gone for days without food, you would be overjoyed at the sight of a fast-food burger. However, if you’ve been eating at 5-star restaurants for your entire life, that same fast-food burger may disgust you. Different experiences create a different reaction to the same food offering. 

2) Biochemistry: Human happiness is the result of chemical reactions. While these internal reactions may be caused by external factors, the human brain is only responding to the chemical reactions occurring in the body. This is why drug use is common in most areas of the world. It creates the chemical responses without the external stimuli. For example, if you play professional baseball and hit a walk-off grand slam to win the World Series, your body would release chemicals that create a particular sensation. However, this same sensation may be experienced by an average person trying the drug ecstasy for the first time. While the external factors are vastly different, the internal chemical responses may be almost the same.  

Permanent happiness is not a possibility at the moment. People experience temporary pleasant sensations, then use the rest of their time trying to recreate those feelings. Ironically, the more temporary pleasantness you feel, the more likely you are to struggle with long-term happiness. As our expectations become inflated, the things that once provided happiness no longer provide the same satisfaction as they once did. 

There are two solutions to this problem:

  • The “Buddhist” solution: People must train themselves to experience sensations without allowing them to control their lives. Because sensations are temporary, letting them come and go without leaving an impact reduces the craving for the “next” sensation. 
  • The biochemical solution: Drugs can be used to replicate chemical reactions without the need for external stimulation. These drugs can remove negative sensations (a soldier taking anti-anxiety medication to handle PTSD) or create positive ones (a student taking ecstasy before going out). 

Humanity currently relies more on the biochemical solution. Prescription drug use is higher than it’s ever been, and the illegal drug market is booming across the globe. Through the scope of economics, governments determine which of these biochemical manipulations are good and which are dangerous:

  • “Good” drugs allow citizens to contribute to society and the economy. They typically remove negative sensations and allow citizens to focus on gaining pleasant sensations through life, work, and education. These drugs include solutions for depression, anxiety, and ADHD. 
  • “Dangerous” drugs prevent citizens from contributing to society and the economy. They typically create pleasant sensations, removing the incentive to find happiness through life, work, or education. These drugs include cocaine, LSD, ecstasy, alcohol, and marijuana. 
The Psychology of Happiness: Two Ways to Be Happy

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