Happiness Oversite

Conscious Happiness

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Part 1 What is Consciousness
Consciousness Model
Consciousness Vessel
Part 2 Happiness
Part 3 The Happiness Strategy
Suggested Reading
About Site

By Bruce Barbour
Version 1 - April 2016

Part 1 - What is Consciousness

The Consciousness Model

The model of Consciousness that I propose consists of interrelated parts: awareness; emotion, thought; and memory. The relationship between those parts is shown in the Drawing No. 1 below.

Consciousness Model

Drawing No. 1, Diagrammatic Representation of Consciousness
(and its relationship to the body)

I will now look at each of theses aspects and how they relate to each other.


At the most basic awareness incorporates awareness of information from the body's senses. This is sense awareness.

Sense awareness is our observation of information received from the senses about our self and our universe. The first stage is simply receiving of this data from our senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch (or skin sense).

The second stage of sense awareness is pre-thought interpretation of this sense information prior to putting words / thoughts to the perception.

By pre-thought interpretation I mean putting the data from the sense information into an ordered form. For example, if we see something our mind receives signals from the optic nerve. We then interpret those signals into colours and three-dimensional shapes. At this stage the interpretation is not named, as naming is a function of thought.

Similarly for the other senses, the information received is interpreted. If something is in our mouth we will receive a taste sensation. Our thought processes will naturally try to name the taste and failing that to compare it to similar sensations. However imagine that we have never had that taste sensation previously and do not have a name for it or even a decent comparison. However despite not having a name for it the taste sensation would still be just as real. So thought is not necessary for sense awareness and if thought to name the sensation occurs, it occurs post sense awareness.

One of the aspects of sense awareness that is important is that it all occurs in the present moment. You cannot have direct sense awareness of the future or of a past moment. If a past or future moment comes into your head then it is thought and memory that is operating and not sense awareness.

Sense awareness is the first development of consciousness. In evolutionary terms sense awareness was initially necessary for a discrete organism to be aware of the environment to find food and to be able to move around. sense awareness of dangerous situations in the environment assisted the organism to avoid the situation and live longer.


The next part of consciousness is emotion. Take the example of taste discussed earlier. We may have something in our mouth that is providing a taste sensation that we cannot name. As well as these physical sensations it may also elicit feelings that are pleasurable or not. This is emotional interpretation of sense awareness.

The emotional interpretation of sense awareness information can range from nil to extreme. If we see an object that is say roundish and gray lying on the ground - a rock though not named at this stage by thought as such. We know from experience (memory) that this object is not going to harm us. Neither is it going to provide us with any benefit. Consequently the emotional response is neither fear nor pleasure. The object is just there, as part of our environment.

However if the object is a snake, though not named as such, this object may cause the emotional response of fear. This is nothing to do with our subsequent ability to name that object as a snake. We fear it because of our experience, stored in memory of this type of object in the past.

Once this emotion is experienced it can give rise to physical changes in the body and also action. The most well known of these is the so-called "fight or flight" (3) response. This response can occur if the person is in a situation that causes the emotional response of fear (for example - confronting a lion) they will probably respond in one of two ways - they will either stand and fight or runaway. This response is automatic and requires no thought (in language). Animals react in the same way, indicating that this response does not require language. However when the person has language skills and thought then these skills become involved in the process, sometimes with good result, sometimes not.

We can also have an emotional interpretation response to our thoughts. We can think of something and it may make us happy or sad, even though there may be no sense awareness input. This is important as it can create a negative feedback loop that can reinforce an emotional state.

Emotion and emotional response develops over life. As an example of an emotional response that develops over time we will take a brief look at the appreciation of beauty.

Firstly why is the appreciation of beauty considered to be an emotional response? Consider something that you find beautiful, such as a flower. Can you explain in words why you find it beautiful? You could describe the colours, the shape, the smell - by comparison - and the touch, but this would not really be a satisfactory description of the beauty of the object. This is because appreciation of beauty is an emotional response, not a thought process. Even if you attempt to describe your emotional response (by poetry or comparison) it is not as satisfactory as experiencing the emotional response itself.

Children, in general, have less appreciation of beauty. As the child develops into adulthood the appreciation of beauty grows. There are exceptions to this such as child prodigies and they too may develop further into adulthood. Examples of this are bountiful. People in childhood who may dislike or not be interested in classical music, in later life begin to appreciate the music. People's love of the country scenery and environment may develop with age. Artistic ability, the ability to create beauty, may also develop with time.

Another example of an emotional response that develops with time is love. It is an emotional response beyond words and thought.


Thought is usually in the form of words but can also be in the form of images and sounds that are in the head. Thought can be concerned with what we are doing at the present but is often involved in thinking about the future and reviewing the past.

There are a number of different types of thought processes that have developed over time.

The first thought process to develop is being able to recognise and name the interpretation of the sensory information from sense awareness. This involves memory as well. Thought would take the shapes and colours from pre-thought interpretation of sense awareness and would think, "tree" or whatever it may be.

Being a social animal further language skills developed to assist the social group to stay together and work co-operatively through communication. This increased survival chances of the group and consequently the individual.

The next type of thought process is the development of Self Thought (4). I class a thought as a Self Thought whenever the thought is related to the self, the "I", what the I is doing, has done, or should have done, in the past, or will or may do in the future. It may also be a thought about the relationship of "I" to another, or others, or to another group. Self Thought is the result of recognition that the individual while part of the group can also be separate from the group. Self Thought contains the self-image, in conjunction with memory, and includes thoughts for the protection of the self, including both the self-image and the physical self, through danger avoidance.

Our self-image includes our perception of who we are: our strengths and weaknesses, our likes and dislikes. The self-image of a person is built up over time with inputs from family, other relatives and friends, teachers and increasingly often from the media. The thing to remember about self-image is that, as it is part of our thought process, it is just words and pictures in our head. It is, as the words suggest, an image rather than necessarily reality.

Self Thought often manifests itself as a stream of near continuous chatter of thoughts. Largely the chatter is innocuous, the daily ephemera of life - words associated with the analysis of sense information, for example whether you are hungry, hot or cold, and also minor decisions - will you ring a friend or not, go to a film etc. There may also be thoughts about past actions and interactions with other people. These may be merely recounting of events rather than being negative or positive. I call this neutral Self Thought.

There are also positive and negative Self Thoughts. A positive Self Thought may be "Gee, I did that well". However there are also negative Self Thoughts. For example -. "Gee I stuffed that up, idiot" and similar. Negative Self Thoughts often arise out of thoughts for the protection of the self, including the self-image and the physical self. I will spend a bit of time going through this aspect of Self Thought.

The human race evolved in family and tribal groups as a survival mechanism for the individual - the individual had a greater probability of survival if he or she stayed with the group - safety in numbers. Language and consequently thinking in language developed to assist the group to stay together better and survive. One of the consequences of this is that the individual had a desire to fit in to the group - expulsion from the group could mean death - expulsion was danger.

Various strategies were adopted so that the person would be accepted by the group. The individual would endeavour to fit in with the group norms. As a consequence of this the individual would continually critically self assess to ensure continued conformity with the group norms. Any deviation from the perceived norm would result in anxiety and the associated negative Self Thoughts.

In addition to this desire to conform to the group norms, there evolved a desire to stay with the known. Change was seen as dangerous, or more dangerous than the known. The landscape and layout of an area would be known, dangers, such as there were, could be guarded against and controlled. Beyond the known area risks were higher so there was usually no incentive to move to the area of higher risk, unless where they were currently living for some reason became more dangerous or less liveable. Again change invoked anxiety and negative Self Thoughts.

These days the life and death dangers of our ancestors are a lot less common. The main "dangers" we face are "social dangers", the fear of making a fool of ourselves and the fear of rejection from or status downgrade by the group. Often these fears are unfounded. We could make a mistake or think we have made a fool of ourselves however we are usually not rejected from our group. Members of the group are often more forgiving than we give them credit for. It is in fact to their advantage to forgive because they know very well that it could have been themselves that made the error and they equally do not want to be rejected from the group. However these days even if we are rejected by the group this is survivable - we can get another group, unlike many of our ancestors.

Family is a special form of group. Usually the ties that bind a family are stronger than those that bind another type of group. As such, family is usually a great support to a person as they move about in the world.

In many ways despite the lack of physical danger we still experience the emotional response that in the past would have given rise to the fight or flight response. However the fight response is now constrained, usually to a verbal response if anything, and even the flight response can be difficult. Consequently the emotional response can be bottled up, resulting in the experience of stress and anxiety.

Positive Self Thoughts also occur. A detailed discussion of this will occur in Part 2, Happiness.

Many books on the subject tend to indicate that negative Self Thoughts are more prevalent than positive Self Thoughts. I think that neutral Self Thoughts are the most prevalent form of Self Thought. Whether negative Self Thoughts out-numbers positive Self Thoughts varies from individual to individual, though it safe to say that most people have a significant number of negative Self Thoughts. I will leave the reader to examine their thought processes and determine the prevalence of negative Self Thought in their consciousness.

Intellect is our reasoning, planning and learning ability and is the thought side of our skill set.

Intellect is not solely language based but can also include images and symbols. The basics of intellect developed prior to our language skills and were necessary for the development of language skills. For example a dog can have a degree of Intellect, it can learn skills and a limited degree of problem solving without having a highly developed language skill. However that said, Intellect does make extensive use of language skills to develop and express the ideas generated from Intellect.

As with language and Self Thought, intellect developed as a survival skill, enabling humanity to foresee problems and dangers before they occur and to plan and devise methods to avoid them. However it has developed past solely this function to a more general ability to study our environment, to learn and develop theories about it and apply the theories. Intellect in this context does not necessarily mean university type intellect, it also means the intelligence associated with, and necessary for, work and other everyday skills. Everyone has intellect.

Intellect is quite different to Self Thought, though the two can be woven together in our thought stream. As a child I would learn my ABCs. This is a vital fact set necessary for functioning in our society. As part of a fact set it stands separate to anything to do with the self, the "I".

Similarly with spelling. The spelling of C A T is a fact. In later schooling is used to learn less tangible ideas, theories and processes. We learn the basic mathematics skill set of adding and subtracting. Self Thought may use these skills - "If I have one orange and I take another orange I will have two oranges." However one orange plus one orange equals two oranges is a fact regardless of who owns them.

Later this extends into more complex mathematical theories. Remember trigonometry, quadratic equations and differential calculus? These involve mathematical concepts that require Intellect thought processes to learn and understand.

Intellect is used in developing our physical skill set. A builder develops a large amount of knowledge about house building and a set of physical skills. This is not necessarily a language based process though language is used to gain, develop and communicate the skill set. Assembling a timber frame is not a Self Thought process, but uses Intellect knowledge to inform a set of physical skills.

Self Thought often identifies with the Intellect. Consequently as part of a person's Self Thought processes, as part of their self-image, they may think, "I am an intelligent person because I understand these difficult concepts". However this is different to actual thought related to Intellect. Einstein developing through intellectual thought processes that "E=mc2" cannot be considered as a Self Thought as it is not related to the self-image and has universal applicability - it is not just related to Einstein. Thinking, "I am an intelligent person" is an example of a positive Self Thought.

Two important aspect of intellect deserves mention. Firstly intellect can examine Self Thought. Provided the person wants to, and is aware enough, the person can with the use of Intellect observe and analyse Self Thought. This gives the ability to recognise harmful aspects of Self Thought (and therefore be able to do something about them and perhaps vary subsequent Self Thought). Consequently it can sometimes appear that there are two separate "I"s in the head, the chatterbox Self Thought and the analysing Intellect.

The second important aspect of Intellect is that it gives the ability to formulate or adopt personal theories about how society and the world operates and also the values that are adopted by a person. Values are the principles that are seen by the person as important and as good and will be discussed at greater length later.

Creative imagination is our ability to create in our mind stories and pictures of things that are new. Creative iImagination can give rise to creativity, the physical act of creating. The survival payoff from Creative Imagination is less clear than other thought processes. It is probably a spin off from our planning ability - if you can foresee a situation that may occur, it is not that much of a leap to be able to foresee a situation that may not occur or is in fact impossible. A form of imagination is often used in negative Self Thought to imagine disastrous situations that could but probably wouldn't occur if we deviate from the norm or seek change. This is not creative imagination. Creative imagination assists in various intellectual pursuits. Imaginative leaps may assist in the development of intellect theories.

Again Self Thought often identifies with the Imagination for similar reasons to those listed in the section on Intellect. The reasons why it is not Self Thought are also similar.

Relationship of Emotion and Thought

It is important to recognise that emotions and thought are quite different to each other. An emotion is not a thought and vice versa. However emotions can be interpreted by thought (5).  If you are feeling sad then it is quite likely that your thought process will put words to this feeling - "I am sad" or "I am feeling blue". In this case the thought interpretation of the emotion is probably correct.

This process can also work in reverse. A thought can invoke an emotional response. Often the Thought can be from a memory of a happy or sad event that will invoke more than just a memory of the emotion but a re-experiencing of the emotion, though probably at a less intense level.


Each aspect of consciousness draws on memory as a tool.

In relation to thought, memory is in the form of words, including naming. Memory is involved in the recognition of faces and other things. It also includes the memory of concepts and ideas associated with the intellect.
In relation to awareness it is the memory of sense information - sights, sounds, touch etc and the pre-thought interpretation.

In relation to emotion it is the memory of past emotions that arose from the interpretation of sense information. We will remember how something made us feel so when we encounter that object again or another similar object the emotional response will be remembered making a different emotional response difficult.
The subconscious or more correctly the emotional subconscious also sits as part of Memory, and probably the largest part. However unlike other memory the subconscious is not readily accessible by the rest of consciousness. The contents of the emotional subconscious bubbles up into emotional awareness at which stage thought can become involved interpreting the emotion into words. Conversely it is very difficult for thought processes to affect the content of the emotional subconscious.

Next Page - The Consciousness Vessel


3. Also refer to Wikipedia entry on the Fight or Flight Response

4. Self Thought can be thought of as "Ego" or "Egoic Thought" however these terms have been used extensively in psychology (refer Wikipedia Entry on Id, Ego and Super Ego) and have particular meaning from that discipline which is different from my usage. Also in popular literature the term "Ego" can be loaded with negative connotations. While Self Thought has negative aspects it also has positive and neutral aspects.

5. It is possible that the interpretation of emotion by thought is not direct. It is possible that the emotion needs to be first caught by awareness and that awareness is what is interpreted by thought. This is a technical point and it is actually not that useful to our understanding of the interaction of thought and emotion. Whether we say the interpretation is via awareness or direct the important thing is that emotions are interpreted. For the sake of convenience I will use the direct interpretation terminology.

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