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True Happiness as a Shortcut to Mental Health: A New Theory of Psychopathology and Psychotherapy Based on Aristotle’s Ethics and Evolutionary Science

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Flavio Osmo, Maryana Madeira Borri and Marina Falcão

Submitted: December 13th, 2021 Reviewed: February 8th, 2022 Published: March 10th, 2022

DOI: 10.5772/intechopen.103131

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Counseling and Therapy - Recent Developments in Theories and Concepts Edited by Kenjiro Fukao

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Counseling and Therapy - Recent Developments in Theories and Concepts [Working Title]

Dr. Kenjiro Fukao

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Abstract

In this chapter, we propose that pathologies can be understood as chronic excess or lack of emotions, which in essence, in our view, refer to the presence of “vicious” or frequent lack of evaluations about reality; which would generally occur due to the absence of wisdom or rationality. We also suggest that true happiness, to be experienced consistently, depends on putting into practice knowledge that reflects reality reasonably. In this sense, we hypothesize that the essence of pathologies is associated with the absence of a level of knowledge that reflects reality reasonably well or recurrent failures to act based on this knowledge, that is, lack of the habit of acting rationally; and that the understanding and pursuit of true happiness, in turn, can serve as a shortcut to exit the psychopathological condition, as (1) it provides greater engagement in the therapeutic process, as it would be the kind of pleasure that every human being ultimately seeks; and (2) because the pursuit of true happiness leads us to be more and more successful in our interactions with reality, feeling appropriate emotions for each context, instead of feeling, or not feeling, certain emotions chronically.

Keywords

  • happiness
  • virtues
  • aristotle
  • evolutionary science
  • psychopathology

1. Introduction

There is a long debate about what happiness is, which started in Ancient Greece, especially with Aristotle, and that has not yet been resolved. The only consensus that seems to have been established around this theme refers to something that this philosopher had already stated: that happiness is what every human being ultimately seeks [1, 2]. But this is still little, as it still does not capture the essence of the phenomenon. In our understanding, there is a fundamental reason for the stagnation of knowledge on this topic: a lack of interest by psychologists in understanding Aristotle’s works in-depth, in which he already offers “good tips” about what happiness is, which can be taken as starting points for identifying what this phenomenon is in essence. In this work, we then use these “tips” to suggest, with the help of evolutionary science, what true happiness is and then offer a rationale for how pursuing it can generate positive effects on mental health. To achieve this goal, however, we must first provide certain understandings, also with the help of Aristotle and evolutionary science, that serve as a basis to comprehend what true happiness seems to be.

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2. Basic categorizations pathways and basic emotions

In a recently published article [3], the main author of this work, argued that humans and other animals share not only categorical thinking, but also certain types of categorization (“what is something?”; “what end to seek?”; “by what means?”; “was there success in accomplishing the end?”), which would be aligned in a mat of categorizations, constituting what he called the basic evaluation process [4]. He hypothesized that within this evaluation process there are five options for basic categorizations pathways (BCP), namely: “identification of patterns in the novelty”; “acquisition of the benefit”, “promotion of the good of the other”; “elimination of the threat”; and “escape the threat”. Therefore, the basic evaluation process would follow a certain path depending on the type of categorization “what is something?” performed (“a novelty”, “a benefit”, “an ally (or potential ally) in difficulty”, “a threat that can be eliminated”, or “a threat that cannot be eliminated”).

Table 1 [5] exposes this idea, highlighting the basic categorizations that our minds ultimately perform1; and also what is their usefulness, that is, what adaptive advantage they are able to offer that justified having been mental practices selected by evolution.

Types of BCPs.First categorization: “what is something?”Second categorization: “what end to seek?”Third categorization: “by what means?”Fourth categorization: “was there success in accomplishing the end?”The evolutionary reason for the emergence of the BCP.
BCP 1: identification of patterns in the novelty.Something is a novelty.Seek the end of identification of patterns in the novelty.By means of investigation.Whether or not there was a success in the identification of patterns in the novelty.Identification of relevant “novelties” of the environment, especially if it is a threat or benefit.
BCP 2: acquisition of the benefit.Something is a benefit.Seek the end of acquisition the benefit.By means of “go and try to get it”.Whether or not there was a success in the acquisition of the benefit.Enjoyment of beneficial things, like food and shelter.
BCP 3.1: escape the threat.Something is a threat that cannot be eliminated.Seek the end of escaping the threat (and the primary end of harm avoidance).By means of “runaway”.Whether or not there was a success in escaping the threat.Avoidance of harm that a threat that cannot be eliminated can cause.
BCP 3.2: elimination of the threat.Something is a threat that can be eliminated.Seek the end of elimination of the threat (and the primary end of harm avoidance).By means of “attack”.Whether or not there was a success in eliminating the threat.Avoidance of harm that a threat that can be eliminated can cause .
BCP 4: promoting the good of other.Something is an ally (or potential ally) in difficulty.Seek the end of promoting the good of other.By means of “help”.Whether or not there was a success in promoting the good of other.Acquisition or maintenance of the benefit of reciprocity. This is then an “appendix” pathway of BCP 2, as it exists in function of the acquisition of a specific benefit.

Table 1.

Basic categorizations pathways (BCPs).

Osmo [3] also defended the idea that if the mental architecture of humans is composed of ancestral structures such as BCPs, it is then possible to locate BCP as being at the root of innumerable subjective phenomena of our species, such as emotions. He argued that each BCPs were established as a function of achieving a certain basic end (goal), since it is only with the attainment of such an end that one can come into contact with consequences linked to continuing to survive in hostile conditions. With this in mind, and also from the idea that in the last stage of the BCPs occurs the categorization responsible for evaluating whether or not there was a success in reaching an end, Osmo proposed that emotions can be understood as psychophysiological reactions selected by evolution, mainly because: (1) they directly increase the chances of reaching an end; and (2) increase the chances of realizing whether or not there was a success in achieving an end, which indirectly increases the chances of achieving a basic end next time. In this sense, he suggested that there are two types of emotions, those selected because of “1”, which he called emotions of trajectory; and those selected because of “2”, which he called emotions of result [7, 8].

The central idea is that at the root of every emotion there is evaluative thinking [9, 10], and that: (1) the evaluative thinking behind the emotions of trajectory are categorizations related to “ what end to seek?”; and (2) the evaluative thinking behind the emotions of the result are categorizations related to “was there success in accomplishing the end?” Thus, the categorizations present in the basic evaluation process would be at the root of basic emotions.

Curiosity, which would be an emotion of trajectory, for example, would come from the categorization that “we must seek the end of identification of patterns in a novelty”; and joy, which is an emotion of result, would come from the categorization that “there was success in achieving this end”.

Therefore, and considering the existence of five different BCPs, Osmo [3] suggested that there would be five basic trajectory emotions, namely:

  1. Curiosity: the emotion that arises in response to the categorization that we must seek the end of “identification of patterns in the novelty”, and which is capable of providing an increase in the chances of achieving this end.

  2. Craving: the emotion that arises in response to the categorization that we must seek the end of “acquisition of the benefit”, and that it is capable of providing an increase in the chances of achieving this end.

  3. Fear: the emotion that arises in response to the categorization that we must seek the end of “escape the threat”, and that it is capable of providing an increase in the chances of achieving this end.

  4. Anger: the emotion that arises in response to the categorization that we must seek the end of “elimination of the threat”, and that it is capable of providing an increase in the chances of achieving this end.

  5. Compassion: the emotion that arises in response to the categorization that we must seek the end of “promoting the good of the other”, and that it is capable of providing an increase in the chances of achieving this end.

In addition, based on the notion that there are only two possibilities with regard to the result of an action, the success or failure in achieving an end, Osmo [3] also argued that there are, then, two basic emotions of result:

  1. Joy: responsible for signaling success in achieving the end, encouraging the use of the same means in the future, and also encouraging the interruption of action in view of the fact that the goal has already been reached.

  2. Sadness: responsible for signaling failure in achieving the end, encouraging the use of other means in the future, and also encouraging the interruption of the action as it has already proved inadequate for achieving the end (“making room” for the manifestation of a new line of action)

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3. The peculiar human nature

Osmo [3], however, considers that the perspective presented in the previous topic is only the foundation for understanding human action because its focus is on what is common between humans and other animals. Thus, in order for us to understand all kinds of human actions, he suggested that it is necessary to add to these perspective elements that are particular to humans.

We are known for being “sapiens” and rational, and not for nothing, as we actually have two capacities that other animals don’t have: (1) that of understanding more and more about reality, beyond the dimension of perception [11, 12, 13] (theories acquisition); and (2) that of making choices based on our why theories (rational choices). Regarding “2”, it is worth noting that this capacity implies being able to understand why we are seeking an end and by certain means; that is, to understand why an end is more worth pursuing and why certain means are the best to be employed in a particular situation. In this kind of reasoning, the person accesses his or her network of theories about reality to analyze the consequences that the choices of ends and means can generate, and then establish what is best to pursue and in what ways [14].

In this view, the exercise of rationality means, in essence, supervision, followed by acceptance or review of the line of action dictated by the first BCP activated in a given context (or conscious activation of a BCP when the situation was initially seen by him or her as neutral); which is based on the personal network of theories [3]. This process allows, for example, the person to resist a piece of the pie (activation of BCP 2), because he or she understands that health is superior to the pleasure of eating something that, although tasty, can be harmful. In this case, the person acted out of fear of some peril (activation of BCP 3.1), diabetes, for example, and so had to use self-control to resist the craving of eating the pie. Thus, what happened, in this case, was the person being aware of their first inclination, which is the first BCP activated in a given.

An alternative option would be the person, for having the habit of prioritizing health, seeing, beforehand, the pie as an evil, and, with that, not feeling crave to eat it. In this case, in which the person only needs to accept, and not review, the first activated BCP, based on what he or she believes to be right, there would be what Aristotle called harmony between the rational and appetitive parts of the soul [1].

In fundamental terms, this harmony seems to occur with the consolidation of new inductive heuristics in the BCP, these in line with the person’s current worldview, due to the experience of advantageous consequences from its use over time, in various situations. It is important to note that, based on the perspective presented, this harmony occurs between the theories of the person and, specifically, the first emotion of trajectory evoked; that is, the first categorization “what end to seek” (e.g., end of acquiring the benefit “health”) [3].

In this line, Osmo suggested that, while the person still experiences the conflict between his or her worldview and the first categorization “what end to seek?” he or she needs to use principles (self-rules or meta-heuristics) that offer support for decision-making in the direction in line with his or her worldview, which is a different direction to which this first categorization and the emotion of trajectory (that emerges from it) point. So, roughly speaking, the person needs to adopt some principle that helps him or her deal with the emotion that is in disarray with the best of his or her knowledge and supports the task of reviewing the “what end to seek?” categorization.

In the case of inadequate activation of BCP 3.1 and experience of fear, this principle can be something like “I need to choose the best end in spite of being afraid”. In this way, Osmo concluded that behind the task of reviewing each basic end there is the adoption and internalization of principles that enable the management of basic trajectory emotions. With regard to BCPs, this management has to do with reevaluating the categorizations made (or lack of categorization, in case of viewing something as neutral) with the help of principles; something that only humans would be able to do.

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4. Virtues

The aforementioned notion, in fact, reflects what Aristotle argued about moral virtues. According to him, moral virtues are principles that are internalized in the soul of the person, which are responsible for making possible the choice for the best end [1]. Furthermore, it is evident in his writings that he understands that each moral virtue exists to make it possible the management of an emotion [15]. The moral virtues would then be rules that we establish for ourselves (that is, self-rules) and that we learn to follow, leading us to acquire the ability to reason better when we feel an emotion that drives us towards a goal; or even when we don’t feel the emotion we think we should feel. Thus, the possession of a moral virtue means the possession of the ability to put into practice a self-rule capable of making us reason well (based on the knowledge we have so far), in situations of the domain of a trajectory emotion [3].

It is worth noting that the relationship between moral virtues and emotions implies that if we know, which are the basic emotions of this type, we will know which are the basic moral virtues. As we talked about earlier, our view is that there are five basic emotions that have this property, that of driving us (five emotions of trajectory). Thus, the five basic moral virtues that seem to exist are: (1) Courage, to deal with fear or lack of fear; (2) Moderation, to deal with craving or lack of craving; (3) Mildness, to deal with anger or lack of anger; (4) Useful curiosity, to deal with curiosity or lack of curiosity; and (5) Generosity or Love (and self-generosity or self-love), to deal with compassion or lack of compassion (which includes self-compassion) [3, 5].

Aristotle also defended the existence of virtues related to good reasoning itself, the intellectual virtues [1], such as: (1) Wisdom, a set of theories that an individual has, and that reflect reality reasonably well; (2) Discernment, ability to identify, based on wisdom, the best goal, the best means, and whether there was even success or failure in achieving the end; (3) Prudence, ability to choose the end and means established by discernment, based on wisdom; (4) Facility in the apprehension of universals, ability to apprehend difficult causes, making use of existing knowledge, which implies an easiness in reaching new knowledge and in developing the virtue of wisdom; and (5) Understanding, ability to identify, based on wisdom, what is relevant to take into account in a particular context [1].

Thus, we see that moral virtue is responsible for calling reasoning, which starts with a good grasp of the particulars of the situation (understanding) and continues with the determination of the best end and means (discernment, making use of wisdom). Then, the actual decision-making takes place, regarding the end to be pursued and the means to be employed; this on the basis of the options that discernment has established as being the best. Making such decisions means putting into practice the virtue of prudence. And finally, there is again the performance of discernment, based on wisdom, to carry out a good assessment of whether or not there was a success in reaching the end. It is still possible to have the ability to learn difficult causes acting after all this process, especially in case of perceptions of unexpected success or failure, which prompt us to investigate why things went right or wrong; what refers to the attempt to apprehend new universals, new theories [3, 5].

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5. Vices

Aristotle suggested that there are moral and intellectual virtues, as we speak. Moral virtues would be abilities to follow self-rules that lead us to put intellectual virtues into practice, so that, in a particular situation, we can deal well with our emotions of the trajectory (or lack of them) and make choices based on the knowledge we have so far. Not practicing a moral virtue can cause us to fail to act rationally (especially if we are under the influence of emotion of trajectory), that is, it can cause us to fall into some vice. Thus, for each basic emotion of trajectory, there must be a specific vice. In fact, Aristotle said that there are two types of addiction related to an emotion, that of excess and that of lack [1].

Starting with the extreme of excess, it would occur, for example, when someone criticizes a belief we have and, almost without thinking, under the influence of anger, we go on the attack. In essence, what happened, in our view, was that we interpreted criticism as a threat that could be eliminated, perhaps a threat of domination, which made it settle in our minds that we must pursue the goal of eliminating this threat; and then, almost without thinking, we set out to try to eliminate it.

We did not seek, therefore, to review this objective based on our knowledge, which could have occurred if we had followed a rule such as “I must choose the best objective in the presence or absence of anger” and therefore practiced the moral virtue of mildness, which could even serve to simply confirm that it was appropriate to feel anger in the context (which would lead us to confirm that the best thing to do was, in fact, to “eliminate” the criticism).

People who tend to resolve things impulsively, following an emotion almost blindly, demonstrate the possession of vice related to excess. In the case of anger, the vice of irascibility, which would be nothing more than letting flow an ancestral inclination that is well established in our personality: the inclination that directs us towards the elimination of threats. Note that if anger is not the emotion we believe is appropriate for the context, the “wrong” emotion we experience (anger) is of the “emotion of trajectory” type, and “accepting” it means acting in a wrong direction. Here, therefore, one “sins” by action, and not by omission.

In the case of vice related to lack of emotion, we see that this can happen in two ways: (1) feeling an emotion of result when we actually believe we should feel another emotion; such as, feeling joy when we’ve just noticed that our best friend has lost money on the stock market. In this case, the person may believe that what was actually right was to feel compassion, but instead felt joy; which may denote the nurturing of some level of competition for status with the friend, so that seeing his or her downfall meant realizing success in being better than him or her, causing this person to feel joy. Note that as the emotion experienced here was joy, an emotion of result, which does not generate an impulse, the person did not fall into the error of going in an inappropriate direction, but into the error of not acting, that is, “sinned” by omission.

The other way (2), which also makes one fall into the error of omission, is when the person does not feel any emotion, believing he or she should feel an emotion of trajectory. Bringing up the same example above, the person may have remained indifferent to the fact that the friend had lost money. This denotes the perception of what happened as something neutral, thus not leading to an assessment capable of making the person feel an emotion. If the person in question really believes that “okay, it’s a part of life to lose money, and that it’s even a learning experience”, then it is understandable that he or she has perceived what happened as neutral, not feeling any emotion (i.e., rational evaluation from the point of view of the person); but if this person believes that, at that moment, the right thing to do was to offer a few words of comfort to the friend, for example, then he or she should think that compassion was the right emotion to feel. Note that if the person realizes this, he or she may revise their previous assessment, feel compassion to some extent, and thereby want to act in the direction of providing emotional comfort to the friend (thus avoiding falling into the error of omission, in case the person has actually decided to act in this direction) [5].

In both cases, of excess and lack, not experiencing the emotion appropriate to the context may represent not following self-rule capable of calling reasoning, which in the case of the last example could be something like “I need to choose the best objective in the presence or absence of compassion”, which may mean not putting into practice the moral virtue of love. This, in turn, means not behaving in a way peculiar to humans, acting almost exclusively on the basis of what we perceive, without considering the knowledge we already have about reality.

Note that if there are five basic emotions that drive us toward something, and two vices for each emotion, then there must be ten vices, namely [5]:

  • Vices related to fear

    • Excess: the person “blindly accepts” the emotion of fear (cowardice).

    • Lack: the person “blindly accepts” another emotion (trajectory or result); instead of the emotion of fear (which, according to his or her knowledge, would be the right emotion to feel) (temerity).

    • Lack: the person does not pay attention to the details of the situation which, if perceived and evaluated based on what the person already knows, would make him or her feel the emotion of fear (temerity).

  • Vices related to anger

    • Excess: the person “blindly accepts” the emotion of anger (irascibility).

    • Lack: the person “blindly accepts” another emotion (trajectory or result); instead of the emotion of anger (which, according to his or her knowledge, would be the right emotion to feel) (passivity).

    • Lack: the person does not pay attention to the details of the situation which, if perceived and evaluated based on what the person already knows, would make him or her feel the emotion of anger (passivity).

  • Vices related to craving

    • Excess: the person “blindly accepts” the emotion of craving (licentiousness).

    • Lack: the person “blindly accepts” another emotion (trajectory or result); instead of the emotion of craving (which, according to his or her knowledge, would be the right emotion to feel) (rigidity).

    • Lack: the person does not pay attention to the details of the situation which, if perceived and evaluated based on what the person already knows, would make him or her feel the emotion of craving (rigidity).

  • Vices related to compassion

    • Excess: the person “blindly accepts” the emotion of compassion (“soft hearted”).

    • Lack: the person “blindly accepts” another emotion (trajectory or result); instead of the emotion of compassion (which, according to his or her knowledge, would be the right emotion to feel) (indifference).

    • Lack: the person does not pay attention to the details of the situation which, if perceived and evaluated based on what the person already knows, would make him or her feel the emotion of compassion (indifference).

  • Vices related to curiosity

    • Excess: the person “blindly accepts” the emotion of curiosity (investigation without criteria

    • Lack: the person “blindly accepts” another emotion (trajectory or result); instead of the emotion of curiosity (which, according to his or her knowledge, would be the right emotion to feel) (closed to novelties).

    • Lack: the person does not pay attention to the details of the situation which, if perceived and evaluated based on what the person already knows, would make him or her feel the emotion of curiosity (closed to novelties).

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6. The true happiness

Aristotle gives us good tips on what happiness is, we just need to connect the dots and add a dash of evolutionary psychology. He said that of all animals only humans are capable of experiencing happiness [1], and that happiness is what we all ultimately seek [1]. Furthermore, he also said that to achieve happiness one must use reason (and the virtues) [1]; and that happiness is a kind of pleasure [1].

Well, what pleasure can only human beings feel? It must depend on the awareness that we are agents in the world, that is, on the notion that our actions themselves cause things. With that, we then discard the pleasures of sex, drinking, eating, among others. These are what Aristotle calls the pleasures of the senses [1], which are those that depend only on sensory contact with something to be experienced; this kind of pleasure, other animals are also capable of feeling. And we also discard the pleasure of the most rudimentary joy that comes when we see success in reaching a goal; which can be anything from getting a fruit on the tree, to gaining status, resources, or identifying patterns in something we see as new in the environment, for example. This kind of pleasure other animals can also experience [16]; what changes between us and them is that we are able to set more specific goals, and with that, feel joy with more specific things.

We already know a little bit about what happiness is not, but what we want is to know exactly what it is. The key to this is Aristotle’s assertion that to feel it, it is necessary to employ rationality; which means that happiness is a reward for the use of reason. Based on this notion, and making use of the evolutionary approach, we can say that happiness is then a pleasure selected by evolution for stimulating us to act rationally, which is the way of acting that puts us at an advantage in the fight for survival in relation to other animals; and in relation to other humans as well.

But then, what is happiness? We can only think of a type of pleasure that meets all these requirements: that would be precisely the pleasure that arises when we feel proud of the result of our rational actions [17], which is when we look to a recent or distant past and feel proud of what we have done through thoughtful choices; it can be something simple, like being proud of having managed to fix a shower, or more complex, like writing a best-seller. Another pertinent example is feeling proud of having reached a conclusion through the “reasoning” action itself, being proud of a “eureka!” (actually, this has to do with being proud of any conclusion itself, which we perceive to be the result of good reasoning).

Happiness would then be a specific type of joy, which arises when we perceive the result of rational action as being good when we realize that we have performed good works of reason [1, 18, 19].

Note, however, that we do not experience this pleasure when we see the outcome as bad, even though we are aware that we have done our best. A soccer player who looks at the angle of the goal, makes the movement the way he or she trained, but sees the ball passing close to the crossbar, is unlikely to be proud of his or her action (this player would have to make a mental effort to feel this). Certainly, such a kind of pleasure other animals cannot feel. And, in fact, for us to feel it, we really need to employ reason. We are only proud of a result if we realize that it was the result of choices we made based on the knowledge we had so far, that is, rational decisions. A painter who is proud of the result of his work only feels this because he or she realizes that it was the result of good decisions regarding which color combinations to use, for example; a knowledge this painter already had, and used it to support his or her choices about how to paint the picture.

There is, however, a small inconvenience to happiness: although it seems to be the pleasure we all ultimately seek, we cannot experience it if we seek it directly. This is because, if, at the moment we make a rational choice, we are focused not on the immediate objective in question, but on the pleasure, we will obtain in achieving it, we will not engage in the action to the point of being able to produce an expected result [20]. A soccer player who, at the time of shooting at goal, instead of focusing on hitting the angle, is focusing on the happiness he or she will feel if he hits it, he or she will not be able to produce the expected result, and thus will not feel happiness; unless this player gets lucky this time and manages, even without focusing on the angle, to hit it. However, that would be an exception, and what we want is the frequent experience of happiness. This implies that, although happiness is probably, by nature, fixed at the top of the hierarchy of values of every human being, it is important to place just below it the value of acting rationally, since it is through the achievement of this goal that it is possible to experience happiness. Thus, for practical purposes, it is worth considering the objective of acting rationally as our greatest goal, and happiness as the prize that comes whenever achieving this goal brings good results [21] ( good results from the perspective of the individual).

It is worth noting that having “acting rationally” as our ultimate goal implies experiencing sadness whenever we fail to achieve this goal. In fact, a specific kind of sadness that we call regret that only humans can feel because it depends on the consciousness of agency. However, as we said, the emotion of sadness is a pain that serves the function of stimulating us to act differently in the future (also in order to avoid experiencing it again, in the case of humans). Thus, as we are not born with the habit of acting based on the knowledge we have so far, the pain of regret for having failed to act rationally serves the function of putting us in the direction of acquiring this habit [20].

However, it is also worth noting that having “act rationally” as our goal, achieving it can provide a reduction in the intensity of the pain of regrets. This is because we are led to conclude that, despite having generated a bad result, we acted based on the knowledge we had so far, that is, we did the best we could. In this case, regret would not cease to exist, but it directs our perception to what really matters: the fact that our knowledge was insufficient to promote a better result; and thus influences us to increase our level of wisdom [5].

Before moving forward, we would like to highlight that there are two types of emotions that depend on agency awareness, but which we see as not being very useful for the development of virtues, and therefore, to the ever more frequent experience of happiness: self-blame and shame. We believe that such types of emotions are not very useful because what we want with the experience of a negative emotion that depends on agency awareness is not that it leads us to attack the “I” of the past (as is the case with self-blame, that leads to the experience of anger), or running away from a negative evaluation that the other may be making about us (as is the case with shame, which leads to the experience of fear) [19, 22, 23]; but to lead us, especially to lamentation; to repent for not having acted according to what we knew, or for not having the necessary knowledge to have acted better, so that we can become wiser and more adept at acting rationally, in order to do better in a similar situation in the future2 [5].

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7. About the relationship between life purpose and more intense happiness

In Aristotelian philosophy, every human being has a responsibility as a species, a general life mission, so to speak: to make his rational potential a reality, in order to consolidate the habit of acting rationally (which occurs with the practice of virtues), which represents being in a state of “good functioning”; functioning according to the type of being we are. The reward for this endeavor is to experience the pleasure of being proud of the result of rational choices on a regular basis [24, 25]. However, common experience shows us that this pleasure can vary in intensity. The pleasure a writer feels at the moment he realizes, he has managed to fix a shower is certainly not the same as when he sees his work finished, or even a paragraph [26]. But why is that?

We are beings naturally interested in “whys”, and among the “whys” we are interested in is knowing why we exist, what is the purpose of being here. Saying that we are here to fulfill our natural responsibility to act rationally is not enough for us as an answer [27], as we want to know not only why the human species exists, but also why we, as individuals, exist; that is, we want to know what is our specific function, our individual responsibility, in the whole, that we believe to be inserted [19, 28, 29] (and here it doesn’t matter the size of this whole, it can be from the microgroup “you and your child” to the entire planet, for example). Thus, it is once we find an answer to this question (regardless of whether it is objectively true), which generally involves understanding our own specific interests and abilities (which includes understanding our specific moral virtues) , that we started, then, to recognize what our responsibility would be, our specific role in the whole that we believe to be inserted. As a result, we can acquire the notion that we have something to do in this world that no one else is capable of; that we have a mission, which, it is worth noting, can vary in “size” (it can range from caring for a child to preparing a treatise on human nature, for example) [30]. And from there, when we take responsibility for a specific mission, we come to feel the kind of pleasure that the writer of our example experienced: a more intense pride in the result of rational choices; more intense because it is a result that indicates that we are fulfilling, to some extent, our mission; it means that we are managing to fulfill the “why” of our individual existence.

Finally, it is worth noting that, as we have the ability to be proud also with regard to a macro set of results and actions, we can also feel a more intense type of pride if we see that this set of results and actions represents the successful realization of our life purpose. Bringing again the writer’s example, he will feel happiness of the most intense kind when, after publishing his works, he looks at them together and assesses that his specific mission, or a good part of it, has been fulfilled [5].

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8. Psychopathologies in an evolutionary perspective

In this work, we are assuming that the human mind is a product of evolution [4, 31]. As a result, we are offering a perspective grounded in the theory of natural selection, which is the theory that best explains “how other animals function” (at least for now); and if we didn’t land by parachute on this planet, it is certainly the theory that best explains how we function too, and how we should function, given our peculiar nature [32]. In this way, holding firm to such perspective, we understand that a better understanding of the pathologies that plague humanity can be achieved if we first look at them in their rudimentary form, that is, how they are manifested in other animals; for then, based on this first notion, to analyze how they are amplified in us due to specificities of our nature. This implies looking at pathologies based on the notion of the role of BCPs, and our ability to elaborate theories and act on them. We are not going to offer a canonical list of psychopathologies, but just three of them, as an example, to show how it is possible to understand psychopathologies in the direction we are proposing.

8.1 Depression: psychopathology most related to the emotion of sadness

The perception that there was a failure to achieve a goal, as we said, generates sadness, the emotion that seems to have a role in encouraging the use of other means in the future It turns out that when a non-human animal is faced with a threat that it categorizes as “not possible to be eliminated”, and tries, unsuccessfully, to achieve the goal of escaping the threat by successively employing one or more forms of “runaway”, this animal may simply end up giving up on escaping the threat, accepting that it is “imprisoned”, which in practice means accepting that there is nothing to do; in other words, that the failure is consummated, which would lead the animal to a chronic experience of sadness [33, 34]. This, in our view, would be the rudimentary form of what we know in humans as depression.

However, in the case of humans, such sadness would be amplified by the ability we have to realize that there is really no way out of an unwanted condition, that we are trapped in it: the notion that we are not capable of causing a better future for us, which has to do with what we call hopelessness [6, 33]. This is the case, for example, of a relationship termination, in which the person who has been “abandoned” is afraid of being alone, believing that he or she is not able to find another partner (a possibly false theory), which would likely make this person to behave in the direction of proceeding with countless attempts at reconquest, which, in essence, are attempts to avoid the threat of losing the relation of reciprocity (stage of grief known as “bargaining”). However, there may come a point, after unsuccessful attempts to avoid such a threat, that the person ends up giving up trying, which represents reaching the stage of grief known as depression [35].

It is worth noting that, within the perspective that we are offering, the vulnerability of a person to go into a depressive state is directly related to: (1) although the person has the wisdom to understand that he or she is not facing “a threat that cannot to be eliminated”, even so almost thoughtlessly accepts this assessment (and the others that follow), acting in accordance with them (lack of rationality); and (2) the person does not have the wisdom to understand that he or she is not facing a “threat that cannot be eliminated” (because of having false theories), and, at the same time, does not have the wisdom as to how to accomplish the goal of elimination of the threat (if that person has this wisdom, he or she could eliminate such a threat, even if it is not objectively a threat) (lack of wisdom).

8.2 Anxiety: psychopathology most related to the emotion of fear

In the animal kingdom there seem to be two types of contexts in which the emotion of fear becomes something chronic: (1) when an environment is in fact hostile, as in the case of being in a place full of predators; and (2) when, in the case of animals that live in groups, the individual is perceived by others as being of lower status (usually because of being defeated in fights), which makes it more difficult for this individual to have access to resources, such as food and sexual partner, especially because of being frequently attacked by other members also interested in such resources. In addition, a low-status individual tends to receive less protection from predator attacks [24]. This implies that those at the bottom of a dominance hierarchy actually end up in a hostile environment, similar to being in a place full of predators. We see that in these two cases, there is a chronic classification that “something is a threat that cannot be eliminated”, and with it the chronic experience of fear, which we can classify as the rudimentary version of anxiety [36]. It is worth mentioning that, in the case of anxiety, unlike depression, the individual sees escape routes and can follow them in order to achieve the objective of escaping the threat [33].

In the case of humans, anxiety can be amplified by our ability to construct or accept theories that reality is far more threatening than it actually is, which causes us to engage in the frequent practice of mislabeling something as “a threat that cannot be eliminated”, and that, therefore, we must seek to escape from it. Some examples of this are internalizing theories that: (1) all people, including close friends, will harm us if given the opportunity to do so (type of theory that supports the establishment of social anxiety disorder) [37, 38]; and (2) if we do not perform such a procedure, like knocking twice on the wood, something bad will happen to us or our family members (the kind of theory that supports the establishment of obsessive-compulsive disorders) [39].

Again, it is worth noting that, within the perspective we are offering, a person’s vulnerability to go into a state of anxiety is directly related to : (1) although the person has the wisdom to understand that he or she is not facing “a threat that cannot to be eliminated”, even so almost thoughtlessly accepts this assessment (and the others that follow), acting in accordance with them (lack of rationality); and (2) the person does not have the wisdom to understand that he or she is not facing a “threat that cannot be eliminated” (lack of wisdom).

8.3 Food addiction: psychopathology more related to the emotion of craving

Luckily for other animals, so to speak, there is, due to the competition for resources necessary for survival, a shortage of highly palatable foods for their species; so it is not common for us to observe food addiction in its rudimentary form in non-human animals. However, experiments show us that they can develop this pathology [40], which, in our view, refers to the chronic categorization that “something is a benefit”, which leads to the chronic experience of the emotion of craving.

In the case of humans, such pathology is possible to be frequent because we are able to generate an environment permeated by highly palatable food; but still, that would not be the cause, just the removal of a barrier. It is possible for two people to enter a candy store, and only one of them feels tempted to buy sweets in quantity, which may be the case for someone with food addiction (if this is not just a one-off behavior, aiming, for example, at a celebration or relaxation) [41]. Such pathology can be amplified in us because we can make or accept probably false theories and live on the basis of them; for example: (1) that the best way to alleviate emotional pain is to eat tasty foods, or even that (2) we came to this world to enjoy life, and such enjoyment boils down to experiencing the pleasures of the senses (possibly believing that this is happiness) [5].

Once again, we can note that the vulnerability, now to food addiction, is due to lack of wisdom, in case the person does not know that eating a certain tasty food with a high frequency is likely to cause serious damage to his or her health; or lack of rationality, in case the person has this knowledge, but still almost without thinking accepts the categorizations that he or she is facing a benefit (and those that follow, especially the one that “suggests” that he or she should “seek the acquisition of this benefit”).

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9. The essence of human psychopathologies

It is possible to see that, from our perspective, human psychopathologies (at least those that do not have a physical cause, such as damage to some region of the brain) can be better understood as phenomena specifically caused either by lack of wisdom or lack of rationality. Making a parallel with the cognitive therapeutic approach, we can consider that the possession of false core beliefs, such as those of the unlovable dimension (e.g., “I will always be rejected when my flaws are perceived”) [38, 42], means lack of wisdom if such beliefs refer to the person’s most advanced knowledge of the matter; so, it is worth emphasizing, acting on that knowledge would not be irrational from that individual’s point of view. However, this rationality can lead this person to a condition of psychopathology because he or she is acting based on false knowledge.

On the other hand, if such a person, despite having internalized false beliefs (probably arising from childhood experiences), but managed to reach true conclusions, such as that their “defects” are tolerable (he or she is not a serial killer, for example), this person, then, in this matter, possesses wisdom. However, the person can still fail to make decisions based on conclusions that better reflect reality, and then it would be the lack of rationality that would lead him or her to develop a condition of psychopathology.

Another thing that can be seen, with the help of the relational emphasis that we gave in the previous topic, is that human psychopathologies are related to emotions, that is, the chronic experience of emotion means being in a psychopathological condition. Of course, unless reality doesn’t actually call for evaluating things in the same direction almost always, like when we are in a hostile environment and categorizing things as a “threat that cannot be eliminated” should be highly frequent (and with that, the experience of fear), for example. By this we mean that as the stimuli, in objective terms, must be of the most varied types, categorizing them almost always in the same way (or treating them almost always as neutral) probably means being in a psychopathological condition. The chronic experience of joy or indifference when facing friends in difficult situations, for example, rarely feeling compassion for them, is related to what we know as psychopathy3 [43].

The point we want to reach is that, in our view, the chronic excess or lack in experiencing each of the seven emotions represents being in a psychopathological state (i.e., vices of lack and excess, paralleling what we talked about earlier), which in essence, as we said, means that we are chronically evaluating things in some direction, or treating them almost always as neutral4 [1, 44]; and this, in turn, bringing out the main idea of our perspective, has to do with either a lack of wisdom or rationality. Bringing up the example of psychopathy, a person diagnosed with this psychopathology may be in such a condition for actually believing that “his or her good does not depend on the good of others” and acting consistently in accordance with this knowledge, that is, acting rationally but on the basis of false knowledge (which denotes lack of wisdom); or the person may be in this condition because they are unable to act consistently based on a notion that he or she already has (and that reflects reality reasonably well), such as that “his or her good depends, to a large extent, on the good of others” (which denotes lack of rationality).

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10. How the pursuit of true happiness can lead to mental health?

From the notion that at the root of human pathologies there is probably a lack of wisdom or rationality, we can conclude, then, that the acquisition of more and more knowledge that reflects reality reasonably well (which represents developing the virtue of wisdom), and the acquisition of the habit of acting based on the knowledge that one has so far (which represents developing moral and other intellectual virtues) should provide a way out of a psychopathological condition and maintenance of mental health [19]. However, informing that the practice of virtues should lead to overcoming psychopathologies, and providing guidance on how to practice them daily, may not be enough for a patient to feel motivated to engage in this therapeutic process. This is because the human being does not seem to be naturally motivated to reach a state of absence of psychic pain simply, what the ancients used to call ataraxia [19]; but rather to achieve and feel happiness [1]. Thus, we understand that clarifying what happiness is (and that the practice of virtues is necessary to achieve it) is essential to “touch the nature” of the patient in order to awaken in him or her the motivation to practice the virtues.

We must not forget that our self-conscious questioning nature makes us want to know why we exist and that greater happiness can be experienced when we realize that we are succeeding in fulfilling the mission we believe we have [5]. Based on such notions, we can understand that we can make the patient more motivated to practice the virtues through the clarifications that: (1) there is more intense happiness to be experienced, and (2) that it can be experienced from the moment we discover and take responsibility for our life mission. Regarding “2”, it is noteworthy that its motivational power depends on the discovery of a mission that the person really sees purpose in fulfilling, which depends on a high reflective effort, especially with regard to personal interests, skills and problems of the world.

As a suggestion, we see that it is possible for a person to find his or her life mission through a reflexive effort to answer at least three questions:

  1. What would you agree to do for free for the rest of your life?

  2. In this task, you would be employing your best qualities (i.e., virtues)?

  3. Does the world need what you’re willing to deliver? In other words, can what you will be delivering make the world, to some extent, a better place?

It is important to mention that the engagement in the process also occurs because of the experience of happiness that the patient experiences with each rational decision that he or she perceives to have taken and that generated a good result. By the way, the increasingly frequent experience of this type of pleasure on the part of the patient may indicate that he or she is doing well in the treatment (as Aristotle would say, is doing well in having a good life according to the type of being we are); so that analyzing this data and presenting it, in case it is positive, can also contribute to the engagement in the therapeutic process of practicing the virtues with a focus on experiencing happiness.

It is noteworthy that, in parallel, the engagement in this therapeutic process should provide the overcoming of false beliefs, such as those linked to the notions of unlovability and incompetence, because with the practice of virtues, the individual is exposed to facts that contradict such beliefs, which can, little by little, lead to the expansion of his or her level of wisdom, from the replacement of false beliefs by others that reflect reality better. In the case of incompetence, for example, if the individual focuses on putting the virtues into action, he or she can see that not only is there a solution for almost everything but also that he or she is totally capable of finding them.

Finally, it is worth bringing to the therapeutic scenario three important notions linked to the objective of experiencing happiness, with increasing frequency, throughout life, that refers to the notions we talked about earlier, about emotions that only humans are capable of feeling:

  1. That regret, while uncomfortable, is welcome when it prompts us to reflect on whether we made a mistake because we didn’t know enough to have done better (which prompts us to want to know more) or because we failed to act on what we already knew (which encourages us to acquire the habit of acting rationally) [1, 5, 20].

  2. That self-blame and shame are not very useful for the development of virtues [45] and for the frequent experience of happiness, as they do not encourage us to review our mistakes, but rather to, respectively, attack the self of the past or flee from negative evaluations of others [5].

Although emotions that depend on agency awareness are not in themselves defining psychopathologies (at least, not yet), they are present in a variety of psychopathological conditions. In the case of grief, for example, the anger phase can refer to self-directed anger, in which the person chronically blames him or herself because this person sees him or herself as the cause of the loss of the ally [35]. Therefore, we see that clarifying the nature of such emotions and how they relate to the greater goal of feeling happiness can help the patient to reflect on whether or not it is appropriate to feel them in certain contexts, and thus help him with the task of consciously reviewing or accepting them (i.e., helping him with the practice of the virtues), which, in parallel, helps the patient to avoid feeling these emotions chronically.

11. Conclusion

The acquisition of the notion of what true happiness is (and the most intense of it) makes the person understand what he or she actually ultimately seeks: the pleasure of a kind of pride that arises when he or she perceives himself or herself as causing good consequences through rational choices, as we have argued; and this, both in the short term and in the long term as a whole (which represents having a life permeated by happiness; a happy life). Such understanding is a key part for the patient to discover where he or she should direct his efforts; which, in a world full of possibilities, represents finding the best path, the shortcut out of a psychopathological condition, and feeling the desire to go through it. However, it is not enough just to find such a shortcut and want to take it, it is also necessary to know how to walk on it; which, as we said, happens through the practice of virtues. Such practice represents each step on this path, which is capable of generating happiness in the recent past, if we see that we have just generated a good result, and even in a more distant past, when, after a set of steps, we look back and see that we have left traces of good results along the way, as a result of our choices.

In this work, we have argued that the pursuit of happiness represents a shortcut to mental health. First, because we see that such pursuit represents walking the path that by nature we all want to travel, so the level of engagement we would have on this journey would be greater than on any other, also because we will be reinforced throughout it due to the experience of pleasure with every rational decision that we perceive to have taken that generated a good result; pleasure that evolution “rewards” us for acting in line with our peculiar nature, as we said. And secondly, because the pursuit of happiness leads us to be increasingly successful in our interactions with reality, since in this pursuit we acquire more and more knowledge about reality and get into the habit of acting on what we know so far, which, in essence, refers to making categorizations that reflect reality reasonably well (increasingly better, as our knowledge evolves), which, in turn, as we said, makes it possible to feel emotions appropriate to the contexts, in objective terms, instead of feeling emotions chronically.

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Notes

  • Humans have a cognitive power that allows them to make more specific categorizations compared to other animals. However, while they may be more accurate, in the end, both our categorizations and theirs seem to "end up" in the same place. By this we mean that, in essential terms, our minds always carry out basic categorizations (for example, "this is a benefit"; "this is a threat"), which are those that proved to be fundamental for survival in the ancestral past [6].
  • It is possible to note that from our perspective, all emotions that depend on agency awareness are derived from basic emotions, including happiness, which we consider to be a type of joy.
  • A person who feels joy at the loss of a friend in a game, in which they are competing, or who evaluates a difficulty a friend is going through as a good thing (because it can help him or her grow with the experience), could hardly be considered a psychopath. As we said, psychopathy has to do with the chronic experience of joy or indifference in contexts in which a friend is perceived to be in a situation of difficulty, and not with occasional joy or indifference in a context of this type.
  • Based on this notion, it might be a good idea to divide the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) into seven large dimensions, related to the 7 basic emotions that we suggest exist, in order to consider the chronic excess and lack in each of them as being psychopathologies, which is equivalent to vices; and that, in general, it represents recurrent failures to act in the peculiar human way, according to Aristotelian philosophy.

Written By

Flavio Osmo, Maryana Madeira Borri and Marina Falcão

Submitted: December 13th, 2021 Reviewed: February 8th, 2022 Published: March 10th, 2022