Homeostasis Theory of Well-being

Homeostasis is a singular unifying principle for all living beings. Homeostasis operates at all levels of nature in every living system: in molecules, cells, tissues, organs, organisms, societies, ecosystems and the planet as a whole (Lovelock, 2009). Tissue homeostasis regulates the birth (mitosis) and death of cells (apoptosis); many diseases are directly attributable to defective homeostasis leading to over production or under production of new cells relative to cell deletion (Fadeel & Orrenius, 2005).

Biochemical and physiological feedback loops regulate billions of cells and thousands of compounds and reactions in the human body to maintain body temperature, metabolism, blood pH, fluid levels, blood glucose and insulin concentrations inside the body (Matthews et al., 1985). A body in good physical health is in biochemical and physiological homeostasis. Severe disruptions of homeostasis cause illnesses or can be fatal.

The General Theory of Behaviour (GTB) (Marks, 2018) extends the principle of homeostasis to behaviour, experience and psychological well-being.

A basic structure for homeostasis. Homeostasis involves several interacting processes in a causal network. A homeostatic adjustment in one process necessitates a compensatory adjustment in one or more of the other interacting processes.

Illustration credit: Graham McPhee.

The General Theory proposes that all behaviour and experience follow the principle of homeostasis. The GTB distinguishes between Physiological or ‘Type I’ Homeostasis and Psychological or ‘Type II’ Homeostasis. Homeostasis also operates at lower levels of organisation including the cellular level (Type O Homeostasis) and higher levels of organisation including the social (Type III Homeostasis) and ecological levels (Type IV Homeostasis).

A person in good health is in a state of homeostatic balance that operates across all five systems of cellular, physiological, psychological, social and ecological homeostasis. Outward and inward stability in any living being is only possible with continuous accommodation and adaptation. All living beings strive to maintain equilibrium and stability within themselves and the surrounding environment through millions of micro-adjustments and adaptations to continuously changing circumstances. In any conscious being, adjustments and adaptations can be both conscious and unconscious. However, the majority of fine adjustments occur at an unconscious level, hidden from both external observers and the individual actor.

The General Theory can be illustrated using the moderately complex system that regulates well-being. The Homeostasis Theory of Well-being utilises the fact that human beings are natural agents of change. Humans adapt, accommodate and ameliorate under continuously changing conditions, both external and internal, to maximise the stability and equilibrium of physical and mental well-being. A diagram describing the Homeostasis Theory of Well-being (HTW) is shown below.

Screen Shot 2018-08-22 at 14.38.20The Homeostasis Theory of Well-being  (Marks, 2015)

In this theory, well-being is the outcome of a multiplex of continuously changing feedback loops in a system with four component processes: well-being; cognitive appraisal; emotion; and action. Homeostasis maintain both physical and psychological equilibrium with the ever-changing external and internal environments courtesy of an infinitude of micro-feedback-systems that fall within four macro-systems.

Psychological homeostasis regulates through feedback loops that control thought, emotion and action. Continuously flexible micro-adjustments of activity within feedback loops maintain equilibrium from moment to moment. Psychological homeostasis occurs in response to the infinite variety of circumstances that can affect well-being, including both internal adjustments (e.g. emotional regulation) and external adjustments using deliberate behavioural regulation (e.g. communicating, working, eating and drinking). In synchrony and synergy with all of the body’s other homeostatic mechanisms, psychological homeostasis operates throughout life during both waking and sleep.

In prevention and treatment of clinical conditions, individuals can be helped by technological aids designed to feedback physiological data using behavioural homeostasis, e.g. in diabetes, metabolic syndrome, hypertension, thyroid problems, skin disorders such as urticaria, or obesity. Cellular, physiological and psychological homeostasis are of similar complexity. Behavioural forms of homeostasis occur in actions designed to support neural systems of regulation. Social homeostasis in supportive actions by other humans, requested or volunteered, provides another way to support and protect an individual’s well-being.

Inputs to homeostasis include technological systems such as: (1) scales for measuring body weight; (2) thermometers to measure body temperature; (3) pulse measurements; (4) electro-mechanical homeostasis, developed by engineers to enhance human control systems such as heating (thermostat), driving (cruise control), navigation (automatic pilot), and space exploration (computer navigation systems); (5) life support systems (e.g. artificial respirators, drip feeding, kidney dialysis, intensive care units); (6) medical and surgical interventions; (7) pharmaceutics; (8) alternative and complementary therapies; (9) yoga and meditation.

People are social and affective beings and these are qualities that must be included in any theory of behaviour. The Homeostasis Theory of Well-being needs to be tested in randomised controlled trials and prospective studies to determine its scientific validity and applicability to health care.

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