I think that whenever we feel some kind of happiness or pleasure it is always related with improving our chances of survival, that might be temporarily or in long term, might be of only of an individual or his/her relatives or all human beings or all living beings as a whole.

I find that a sense happiness or pleasure is linked with the survival (might not be true as it's based on personal observation). We crave for things like attention & being cared, beauty & physical health, power (& money). Attaining them gives us a sense of pleasure, and these things improves the chances of our survival. People having power & money dont die out of scarcity. People having beauty & physical health get to pass their genes more often(keeping whole human history in mind). Dogs developed their behaviour around humans so as to get more attention & care thus improving their chances of survival. We also feel happy helping other people, we feel happy making more friends. But there is no simple answer to this one as we also have tendencies to hurt ourselves and some people derive pleasure in hurting others.

So is pleasure or happiness evolutionarily programmed into us to better our chances of survival?

  • $\begingroup$ "Evolution" and "programmed" together sounds a bit strange. $\endgroup$
    – Shred
    Jun 7, 2018 at 8:55
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    $\begingroup$ Please do not post to this site as a new user without consulting the help to find out what the scope of the site is and what sort of questions are acceptable here. This sort of question based on a "feeling" and asking for answers that can only be subjective are off-topic and a waste of everybody's time. $\endgroup$
    – David
    Jun 7, 2018 at 19:08
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    $\begingroup$ @David I fail to see how is this a subjective question. Please let me know where I made the mistake. $\endgroup$ Jun 7, 2018 at 19:14
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    $\begingroup$ Please @ me in if you reply to my comments. This is a scientific site. Statements like "there is definitely a correlation…" without citing any research in support is scientifically worthless. And as you devote your following comment to arguments in favour of this idea it would appear that your question is not an attempt to test it with scientific evidence but to solicit others of like mind to say "yes you're right". $\endgroup$
    – David
    Jun 8, 2018 at 19:13
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    $\begingroup$ @David I have no problem if you think my question is unscientific. I don't know the standards used to measure the worthiness of a question, and I believe such standards (if exists) are mostly subjective. I was thinking about the reason why we feel pleasure and happiness and couldn't figure anything more than this. I don't belong to the field of biology and couldn't find any research or experiment related to it. The purpose of the question was not to put forward what I think to be true rather to know where I am wrong. And for that reason I am totally open to discussions and criticism. $\endgroup$ Jun 9, 2018 at 9:28

2 Answers 2


Our current understanding is that pleasure is one of the major ways your brain gets "you" to do things, it is the basis of positive reinforcement of behavior and associative learning. It can almost be thought of a a tag for an individual behavior that says "do this again/more". That pleasure alone can motivate animals to do things has been understood since way back in the Skinner box experiments where a wire to the pleasure center was inserted in rats and said rats would keep doing whatever behavior they associated with stimulation via the wire foten to the exclusion of all else. The basis of our learning could be summed up as do things that elicit pleasure, don't do things that elicit pain. tying many complex behavior to a single signal seems to make it easier to control and even prioritize very complex behavior, just do whatever yields the most pleasure, of course humans and many other animals have many more competing emotions and other factors, like metacognition. But for simpler animals it is easy to see how this system is efficient, it is easy to tag new behaviors or experiences into this system, at its simplest form just connect (possibly inhibitory)a few neurons triggered by the behavior or memory of the behavior to the pleasure center.

Of course it is not perfect, few things that evolved are, behaviors that are not beneficial can trigger the system, especially novel or extremely rare behavioral options, especially ones created by technological advancement, drug addiction being a great example. Evolution is very poor at preparing organisms for novel conditions like the modern technological world. And the our brain did not evolve under conditions where cocaine (as an example) existed. Just because something is pleasurable does not mean it is beneficial. The full range of behaviors that can elicit pleasure would be well beyond the scope of a single question but it is quite clear pleasure itself is an evolutionary advantage, it is one of the major reasons we learn to eat, drink, reproduce, and make social connections.

Happiness, is more difficult, mostly because it is a poorly defined term in biology, it is unclear if it is distinct from simple pleasure.


All features of life have evolved in order to better the chances of reproduction, the feeling of happiness is included. After all, happiness is just the release of various molecules such as dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins, that cause the body to more likely produce a certain behavior.

These chemicals can produce advantageous behaviors by promoting deep friendship, mating bonds, and gratitude in an investment paid-off. However, they can also provide bad behaviors if jealousy or laziness emerges. All emotions exist in a tug of war in evolution, in fact Darwin wrote a book entitled: "The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals". While I have not read all of it he probably states how fear, jealousy, anger, etc. all can promote both good and bad behaviors.

More recently, scientists have tried to study specifically the evolution of happiness two publication are by Nesse and Buss. Both are not very sure, but note the evolutionary advantages of evolution.

So the short answer to your question is yes, with the caveat too much, or too easy a sense of happiness has its downsides, and that all other emotions and measures of the body are effected by evolution.

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    $\begingroup$ All features of life have evolved in order to better the chances of reproduction This is wrong. It is too a panselectionist view of evolution. You might want to summarize the two papers you linked to, they are probably of interest. I would love an answer that highlights the difficulty to define the concept of happiness and how much it may be culture specific. $\endgroup$
    – Remi.b
    Jun 7, 2018 at 23:00
  • $\begingroup$ Yes I generalize evolution and remove the random aspects, but if natural selection is not selecting for features that enable better reproduction then what is going on? Also an answer that branches into cultural aspects would appear an anthropological answer, not a biological one. $\endgroup$
    – user42909
    Jun 8, 2018 at 3:19
  • $\begingroup$ Your arguments amount to an assertion of belief, and as such have no more value than those opposing ones based on religious beliefs. Indeed they are worse as they purport to be scientific but are actually anti-science. $\endgroup$
    – David
    Jun 8, 2018 at 19:17
  • $\begingroup$ My answer is about belief? I try to cite chemical pathways, Darwin, more recent work, and generally give an answer that is not very confident but based in logic. If you have a problem with my answer, then please point to it, but don't just say I am anti-scientific outright with providing any supporting feedback - it is not helping anyone, and instead insulting. $\endgroup$
    – user42909
    Jun 8, 2018 at 21:36
  • $\begingroup$ You might be better off saying "pleasure and the brain reward system is too widespread an adaptation to not expect an evolutionary advantage". not every feature organisms have are evolutionary advantages. An actual sourced description of the system would also be a big improvment, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4491543 $\endgroup$
    – John
    Sep 7, 2018 at 14:20

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