In this essay I will define and discuss the concept of ‘positive psychology’, the concept of ‘happiness’ which is synonymous with, and for the purposes of this essay will be referred to as, subjective well-being (SWB); the concept of ‘the architecture of sustainable happiness’; and the biopsychosocial model. I aim to demonstrate that SWB is a multifaceted phenomenon which 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.
The concept of positive psychology is fairly new. Prior to World War II psychology concerned itself with three goals: “curing mental illness, improving normal lives, and […] identify[ing] and nurture[ing] high talent”. In the immediate post-war period the last two goals were practically ignored as thousands of veterans were returning from the battlefield suffering with flashbacks and dissociation required treatment for mental health problems (Boniwell and Rostron, 2010, p.119). Subsequently psychology has almost exclusively concerned itself with treating mental ‘disease’.
It was only recently that Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi, who are considered the founders of positive psychology, defined it as
“[the] scientific study of optimal human functioning [that] aims to discover and promote the factors that allow individuals and communites to thrive.” (Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi, quoted in Boniwell and Rostron, 2010, p.119)
Essentially positive psychology is the scientific study of happiness, or SWB.
SWB is defined as 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). The subjective aspect is key and measurements are usually based on personal reports of SWB.
SWB can also be defined as “life satisfaction + affect” in (Boniwell and Rostron, 2010, p.123). Life satisfaction is a person’s assessment of their own life and is a cognitive process; affect is a person’s mood and is an emotional process.
The biopsychosocial model assumes that biological, psychological and social factors all play a role in mental health, positive or negative, and that they are interdependent. That is, none of them can be considered on their own since manipulating one factor will inevitably have an effect on the others (Toates, 2010, p.14). So mental health is a complex system of interacting factors.
To investigate whether SWB can be understood using the biopsychosocial model we need to identify the biological, psychological and social factors that influence happiness and their interactions with each other. If we can demonstrate that each factor cannot be considered on its own and is intrinsically linked with the other factors we can be confident that the biopsychosocial model is the most appropriate...