We can all agree that there’s nothing wrong with wanting to add a little more happiness to our lives. When it comes to this, obviously it’s hard to truly define what happiness is or what types of things and experiences produce it. A science of happiness or “positive psychology” has emerged in recent years, and it may be about to get a boost from research taken to try to measure happiness objectively.
Using MRI scans, researchers at Kyoto University in Japan have pinpointed an area of the brain called the “precuneus” – this is located in the parietal lobe of the brain, which is thought to be responsible for consciousness in humans. According to the study, this is the area that’s responsible for happiness, and, according to the research team, that’s the first step to understanding how to increase it.
The team has learned the key to happiness seems to be a mix of happy emotions and satisfaction with life. This is nothing we weren’t really privy to already, but what’s interesting is how they arrived at this conclusion.
Researchers first took MRI scans of the study’s subjects. The volunteers then took a survey that asked about how often they were happy, how strong their emotions were, and how satisfied they were with life.
Consulting other sources such as psychology researchers, they acknowledged that happiness consists in some blend of momentary, hedonistic mental feelings as well as satisfaction with life experiences. The experimental participants who scored highly on this complex survey turned out to have a larger precuneus area of the brain, indicating that they “feel happiness more intensely, feel sadness less intensely, and are more able to find meaning in life.”
And while we know that people can experience different levels of happiness depending on specific situations, researchers are still not sure about the exact process in the brain that causes the happiness. However, they have linked a now common practice to gaining more of it: Meditation. It makes some sense; with meditation, your aim is to focus on the here and now and as such, the present experiences that bring you joy.
Lead author of the study, Wataru Sato, said that several studies have shown that meditation increases grey matter mass in the precuneus, and, therefore, our happiness factor over time.
“This new insight into where happiness happens in the brain will be useful for developing happiness programs based on scientific research,” he said.
While this research is interesting, until we gain further answers on how to measure such an emotion, the best thing is to simply focus on finding your own joy in life – through the big and little moments – and you won’t veer wrong. And perhaps if you were contemplating the idea of taking up meditation, now might be as good a time as any to start.
Read the full study here.