Thinking about happiness as a “biopsychosocial” phenomenon!

Thinking about happiness as a “biopsychosocial” phenomenon!

by Dr Happy (aka Dr Tim Sharp) 

Happiness is typically considered as one of several positive emotions.

And there’s no doubt that happiness IS a form of positive emotion, along with joy and satisfaction, pride and contentment (to name but a few).

But happiness can also be considered as much more than that; and happiness is most definitely influenced by much more than that.

In this short blog I invite you to think about happiness as a more complex phenomenon, because by doing so I believe you can understand it better and, therefore, create more of it! 

Early on in my professional career, as a Clinical and Academic psychologist, I spent most of my time studying, researching and treating people with chronic pain. The dominant philosophy at the time was, and it still is to this day, that chronic pain was not just a physical or physiological construct but rather, one that could and should be considered from a “biopsychosocial” perspective.

That is, in simple terms, that although there were obviously biological and physical contributors to chronic pain, so too were there psychological and social contributors that were just as, or in some cases even more important.

After many years studying and applying research from the field of Positive Psychology, I’ve come to believe that happiness is (in many ways) no different. There are indubitably biological and physiological contributors to mood; and I’m sure you’re familiar with some of the research highlighting the role of specific neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin, as well as findings pointing to the connections between exercise and mood.

But so too are there unquestionably links between psychological variables and happiness (or unhappiness). Most obviously, happiness (or lack thereof) can be driven by hope and optimism, meaning and purpose, gratitude and appreciation, and the extent to which someone is aware of and then utilises their core strengths.

Finally, happiness is also very much a social experience. The quantity and quality of our key relationships is vitally important to our health and happiness; as is our sense of connectedness and belonging. In two of the more famous statements of this fact, Professor Chris Peterson famously summed up Positive Psychology noting that “other people matter”; and Prof. George Vaillant, one of the leaders of the legendary Harvard Adult Mens’ Study declared that the key to living a long and good life was, in a word, “love”. In addition to this, there’s little doubt that although possibly not as significant as some might sometimes think, context and socio-economic situation and living conditions and other environmental factors also play a role in determining our mood, positive and negative.

So why is this important? 

Because for those of us interested in living our best lives; and in enjoying as much positive emotion (such as happiness) as possible, a greater and fuller understanding of happiness and it’s various causes should help us focus more on the “right” things to do in order to better thrive and flourish. If we only ever focus on part of the equation, say just the psychological part, we will in all likelihood only ever arrive at part of the answer.

On the other hand, by attending more and more fully to the complexities within each of these layers we should be able to get closer to living our best possible lives, in all relevant domains.

So in closing, here’s to more BioPsychoSocial happiness for you all 🙂