The well represents a source of knowledge, the gate a direction to follow (from an old monastery in Bavaria).
Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the world, yet these children seem to have found 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 the mind, we should turn to biology. The insight obtained offers a guide not only for understanding behavior but also for living: the biology of happiness.
Our great feats of engineering, from building the pyramids to sending a man to the moon, have been 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 requires that we understand the human brain and how it can be molded.
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 is, 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. The 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.
The brain can be described as a collection of functions or modules. Several modules, including those responsible for pleasure and pain, send information to the part of the brain that generates conscious experiences. We can be happy or miserable. Unfortunately, the 'switches' that regulate our mood modules are meant to control us—rather than us controlling them. We do have some power of influence. With the right knowledge and techniques, we can therefore improve our score of happiness. The task relies on:
1. Certain aspects of the way we live should be adjusted to suit our innate tendencies to avoid the strain brought on by a suboptimal (unnatural) environment. The first years of life are particularly important as the brain then develops rapidly.
2. It is possible to exercise the off switch for negative feelings, as well as the on switch for positive feelings. 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 principles. To employ the former, we need knowledge about what sort of conditions humans are adapted to, and which changes from these conditions matter. To design relevant exercises, we need to understand the neurobiology of the brain, particularly how consciousness is generated and how to find ways to impact the subconscious switches.
It is important to focus on social competence. Empathy and positive relations enhance society, but it is also a key factor for individual quality of life.