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Review

The ABC Model of Happiness—Neurobiological Aspects of Motivation and Positive Mood, and Their Dynamic Changes through Practice, the Course of Life

Institute for Integrative Health Care and Health Promotion, School of Medicine, Witten/Herdecke University, 58455 Witten, Germany
Academic Editors: Shahar Lev-Ari, Marc Wittmann and Aviva Berkovich-Ohana
Biology 2022, 11(6), 843; https://doi.org/10.3390/biology11060843
Received: 17 May 2022 / Accepted: 30 May 2022 / Published: 31 May 2022
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Physiology of Contemplative Experiences and Practices)
This article proposes a new model for exploring happiness primarily from a neurobiological perspective. Such understanding includes the dynamics of positive mood states and how they change throughout life. Happiness is not a cognitive construct: it is an immediate emotional experience—a feeling that relies on neurophysiological activation in the brain’s reward system. With this in mind, three types of happiness are proposed: (A) wanting, approaching, and pleasure, (B) avoiding, departing, and relief, (C) non-wanting, staying, and satisfaction. Behind this is a sophisticated (neuro)biological dynamic, ranging from the search for autonomy and ecstasy, which is particularly characteristic of young people, to the way we cope with stress, as we find it pronounced in the middle-aged, to deep contentment, peace, and inner joy, as it is mainly attributed to older people. Paradoxically, it is in fact the elderly who appear to be the happiest and most content—this phenomenon is also known as the “satisfaction paradox”. Apparently, these dynamic changes in happiness can be amplified with practice. Happiness is biological in this context, but can still be “learned”. Contemplative practices can serve as an example here to demonstrate this trainability, and they may themselves influence the course of happiness.
Background: Happiness is a feeling, an immediate experience, not a cognitive construct. It is based on activity in the brain’s neurobiological reward and motivation systems, which have been retained in evolution. This conceptual review provides an overview of the basic neurobiological principles behind happiness phenomena and proposes a framework for further classification. Results: Three neurobiologically distinct types of happiness exist: (A) wanting, (B) avoiding, and (C) non-wanting. Behind these types lies a dynamic gradation, ranging from the more youthful anticipation, pleasure and ecstasy (A), to stress processing, escape and relief (B) as we find them accentuated in the middle-aged, to deep satisfaction, quiescence and inner joy (C), which is particularly attributed to older people. As a result, the development of happiness and satisfaction over the course of life typically takes the form of a U-curve. Discussion: The outlined triad and dynamic of happiness leads to the paradoxical finding that the elderly seem to be the happiest—a phenomenon that is termed “satisfaction paradox”. This assumed change in happiness and contentment over the life span, which includes an increasing “emancipation” from the idea of good health as a mandatory prerequisite for happiness and contentment, can itself be changed—it is trainable. Conclusions: Programs for mindfulness, contemplation, or stress reduction, including positive psychology and mind–body/behavioral medicine training, seem to be capable of influencing the course happiness over time: Happiness can be shaped through practice. View Full-Text
Keywords: motivational salience; reward; U-curve of happiness; life satisfaction; subjective well-being; aging; mindfulness; contemplative practice motivational salience; reward; U-curve of happiness; life satisfaction; subjective well-being; aging; mindfulness; contemplative practice
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MDPI and ACS Style

Esch, T. The ABC Model of Happiness—Neurobiological Aspects of Motivation and Positive Mood, and Their Dynamic Changes through Practice, the Course of Life. Biology 2022, 11, 843. https://doi.org/10.3390/biology11060843

AMA Style

Esch T. The ABC Model of Happiness—Neurobiological Aspects of Motivation and Positive Mood, and Their Dynamic Changes through Practice, the Course of Life. Biology. 2022; 11(6):843. https://doi.org/10.3390/biology11060843

Chicago/Turabian Style

Esch, Tobias. 2022. "The ABC Model of Happiness—Neurobiological Aspects of Motivation and Positive Mood, and Their Dynamic Changes through Practice, the Course of Life" Biology 11, no. 6: 843. https://doi.org/10.3390/biology11060843

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