The ABCs of Happiness, Meaning, and a “Good Life”

Dr. Shawn Talbott (Ph.D., CNS, LDN, FACSM, FACN, FAIS) has gone from triathlon struggler to gut-brain guru! With a Ph.D. in Nutritional Biochemistry, he's on a mission to boost everyday human performance through the power of natural solutions and the gut-brain axis.

Today (March 20, 2024) is “International Day of Happiness” and earlier this morning, the United Nations released the World Happiness Report 2024, which you can read and download at =

The biggest “take-aways” from the report and the “State of Happiness 2024 Conference” that launched this year’s report this morning, are that the USA has fallen outside the top 20 happiest countries for the first time = mostly because…

  1. Levels of “positive emotions” are declining
  2. Levels of “negative emotions” are increasing
  3. Levels of social support and social interactions versus loneliness are becoming more unbalanced toward isolation
  4. Young people are increasingly feeling like they are being left behind economically

Luckily, there are lots of things that we can do (and fairly easily) to increase daily happiness – and here is a nice slide from one of my favorite happiness researchers – Dr. Arthur Brooks – about what we often “get wrong” about what leads to happiness (and the “right” answers)…

As you can see from the slide above, how we “think” about happiness can have a significant effect on what we “experience” as happiness.

I study happiness from a different perspective – a biochemical one – where “biochemistry drives behaviors” – and where specific aspects of metabolism are related to our sensations of feeling happy/sad, energetic/fatigued, focused/confused, calm/tense, tranquil/stressed, and so many more.

As a “PsychoNutritionist” (with a PhD in Nutritional Biochemistry), I am a proponent of the “food/mood connection” and an advocate that nutrition is one of the fastest, easiest and most significant ways to change our mental wellness for the better.

The food/mood connection basically boils down to eating fewer ultra-processed foods – and eating more less-processed (whole) foods.

We can also enhance those effects by supplementing our diets with concentrated nutrients such as probiotics, prebiotics, and phytonutrients – and this is why I formulate a range of nutrition products that are specifically designed to elevate different aspects of mental wellness by naturally balancing the Microbiome (gut bacteria) and optimizing the Gut-Brain-Axis.

Properly formulated products can improve mood (serotonin), motivation (dopamine), focus (acetylcholine), stress (cortisol), connection (oxytocin), libido (estrogen/testosterone), sleep (melatonin), pain (cytokines), and much more – so we can honestly feel “happier” in our day-to-day lives (because of this “coordinated neurotransmitter balance”).

But – it would be even better if we could not only achieve higher levels of “daily happiness” – but also find more “meaning” and an elevated ability to live a “good life” (more on what that means below).

That is what we’re doing at Amare Global – by allowing people to access science-based natural products to enhance mental Wellness (“happiness”) – and to build a business around helping other people (“meaning”) to achieve their own success while helping others (“good life”).

I’ve written and spoken many times about what makes a “good life” – often referring to the results from the Harvard Study of Adult Development (~80+ years and still going strong). That study, often called the Harvard Longevity Study or the Harvard Happiness Study – asks the simple question of “what makes for a good life?”

The answer – after 80+ years of collecting data – basically boils down to feeling like you earned your own success, while serving others.

It isn’t about making a lot of money – or having a fancy title – or a big staff. Nor was it about the things you owned or the trips you took or even the achievements you accomplished (although some of those might be seen as markers of success – many of us know “successful” people who are miserable).

In retrospect, “earning your own success by serving others” makes perfect sense as a recipe for a “good life” because this is the same recipe for finding “meaning” in our lives.

Social scientists who study “meaning” often talk about the ABCs – Autonomy, Belonging, and Cause. Each of these is a “human need” that we all have – and when one or more of them is not being met, we feel that our lives are less than good and certainly not meaningful.

“Earning your own success” is a sign of Autonomy (the need to be in charge of our own choices)

“Serving others” is a sign of both Belonging (the need to be part of a community) and Cause (the need to feel that we’re part of something bigger than ourselves).

Autonomy empowers individuals to take ownership of their lives, allowing us to explore our true potential and pursue our goals with a sense of purpose. It is through autonomy that we cultivate a strong sense of self, develop resilience, and embrace personal growth.

Belonging, on the other hand, is the innate need to connect with others and be a part of a community. It is the sense of being accepted, understood, and valued by others. Belonging provides us with a support system, a sense of security, and a shared identity.

Cause is related to Belonging (partly because “big” causes require a community rather than a lone individual) – and is the commitment to making a positive impact on the world and contributing to something meaningful. Cause gives us a sense of direction and motivates us to work towards creating change – especially when the going is tough. It is through cause that we find fulfillment, a sense of accomplishment, and a deeper understanding of our place in the world. Cause inspires us to use our autonomy and belonging to make a difference, whether it be through activism, social entrepreneurship, or volunteering.

Each of the ABCs are interconnected and mutually reinforcing. Autonomy provides the foundation for individuals to explore their passions and find their cause. Belonging provides the support and encouragement needed to pursue that cause, fostering a sense of unity and shared purpose. Cause, in turn, strengthens autonomy and belonging by providing individuals with a sense of meaning and fulfillment.

The balance between each of our individual ABCs will be a little different and related to our unique personalities. For example, I am personally about 50% A, 20% B, and 30% C – so I would view any threat to my autonomy as a big deal. My wife is less “A” (maybe 20%) and much more B and C (~40% each) – but that is what works for her and brings “meaning” to her life.

What if your ABCs are under threat – or out of (personal) balance? We need to adapt (!!!) and temporarily “lean in” to one of the other ABCs. Let me use a personal example to illustrate this point.

The company that I helped start more than 7 years ago (Amare Global) was recently purchased – so now I (and our entire executive team) report to a new ownership group. This change is undoubtedly a positive thing for our Cause of “leading the global Mental Wellness movement” – but with change, comes uncertainty – which might not be a good thing for our sense of Autonomy (e.g. “why is everyone questioning my decisions?”) and Belonging (e.g. “I don’t feel secure in my position”). 

I try to remind my colleagues (and myself), that while our sense of Autonomy might suffer somewhat (at least in the “getting to know you” phase of a corporate acquisition), we can “lean in” and strengthen our connection to the Cause (which is the reason that we started or joined the company in the first place) as a way to help bolster our enthusiasm and motivation to deliver excellence amid uncertainty.

This is just one example, but it makes the point that by recognizing and nurturing our own unique balance of the ABCs, we can unlock our full potential as individuals and create a more connected and purposeful society that encourages others to find their own meaning and to live their own good life.

So – to sum up on International Happiness Day – we all have the ability to make a few small decisions that will enable us to become the best versions of ourselves…

Happiness (feeling good) – by using Amare products – check 

Good Life (earning success + helping others) – by sharing Amare products – check

Meaning (ABCs) – by feeling empowered to be part of a team doing something big – check

Thanks for reading,


About the Author

Exercise physiologist (MS, UMass Amherst) and Nutritional Biochemist (PhD, Rutgers) who studies how lifestyle influences our biochemistry, psychology and behavior - which kind of makes me a "Psycho-Nutritionist"?!?!

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