Why should YOU be happy?

Humans have evolved and overcome many obstacles that no other species has, and survival of the fittest and evolutionary theory tell us that we have each individually done so by beating someone else to it. We have seemingly ‘won’ the evolutionary race, and now, our brains have developed to a point where we can start to imagine futures with no boundaries, so that just existing is no longer enough. We are past surviving, and are now striving for all the joys and pleasures that life can offer.

Darwin’s theory of evolution suggests that the Human brain, evolved because of stimulation from and adaptation to many different circumstances. Significant factors which have helped us survive are arguably fear and greed. Greed is a more extreme form of feeling good about something, so much so that we want more of it, all the time. Then, once we have it, we want something else. Fear is that instinctive urge to fight, flee or freeze – to keep safe. So whether feeling good or fearful, we are physiologically and psychologically predisposed to wanting homeostasis - a comfortable environment. Comfort means safety, safety means a longer life. As we have progressed, in evolutionarily terms, this desire for comfort has reached higher levels and we now consider many previously luxurious amenities such as central heating and electricity to be standard. Using Maslow’s pyramid from the Theory of human motivation as a guide, I believe that once our basic needs are met, satisfaction is the ultimate aim.

Following the paths we have been evolutionarily conditioned to follow is part of what leads to contentment. The brain is a complex network of interconnected pathways (neurons) which communicate with each other via electric signals and biochemistry. Pleasurable stimulation can be seen and measured in the brain by using an fMRI scanner, which highlights blood flow in pleasure centres when you are feeling good, or otherwise, about something. For example, when given reassuring statements about strongly held beliefs, the brain releases feel-good chemicals, such as endorphins, making you feel comfortable with the situation. In times of stress, cortisol and adrenaline are released raising alertness and anxiety. You can’t explain why one piece of music moves you more than another, but it does; because the particular pattern of neurological pathways being excited have a more favourable reward configuration than another. As Daniel Levitin in his book This is your brain on music writes “Music listening enhances or changes certain neural circuits, including the density of dendritic connections in the primary auditory cortex”.