The Happiness Tree
By Shlomo Maital 

                                          
   In the Bible,  Adam and Eve taste the forbidden fruit (the ‘apple’,  which represents knowledge, by some interpretations) and are banished forever from Eden.
    In the October 2017 issue of American Psychologist *,  Michelle Shiota and colleagues summarize what we know currently about the sources of happiness and  discrete positive emotions, based on neuroscience.  They ask, and in part answer:  What REALLY makes us happy?  They summarize the answer in the form  a tree – not the Tree of Knowledge but the Tree of Happiness.
     The tree trunk is “enthusiasm”.  That means —  When we lack purpose in life, when our energy levels are depleted, when we sink into apathy,  we cannot reach the tree branches where happiness resides.  Enthusiasm is the core.
       The five thick branches are neurotransmitters:  Serotonin, testosterone, oxytocin, cannabinoids, and opioids.  Alas, the last 3 have become drugs driven underground, with opioids killing thousands yearly in the US, and testosterone is a drug banned for use in performance-enhancement in sports.   But the leafy branches show that happiness is not a single simple dimension but has several key components:  Pride, sexual desire, nurturant love, contentment, awe, amusement, attachment love, gratitude, and liking/pleasure.  
     Apparently, when we are happy, there is a complex interaction of the neurotransmitters and related systems, throughout the brain.
     I think this simple tree has a message.  Want to be happy?  First – stay positive.  Find sources for enthusiasm, and motivation – based on meaning – make meaning in your life.  Then – Do things you are proud of.  Leverage them for contentment.  Find someone to love, nurture their love and build your attachment.   It can bring pleasure in itself and through sexual desire.  Maintain a sense of awe and wonder.  Be grateful for what you have, however little (or much).   Find sources of amusement.
    It is an immense tragedy that so many find “dopaminergic reward” by taking drugs, rather than by living well.  Why do we not try to teach our children about true happiness,  no less important than spelling and geography?  
     Many fortunate people have found that the ‘high’ you get from being up in the Happiness Tree is more deeply satisfying than the artificial kind that can kill you. 
    *  Shiota, Michelle N., et al. “Beyond happiness: Building a science of discrete positive emotions.” American Psychologist 72.7 (2017): 617. 
  

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