Although they must be appreciative of the safe environment and reliable food supply, the penguins in a traditional zoo setting may be bored because there are few activities that require the natural abilities they’ve developed to survive in the wild. Remember, in the wild these animals are highly trained creatures capable of running, flying, swimming, attacking, hunting, hiding, patrolling, investigating and so forth. They are like competitive athletes who exercise for long hours of the day. They can perform a wide variety of actions that require sensory, physical and cognitive strength and concentration.
But their potential has no outlet in a traditional zoo setting.
When the penguins were freed during the “Penguin Walk,” they suddenly became engaged in the activities that they were good at. When they are engaged, they look excited and happy. And that makes visitors excited and happy.
Conceptual State of the Penguins during the “Penguin Walk”
Based on what we saw in the animals, we can establish a hypothesis that brings us closer to demystifying the relationship between emptiness and happiness.
At the beginning of Chapter 1, we assumed that happiness is a result of two inversely correlated factors, pain and pleasure. We feel more satisfaction when pain is reduced and pleasure is gained. And we further assumed that the less pain and more pleasure we have, the happier we feel. More pleasure is always better.
But this assumption cannot explain what happened to the penguins at the Asahiyama Zoo. They looked more excited and happier when their food was placed further away, and they had to walk all the way to get it. In addition, they didn’t mind at all being unleashed and released into a less protected environment. Apparently, the amount of pain and pleasure is not the only factor that determines the amount of happiness we feel. There is another critical factor, which is the level of arousal.
Hypothetical interaction of External Stimulus, Satisfaction and Arousal
Contrary to our assumptions that the amount of pleasure/pain is somewhat proportionally correlated to the level of happiness we feel (top figure) – we feel happier when we have more pleasure and less pain – the level of satisfaction can only be maximized when the amount of external stimulus is aligned with our optimal arousal level (bottom figure). We feel true happiness when we receive an adequate amount of pleasure or pain, which would let our cognitive condition stay at an optimal point: not too bored, not too stressed.
This is the hypothesis we will be using throughout this website in order to understand the relationship between emptiness and happiness.