The Pursuit of Happiness
8th September, 2020
We all have dreams. We all have aspirations. While our goals and dreams differ, we as a species, are united by our pursuit of happiness. At one time or another, have you not thought, “I don’t want anything else, just a little bit of happiness .” Have you wondered why that thought occurs? How could we actually be happy?
The main target of any species to walk the surface of the earth is to fight extinction. Throughout the course of evolution, our brain has developed various techniques, to ensure the survival of our species. On a day to day basis, we are faced with a choice: why live, why not just kill ourselves? If this thought was to be given precedence, then humans, as a species, would not have made it this far in the evolutionary chain. Our brain works in amazing ways. So, simply, just to continue living, our brain rewards us. One reward is the feeling of happiness.
Normally, the term happiness is used to describe a mental and emotional state of positive emotions, ranging from contentment to intense joy. But we have evolved over millions of years. Can it really be that simple? In our brains, of all the hormones secreted, serotonin and dopamine are the main hormones responsible for the feeling which we call happiness
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, found in our brain and intestine. It serves a variety of functions, but also, it is known as the happiness chemical because when there is an increase in the serotonin level, our mood is eventually uplifted and our anxious body feels relaxed at the same time. This tends to prevail in an overall state of happiness. But how do we increase serotonin levels? Serotonin happens to be a free-flowing neurotransmitter. An increase in its level is observed when we feel important and valued by those around us. Cuddling with our partner, getting out in the sunshine, getting a massage, or even visualizing something that makes us happy, increases serotonin. Thus, while feeling a sense of joy, happiness caused due to serotonin comes effortlessly.
Dopamine, like serotonin, is a neurotransmitter, but it has a different method of working. Dopamine is known as the reward molecule. It’s the brain’s method of saying, “good job, here’s a reward”. After the completion of any goal, big or small, our body receives a dose of dopamine. These goals can be anything you set for yourself or one that is pre-set by your body.
After sex, or maybe a good meal, we tend to feel happy and fulfilled. That is precisely the “dopamine happiness”.
Cortisol and Happiness
What our mind likes to give us, it likes to take away too. The hormone cortisol inhibits the actions of serotonin and dopamine, essentially taking away our happiness. But this is only true for people with unhealthy lifestyles and those who take up too much stress. Cortisol is the body’s famous fight-or-flight hormone apart from being the main stress hormone. If we’re living under constant stress, cortisol levels tend to rise. The rise in cortisol brings with it a decrease in the levels of serotonin and dopamine, putting us in a depressed state of mind.
The Absence of Happiness
It is not always that we tend to be cheerful and stress-free. Just as we enjoy our highs, we have to face our lows. Stimuli like the sight of a loved one trigger happiness, and, the absence of the same stimulus triggers just the opposite.
The Struggle to Achieve Happiness
All our dreams, our goals, point towards one thing - We want to be happy in life. But do all of us have the strength to deal with everything, bear the hardships, and feel fulfilled? Maybe not. At times the shortcut feels like the way out, no matter what the consequences. This leads to addiction. Whenever we become mentally, physically, and emotionally dependent on any substance, the removal of which leads to the development of withdrawal symptoms, we are said to be addicted to that substance. The most common addictions known to us are alcohol addiction, smoking addiction, and drug addiction. These substances tend to replicate the effects of serotonin and dopamine in our body, thus giving us a high. But more often than not, these tend to have very serious and dangerous long-term effects.
To answer the question…
What does make us happy? If propagation of specie was the only reason for our brain to reward our feeling of happiness, then why do we feel sadness, why do we turn to substance abuse when we cannot achieve the happiness we desire? Does serotonin bring happiness? Yes, it does. Does dopamine bring happiness? A properly balanced lifestyle, comprising healthy eating habits, enough physical exercise, and proper emotional venting - All these will help us to keep our cortisol levels low and a steady flow of serotonin and dopamine coursing throughout our body. As aforementioned, eating healthy, and having a healthy relationship will increase serotonin levels, and completion of tasks, however small, will increase dopamine levels -Absolutely! But, our physiology wouldn’t want our brain to be filled with only “happy” neurotransmitters. Our bodies need both, because, in the end, what causes happiness comes down to one word: balance.
Also, please note¸ this is just scratching the surface of what really goes on inside our brain. Mental illnesses should not be taken lightly, and if you find yourself struggling, or spiraling, I hope you find the courage to talk to a proper professional. No matter what people think, everyone born on this planet deserves happiness.
 Algoe, Sara B.; Haidt, Jonathan (2009). "Witnessing excellence in action: the 'other-praising' emotions of elevation, gratitude, and admiration".
 What Causes Happiness? Learn About the Science of Happiness. (n.d.). Retrieved August 31, 2020, from
 McIntosh, J. (2018, February 2). Serotonin: Facts, uses, SSRIs, and sources. Retrieved August 31, 2020,
 National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020, June 25). The Science of Drug Use and Addiction: The Basics. Retrieved August 31, 2020, from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/media-guide/science-drug-use-addiction-basic
 About pawan singh View all posts by pawan singh →, Singh, A., View all posts by pawan singh →, & *, N. (2019, November 04). 'The Pursuit of Happyness' Quotes About Life & Success. Retrieved September 02, 2020, from https://www.betterlyf.com/articles/inspirational-quotes/the-pursuit-of-happyness-quotes/
About the Author
A student of statistics in St.Xavier's College, Kolkata. Tathagata puts all his heart into whatever he puts his mind to.