The journey is now available to everyone
Juan Moisés de la Serna
Translator: Ana María Carrizosa De Narvaez
“Psychology of Happiness: The journey is now available to everyone”
Written by Juan Moisés de la Serna
Translator: Ana María Carrizosa De Narvaez
1rst Edition: October 2019
© Juan Moisés de la Serna, 2019
© Tektime editions, 2019
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Distributed by Tektime
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To talk about happiness means talking about an illusion, a goal in life, something very desirable but at the same time ephemeral. At least if we are referring to the idealized “happiness” sold through commercials, television or radio. But happiness is much more than achieving a desired goal in particular; it is a daily effort to maintain that state, otherwise, what would be the purpose of achieving happiness if we have to lose it afterwards?
In this book you will find the latest investigations related to happiness and the answers to what it is and how to achieve it. You will also find what happens if you don’t achieve happiness and what happens when the inconveniences and barriers to achieving happiness appear.
It will all be explained in a clear and simple way in order to offer you an enriching experience that will be able to help you in your personal search for achieving happiness; but a happiness that will be real, possible and attainable, and above all, lasting.
Surely many times
very happy you have been
but have you ever thought
why did it happen?
And why day after day
we are never happy?
Why is it difficult for us to smile
or make our brother happy?
Searching for an answer
roads I have traveled
I have asked many
no one has defined it.
—Happiness— they answer—,
I don’t know where it will come from
but I know I am happy
—someone will say so.
—Yes, I already know that
—to that one I have replied—
but tell me why.
—I don’t know —he has spoken.
it’s hard to find
because we are demanding
and we don’t want to stop.
It is a quiet moment
that can be breathed
playing with a child
or looking at the wide sea.
It is only those moments
that you may remember
when you become overwhelmed
and cannot rest.
Happiness is that
what cannot be touched
a smile, a kiss
an “I love you, truly!”
It is always thinking about the other
make an effort to smile
and think of others.
Dedicated to my parents
CHAPTER 1. THE EMOTION OF HAPPINESS
CHAPTER 2. DISCOVERING HAPPINESS
CHAPTER 3. NEURONAL BASIS OF HAPPINESS
CHAPTER 4. SEARCHING FOR HAPPINESS
CHAPTER 5. THE BENEFITS OF HAPPINESS
CHAPTER 6. WHEN HAPPINESS DOES NOT ARRIVE
The first thing we need to know about happiness is that it is an emotion. Emotions are part of life, whether we are aware of it or not. They are present in each and every action and decision taken, hence the importance of studying them.
Among emotion theorists there are two perspectives: those who consider emotion as a univocal and inseparable concept that includes both positive and negative affect in a continuum; and those who consider it to be a multidimensional concept, composed of cognitive, behavioral and physiological elements.
Emotion can be considered as a particular state experienced by a subject, which allows him to perceive and respond to the environment (as a kind of arousal).
Simplifying, one could consider three possible states: the positive (joy or happiness), the neutral (indifference), and the negative (sadness, displeasure or unhappiness). Therefore, emotion would be a way of perceiving and responding to the environment.
When a state becomes chronic, it is considered to be a “trait” of personality, that is, the individual turns it into their usual way of responding to internal or external stimulation.
When chronic emotional states “get out of adjustment”, abnormal deviations of emotional processing appear, ranging from the accentuation of anxious or phobic traits, to pathologies such as generalized anxiety disorder or major depression disorder.
Another approach to emotion is to consider it as an adaptive procedure of cognitive, physiological and behavioral reaction to environmental or internal stimulation, which can be positive or negative. For those reasons, one can state that emotion has an impact in thoughts, as well as in the organism and in behavior.
The processing of emotion can be divided in two: emotional perception and emotional experience. The first one involves a low-level cognitive processing, where the emotional stimulus is perceived and evaluated; while the second involves a high-level cognitive processing where the perception is contextualized and interpreted according to previous experiences.
These processes appear to be independent; therefore, the processing of the emotional perception may or may not involve an emotional experience.
With regard to the relationship between cognition and emotion, there are three main stances:
- On the one hand, there are authors who defend that, in certain circumstances, the emotions block and nullify cognition, since the skills and abilities for affection are precisely the traits that characterize the human race in comparison with the simple mathematical and categorical processing of data that takes place in computers.
- The opposite posture defends that the superior cognitive processes define humans and differentiate them from animals. This posture relegates emotions to secondary, irrational and almost always equivocal processes, characteristic of animals.
- A third posture would be the one that considers both cognitive processes as independent, but working together in certain circumstances.
The existence of an emotional-perceptual-memory circuit in the human brain is widely accepted, with the amygdala playing a crucial role in registering the events of emotional stimuli. Thus, it is significantly more likely that the information with emotional content will be stored and retrieved better than the information with neutral content.
The extensive connection between the amygdala, the extrastriate visual regions and the hippocampus, allows the amygdala to modulate it’s functioning and facilitate perceptive and mnemic functions in these areas.
However, evidence shows that emotional learning associated with the amygdala is temporarily limited and that the subsequent effects on memory may be due to the participation of other brain regions, like the orbitofrontal cortex.
As previously mentioned, we would be facing an emotional processing circuit different from the specific cognitive processing path.
In the emotional circuit, the stimuli seem to be automatically analyzed in a rougher and faster way, following a strategy of configuration. It is a simplified communication, but with information of great relevance, necessary for survival and for an adequate development within an ecological niche.
As previously mentioned, this processing capacity in parallel represents a competitive advantage for surviving in the environment, since it allows the subject to avoid threats and dangers immediately, even before the information is consciously evaluated in the prefrontal cortex.
According to what can be verified, the emotional world is more complex than what can be seen on the surface. Talking about the components of emotion, depending on where the focus is placed, at first sight we can say that there are three expressions of emotion:
• The neurophysiological, which includes all the neural pathways and structures involved particularly in each emotion, as well as the vegetative responses of vasoconstriction, tachycardia and accelerated breathing, which accompany emotions.
• The behavioral one, in which the body becomes a “mirror” of emotions. They manifest themselves involuntarily through facial expression and through the rest of the body, tensing or relaxing certain muscles, which can expose what we feel, even when we try to “conceal” it. Likewise, this component shows what is going to be done or not if the emotion is followed, that is, how all those motivated actions will be expressed in behavior and in the way of relating to others.
• The cognitive, which has more to do with how one’s own and others’ emotion is perceived, and how it is interpreted, that is, the subjective experience of feelings. A problem in this area is found in alexithymia: due to an inadequate emotional education, the person is unable to correctly identify and interpret their own emotions and those of others.
Therefore, happiness will not only be something that involves a temporary state, but, being an emotion, it will have an impact on the way of thinking, feeling and behaving, that is, one will feel happy with all the organism.
It is also possible to talk about the components of emotion to refer to its qualities and characteristics, such as:
• Positive emotions versus negative emotions. Amongst the first ones there would be love, hope, desire, compassion, joy… and amongst the negative ones there would be anger, hate, desperation and sadness… Without any doubt, happiness is, fundamentally and by definition, a positive emotion.
• Emotions of high and low activation. Amongst the first ones there would be euphoria, anger, rage… while amongst the others there would be sadness, melancholy and apathy… Happiness can be one of the fullest experiences with an important activation component similar to euphoria.
• Primary emotions versus secondary emotions, being amongst the first ones rage, happiness, fear and sadness while amongst the secondary: love, surprise, shame and aversion. When thinking about happiness, one can believe that it is something “primary” and basic in a person, but it corresponds more with a secondary emotion, like that of love.
For John Rof, father of psychosomatic medicine, when someone is happy, parts as important as memory are activated; beautiful memories of the moment are created, expressed and shared with people around. The muscle tone will improve. One feels confortable and satisfied with the moment.
Especially face muscles are a group of muscles that give away emotion, in particular happiness. They are the best business card.
The face and its gesticulation have become an important element serving both to express emotions and to identify them in others. This is so true that babies pay more attention to faces than to any other stimulus. Thus, it can be said that humans are predisposed to analyze faces.
The face has more than thirty muscles controlled by cranial nerves such as the facial, the oculomotor, the trocheal or the trigeminal, from which the brain receives the proprioceptive information to identify its own emotions while activating the muscles to express them.
Although some patterns in the expression of emotions have been identified, it seems that there is a high component of social learning in them. According to multicultural studies, depending on the region of the world, the same emotion will be expressed in one way or another. Nevertheless, almost all recognize the same traits in the case of happiness:
- Commissure back and up, cheeks raised, wrinkles under the lower eyelid; age-lines at the lower corner of the eyes, nasal-labial fold wrinkles.
The importance of the emotional world, which plays a prominent role in how we feel, goes beyond a simple “reflection” of oneself, since the negative emotions can cause illness when they stiffen.
Internal feelings of activation, such as euphoria or rage, will overexcite the organism, modifying its resting baseline level, causing us to think and behave differently from how we usually do. To the same extent, feelings of deactivation such as grief or sadness will reduce the activity of the organism, modifying thoughts and behavior.
Alterations due to active and passive feelings, which could lead to changes in the levels of anxiety, breathing, pain and muscle tone, will have in turn effects on the sleep cycle or the immune system, among others. If the emotions are transitory, they will not have major consequences. But if these emotions remain, they can lead to psychosomatic problems.
Thus, a situation of psychological pain (grief) or depression, can trigger specific anxious states, characterized normally by a deflated state, superficial and slowed breathing, feelings close to melancholy with hypersensitivity to external stimuli, such as light, sound and also smell. The person will be much more sensitive to any external “aggression”. Any interest for physical activity will be lost, presenting a weakened and flaccid muscle tone.
Sleep will be hindered by thoughts of guilt and uselessness, which accompany those states, with memories about the circumstances that motivated that grief and depression. There will be “mental rumination” in which the same negative emotions repeat themselves over and over again. All of these will prevent sleeping well, damaging the quantity and quality of sleep. This, among others, will reduce the functioning of the immune system that will not be able to perform its functions during the night. If this situation remains for too long, it will have a negative impact on the whole organism, starting with the immune system.
On the other hand, an emotion of activation, such as euphoria or rage will be expressed in high levels of stress, which will provide a “false” clarity of thought, a feeling of “now I understand everything” and I can decide anything without making mistakes. In these states, hyperventilation occurs, increasing blood oxygen levels, with accelerated and shallow breathing. An attention “narrowness” takes place. A lot of information is lost, which in a normal state could be interesting. Whatever is not “my goal” is discarded, with reduced sensitivity to pain, both physical and psychological. There is an over-activation of muscle tone, which doesn’t allow being “still”, having to wander from one place to another.
Due to high levels of stress and over-activation, sleep is negatively affected, both in quantity and in quality. This reduces the “functioning” possibility of the immune system. Thereby, the capacity for wound recovery is reduced, damaging the learning process as well.
If this situation remains, the weakness of the immune system will facilitate infections, generating also a progressive depletion of the organism’s resources, due to high levels of anxiety and therefore, high levels of cholesterol in the blood.
That is why it is possible to understand that happiness cannot be a permanent “atrophied” state of a person, since it will also bring consequences on health, due to the organism’s over-activation.
A “healthy happiness” would be a particular state that the person can enjoy and share, but a state that allows the person to return afterwards to their basal level, where the organism can recover from that emotion in order to lead a “normal” life.
But not everyone is able to feel happiness in the same way. To experience it, the person must have an adequate emotional development. If the limbic system suffers atrophy, the person’s life will become “discolored”, not only emotionally but also in all areas.
Likewise, people with high levels of alexithymia have difficulties to feel and express happiness. They show problems in their social relationships and when making decisions, because they are unable to know how their own body feels or which are the feelings of others. This makes the person socially “incompetent”, since people around will handle themselves through emotional keys that they are unable to “see” or process properly, appearing cold and distant.
This kind of people has a correct functioning of their limbic system. What happens is that they don’t learn to “value” it or they simply “discard” their emotional world by considering it “weakness” or something useless.
The decision making process of people with alexithymia is most likely to be logical, cold and calculated. They make decisions that are scarcely taken, bearing in mind what is convenient for all, based on pros and cons, where the column that adds up becomes the optimal decision, without giving improvisation a chance.
For them, it is the same to read a recipe for cooking something, than to read a book of law or a romantic novel, since their experience will be the same. They have evident personality traits framed within type D: hyperactive, self-demanding and with low self-esteem.
But these people are far from “living without emotions” as one might think. They suffer from a “disconnection” between their internal emotional world and it’s external expression. Therefore, the body becomes the vehicle through which emotions go out, producing their somatization.
They show a greater probability of becoming psychosomatically ill, with the appearance of ulcerative colitis, peptic ulcers, and vascular disorders such as hypertension or ischemic heart disease, as well as mood disorders such as depression and anxiety.
All of this is due to their incapacity to allow emotions to get out by other means, such as using words, writing or simply “breaking into tears”.
A study conducted by the Banaras Hindu University (India), whose results were published in a scientific journal named S.I.S. Journal of Projective Psychology and Mental Health, analyzes the relationship between health and alexithymia.
They studied a hundred and fifty adults to evaluate alexithymia levels, mental health and experiences of positive and negative emotions.
The results indicate that high levels of alexithymia are related to a greater probability of becoming ill with psychological disorders. This is explained in part by the component of anhedonia present in alexithymia itself. With this element, positive experience of emotions is lost, thus favoring more negative experiences.
People with high levels of alexithymia are exposed to suffer greater physical health problems with the appearance of ulcers and other psychosomatic disorders. Additionally they are more likely to suffer from psychological problems. This is due to and inadequate development of E.I. (Emotional Intelligence).
As indicated by the results of the study, it is foreseeable for these people to have difficulties in achieving adequate levels of happiness, despite attaining many of their life goals. These are the people who, despite having everything, are unable to be happy about it.