A great deal of commentary on happiness uses the language of reward, dopamine error readings, and the like. A more helpful vocabulary may be provided by Jaak Panksepp, Phd, who has spent the better part of his professional life researching the origins of human emotion, providing strong evidence that emotion comes not from the neocortex, but, rather from regions in the brain far earlier in our evolution, suggesting that our sense of well being may be shared with lesser mammals and nonmammals. He describes a neural highway common to all positive emotions (characterized by self-contained circuitry that, when stimulated, triggers the expected display), and applies the term “seeking system.” This is the state in which an animal sniffs and roots around, telling itself, I’m alive, I’m alert, I’m looking for something, and I have the ability to find it – i.e., precisely what higher order animate life requires for survival. When, in the laboratory, the nutritional needs of an animal are met, for instance, and the seeking impulse is stimulated, the animal gnaws on wood, bites itself or eats its own feces, as the biological need for food isn’t present, and the activated impulse has no coherence.
In humans, it stands to reason, when we fail to seek to live, in no small measure because our culture allows our needs to be met passively, we diminish our own happiness.
See Ginger Campbell’s most recent Brain Science Podcast. http://docartemis.com/brainsciencepodcast/