A team of researchers at Kyoto University have pinpointed where happiness happens in our brains.
According to Wataru Sato, Ph.D., and his research team at the Japanese university, overall happiness is a combination of happy emotions and satisfaction of life coming together in the precuneus, a region in the medial parietal lobe that becomes active when experiencing consciousness.
The researchers noted that people feel emotions in different ways. For instance, some feel happiness more intensely than others when they receive compliments. Psychologists have found that emotional factors like these combined with satisfaction of life constitutes the subjective experience of being happy.
The neural mechanism behind how happiness emerges, however, remained unclear. Understanding that mechanism will be a huge asset for quantifying levels of happiness objectively, according to Sato.
For the study, the researchers scanned the brains of study participants using MRI. The participants then took a survey that asked how happy they are generally, how intensely they feel emotions, and how satisfied they are with their lives.
The analysis revealed that those who scored higher on the happiness surveys had more grey matter mass in the precuneus. In other words, people who feel happiness more intensely, feel sadness less intensely, and are more able to find meaning in life have a larger precuneus.
“Over history, many eminent scholars like Aristotle have contemplated what happiness is,” Sato said. “I’m very happy that we now know more about what it means to be happy.”
But how does this help us achieve happiness? Sato noted he is hopeful about the implications this has for happiness training.
“Several studies have shown that meditation increases grey matter mass in the precuneus,” he said. “This new insight on where happiness happens in the brain will be useful for developing happiness programs based on scientific research.”
Source: Kyoto University