In this essay I will define and discuss the concepts of ‘positive psychology’, of ‘happiness’, which is synonymous with subjective well-being (SWB); of ‘the architecture of sustainable happiness’; and the biopsychosocial model. I aim to demonstrate that SWB is a multifaceted and can only be understood by investigating biological, psychological and social factors and their interdependence to construct a holistic model. I will provide examples of these different factors and their interdependence and explain why the biopsychosocial paradigm is the best for understanding happiness and conclude that SWB is indeed a ‘biopsychosocial phenomenon’.
The concept of positive psychology is fairly new having only being defined in 2000 as:
“[the] scientific study of optimal human functioning [that] aims to discover and promote the factors that allow individuals and communities to thrive.” (Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi, quoted in Boniwell and Rostron, 2010, p.119)
Essentially, it is the scientific study of happiness, or SWB.
SWB is a state in which a person will “feel many pleasant and few unpleasant emotions, when they are engaged in interesting activities, when they experience many pleasures and few pains, and when they are satisfied with their lives” (Diener, in Toates, 2010, p.8). This is personal and subjective and quantifying it is usually based on personal reports.
SWB can also be defined as “life satisfaction + affect” (Boniwell and Rostron, 2010, p.123). Life satisfaction is a person’s assessment of their own life (cognitive process); affect is a person’s mood (emotional process).
The biopsychosocial model assumes that biological, psychological and social factors all play a role in mental health and that they are interdependent, manipulating one factor will inevitably have an effect on the others (Toates, 2010, p.14).
It is speculated that certain brain structures are more active in people who report high levels of SWB. It has demonstrated that positive affect is processed in the left prefrontal cortex (PFC), which has a high concentration of dopamine receptors, and negative effect is processed in the right PFC (Boniwell and Rostron, 2010, p.126). There is increasing evidence that dopamine is directly related to reported happiness (Inglehart and Klingemann, 2003, p.165).
More direct evidence of the relationship between activity in the left PFC and SWB is found in a study by Urry et al. (2004) that reported greater activation of the left PFC than the right in those with higher reported SWB. Davidson, in Inglehart and Klingemann (2003, p.134) notes that the level of PFC activity is a stable trait and therefore provides a connection between biology and psychology.
Genes play a large role in SWB and it has been speculated that they account for the relative long-term stability of SWB. Twin studies demonstrate that 50% of the variation in emotionality can be explained by genetic variation. When this is compared to the variation in SWB due to...