Psychology 101, What Makes People Happy?
Happiness Is Easy
Happiness is easy. Or is it? We think we are happy sometimes, not so happy at other times. We can even, at times, be euphoric! But what makes happiness? This psychology 101 best guide to happiness article, looks into this and is focused around the ideas of Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. This is formulated on his view that self-actualisation is the key to what makes people happy.
Want to find happiness?
Take a look at this article so as you can recognise self actualisation.
As this is a psychology 101 based article, I will start by providing a ‘working definition’ of psychology as a term:
‘Psychology is the scientific study of the mind and behaviour of humans and animals.’
Psychologists concentrate on what is observable and measurable in a person’s behaviour. This includes the biological processes in the body, although, the mind is central to the subject.
Endorphins And Happiness
So, does observing and measuring people’s happy behaviour tell us that they are what they appear to be? We see laughter and smiles as the thrill of the theme park ride induces happiness. But is it the thrill and the ride that makes people happy? The environmental stimulant from the ride can certainly induce and trigger a sequence of hormonal reactions in the body. These hormones or endorphins can create a rush of what we might term happiness. What are endorphins? Click wikipedia's endorphines for more.
Endorphins are, essentially, a drug fix formulated on false fear – fight and flight – that sets off a chemical reaction in the brain. Yes, sure, during the fix we might feel happy, but remember that this is not happiness – this is a chemical reaction, a delusion.
What makes people happy, some might say, is the satisfaction that substances like drugs and alcohol can give them. They enjoy the effects and may return again and again to the substance in order achieve a high. People think they are happy at the time of taking these substances, however, this shouldn’t be confused with happiness - this is addiction. It is about escaping and creating artificial happiness. That is not to say that an occasional drinker is labelled an addict, I must add.
Look to Life Style for Indications of Potential Happiness
We have, therefore, established that, from the above definition, we are a balance of body and mind. These chemical reactions are a part of us and can help feelings of happiness. There is no denying this – we feel, therefore, we are. But if these emotions are only chemically induced, what is it that makes people happy? How can the behaviour be observed with a psychological analysis?
It is with observing the life style of people that can help identify the level of potential happiness experienced in others. How can anyone achieve happiness when they don't have their basic needs catered for? An example of these needs include basic fundamentals like food, water, sleep; followed by a home, income, safety and employment opportunities. The overall view, therefore, of a person's life can provide clues as to the potential happiness of others.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs focuses on self-fulfillment and, consequently, happiness. This was a theory that resulted from his research ‘Motivation and Personality’, 1970, and ‘The Farther Reaches of Human Nature, 1971. To summarise: self-actualisation is the innate human motivation that each of us has to achieve our potential. This is by using and developing our skills, talents and abilities whereby when we experience a sense of fulfillment – Maslow called this ‘peak experience’ – we achieve self-actualisation.
What does this mean? When we have met a challenging situation or task that we are pleased with, we achieve a peak experience of self-realisation. We are, therefore, happy with our achievement. For that short time we have achieved self-actualisation.
Maslow's Hierarchy Of Needs Suggests Self Actualisation May Be An Indication Of Happiness
However, in order to get to this point, other base ‘needs’ have to be satisfied. These needs are set or placed at varying degrees. This is his hierarchy. He also suggests that even when people reach the pinical of true self awareness and 'happiness', this is not constant and will come and go.
It is suggested, therefore, that what makes people happy is the development of this self-actualisation. As we can all appreciate and probably acknowledge, happiness never seems to be constant, especially during changing times in our lives and situations.
Interestingly, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is similar in thought. I have provided a diagram to demonstrate this. It is like a ladder where, starting from the bottom, each ‘Need’ must be satisfied before the next ‘Need’ up can motivate us. Everyday each of us may go up and down the hierarchy several times, reaching different levels before returning to the bottom again.
Hierarchy of Needs
The Route To Happiness - An Example
- Physiological Needs – Food, drink, oxygen, temperature regulation, elimination, rest, activity, sex.
- Safety Needs – Protection from potentially dangerous objects or situations, e.g. the elements, physical illness. The threat to both physical and psychological.
If people can’t pass this point, how can they achieve this?…
- Love and Belongingness – receiving and giving love, affection trust and acceptance. Affiliating, being part of a group (friends, work, family).
Without love and belongingness how can people achieve…
- Esteem Needs – The esteem and respect of others and self-esteem and self-respect – a sense, therefore, of competence.
Without feelings of worth, competence and confidence, how can people reach the next level?
- Cognitive Needs – Knowledge and understanding, curiosity, exploration, need for meaning and predictability.
If cognitive needs are not met or achieved…. This cannot be met:
- Aesthetic Needs – Beauty – in art and nature – symmetry, balance, order, form.
So without feeling comfortable to explore the beauty of life and a sense of balance… this cannot be achieved…
- Self Actualisation – Realizing your full potential,
“becoming everything one is capable of becoming’ – to be the best that you can
What Makes People Happy? It Is The End Of The Journey Toward Self-Actualisation
This can be thought of at the smallest level (microcosm) to the greatest level (macrocosm) – daily situations (as demonstrated) to major situations. Examples of major situations are problems associated with unmet base needs that prevent us from reaching happiness. These needs may include problems association with lack of food, drink, shelter, warmth and clothing. Without these needs satisfied, how can people achieve self-actualisation?
What makes people happy, even if these are brief moments, is relief from the worry of basic human needs. It is only then that higher needs may be dealt with for a greater chance of contentment.
How can anyone achieve happiness without, primarily, satisfying base needs and desires? Happiness can’t be achieved if you live life in fear, without shelter or food. Of course, a temporary solution, a touch of happiness, might be induced with the help of alcohol and drugs, but as I have established, this is illusionary and addictive.
Neither can happiness be achieved without stable relationships, love, self-esteem and self-development. Without satisfying the fundamental needs, self-actualisation or happiness cannot be achieved.
Maslow seems to make sense here and we can certainly see that what makes people happy could well be a sense of self-actualisation. Happiness comes from within. This idea can also be found in many spiritual belief systems all over the world. As Maslow was considered the ‘Spiritual Father’ of Humanistic Psychology, it is no wonder that there seems to be some basis to this view.
Now, here I can recommend two fantastic books that will help you on the road to personal happiness. The first one - 100 Simple Secrets to Happy People - is an easy to read book based on scientific evidence. It will help you toward a belief in yourself. This is for people who want to achieve happiness in all aspects of their lives.
'Toward a Psychology of Being' by Maslow adds to a greater, fuller read toward the pathway of happiness or, as he terms it, self actualization. In order to know where you are going to, you have to find a journey to getting there. Please feel free to click on both the Amazon links to view more and see the marvellous reviews from people who have already had the benefit from these books.
If you want to empower yourself and teach yourself mechanisms that will help you to reach your full potential, thereby, achieving happiness, these books can help you there.
5 Steps Toward The Route To Happiness
Psychology 101, therefore, concludes that happiness is not constant. It can come and go and are influenced by external factors. So what makes people happy? It is by satisfying basic human needs that help form the foundations of temporary happiness. This is, therefore, about goals, achieving those goals and being your best. Most importantly, it is knowing when you have achieved this and the sense of satisfaction that it brings with it.
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Use This Psychology 101 article at your own risk. This Psychology article does not give medical or psychological advice, neither does it give legal opinions and advice. Any action or outcome that may result from this article is the sole responsibility of the reader. This article is assumes no responsibility or legal claim against it.
© 2010 shazwellyn