Hi, My name is Bjørn Grinde. I work as a senior scientist at the Division of Mental and Physical Health, Norwegian Institute of Public Health.
The well represents a source of knowledge, the gate a direction to go (from an old monastery in Bavaria).
Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the world, yet these children seem to have no problem finding happiness – perhaps because they have each other.
Life on this planet, including the human species, only makes sense in the light of evolution. So if we want to understand what happiness is, we should turn to biology. The insight obtained can help us enhance this particular capacity of the human brain. Evolution offers a guide not only for understanding human behavior, but also for living a human life.
There is a growing interest in applying a biological perspective to medical and social sciences, as exemplified by concepts such as Darwinian Medicine and Evolutionary Psychology. While the typical focus is on the prevention of diseases, The Biology of Happiness takes the perspective one step further and aims at enhancing well-being.
Our great feats of engineering, from building the pyramids to sending a man to the moon, have been the easy tasks; the real challenge of humanity lies in dealing with human nature. We have the power to turn this planet into a nightmare, but it is also within our capacity to offer mankind the chance of a life more fulfilling than in any previous society. The solution rests with our capacity to understand the human brain, and on our willingness to act on this knowledge.
To be a Stone Age creature in an industrialized 'human zoo' tends to cause problems. The list of possible consequences is numerous—from depression and suicide, to obesity, drug use, insomnia, and loneliness—to mention only a few of the 'diseases of modernity.' The point being, we seem to have lost sight of our biological inheritance. We appear to be trapped in an environment that is somewhat at odds with the way evolution shaped us to live. One major challenge is to retain the advantages of an industrialized society—particularly those related to medicine, technology, and agriculture—while adjusting life so that the diseases of modernity are minimized.
Humans were bestowed by evolution with the capacity for feelings, which gave us the capacity of happiness and misery, here referred to as mood. The brain can be seen as a collection of functions or modules. A number of these modules, including those responsible for pleasure and pain, send information to the part of the brain that generates conscious experiences. Although we have limited access to the 'switches' that regulate the mood modules, as they are designed to affect us and not we them, we do have some power of influence. With the right knowledge, and techniques, we can improve our score of happiness. This endeavor relies on the following:
1. Certain aspects of the way we live should be adjusted to suit our innate tendencies in order to avoid the strain brought on by a suboptimal (unnatural) environment. The first years of life is particularly important as the brain is then at its most formative period.
2. It is possible to exercise the off switch for negative feelings, as well as the on switch for positive feelings; relevant training moves the mood in a positive direction.
Well-being, or quality of life, is primarily a question of how successful we are at following these two principles. In order to employ the former, we need knowledge about what sort of conditions humans are adapted to, and which changes from these conditions that matters. In order to design relevant exercises, we need to understand the neurobiology of the brain, particularly as to how consciousness is generated and how to find ways to impact on the subconscious switches.