Emotions are contagious. Psychologists have identified seven basic emotions we can spread: happiness, awe, surprise, fear, anger, sorrow, and disgust. Surprise is considered neutral in that the emotional experience can be either positive or negative. Four emotions are considered negative and are associated with older parts of the brain. The limbic system, and its parts such as the amygdala, the hypothalamus and the hippocampus, are associated with emotions such as anger, depression, disgust and fear. Too many of us are stuck in the old parts of the brain, in cycles of anger, despair and suffering. We need to move forward and to the left to higher emotions.
Happiness and awe are the two positive emotions. They are highly associated with increased activity in the most recently evolved part of the brain, the frontal cerebral lobes. If the frontal lobes represent the high point of evolutionary development on this planet, two key accomplishments of the brain are the amazing capacities to experience awe and joy. One could even say that our purpose is to be happy and awe-struck as I am right now while listening to Allegri's "Misere Mei, Deus."
However, happiness is much more than self-centered pleasure seeking and aversion avoidance. Pleasures are fine but they are incomplete and inadequate. Real happiness relies more on quality of relationships and engagement. Real happiness has more to do with purpose and meaning than with the accumulation of pleasures.
Nor is real happiness correlated highly with money. Money and resources are related to happiness only to the point of meeting basic necessities. Past that, money and wealth don't correlate very well with happiness. Nor does age, education, gender, intelligence, race or sunny days.
The things that do correlate with happiness are virtues such as kindness, generosity, forgiveness and love. In other words, all the things that make life worth living are what makes for happiness. Which is what politics needs to be about. And what we need to be about. It is not enough to talk about peace. It certainly does not help to demand peace. Indeed, angrily demanding peace is anything but peace. We must be the peace we seek for the world. Peace has to be the way to peace. If peacemaking entails name-calling, fit-throwing and tantrum tirades, then I'd just as soon sit at home and vegetate.
On the other hand, a true progressive agenda has to be concerned with helping people be happy and fulfill their potentials. For the happier we become, the more our actions become oriented toward helping others. The more we share happiness, the more our social support system flourishes, and the happier we become and the cycle replicates.
Actually, the same can be true of any of the basic emotions. We can get caught in cycles of anger, depression and hate that lead to our personal and collective destruction. Or, we can be happy together. Heaven or hell on earth, we decide here and now with our attitudes and actions. Peace is here if we want it. Right here, right now, let there be peace on earth and let it begin in our left frontal lobes.