What is happiness? It's the kind of question we as living, breathing humans have always asked and likely always will ask, focusing on external factors in our lives that seem to bring us an ever-fleeting sense of fulfillment. No matter how often we're told that materialism doesn't lead to happiness and that we should look inside ourselves to discover what really will, we're still collectively in the dark about how it all really works. However, now that a team of scientists has located the "happiness center" of the brain, the physiological secrets of life's ultimate goal are starting to open up.
In a study published in Scientific Reports, a research team at Kyoto University in Japan led by Waturu Sato discovered that the kind of emotions and contentment we get from positive life events have an impact on the precuneus, which is a part of the parietal lobe of the brain. Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), the team analyzed the brain of 51 participants and measured their subjective happiness and emotions. The goal was to find both an emotional component and a cognitive component to happiness, and a questionnaire was used to understand participants' current state of happiness and satisfaction with their lives.
The findings revealed that the participants who had the highest "happiness score" had more gray matter in the precuneus than those who were generally less happy about their lives. Furthermore, the researchers noted that the intensity of positive and negative emotions and life satisfaction were associated with this part of the brain, leading them to conclude that the precuneus of happy people or those who feel positive emotions intensely was measurably bigger than the opposite.
"Several studies have shown that meditation increases gray matter mass in the precuneus," confirmed Dr. Sato. "This new insight on where happiness happens in the brain will be useful for developing happiness programs based on scientific research."
So although the findings in this study aren't exactly a quick-fix solution to feeling down about your life, they do open up an avenue for helpful programs down the road that are based in science and not what other happy people do or a happiness challenge of some kind. That's not to discredit these methods, but only to say that the way each person experiences happiness due to external factors is different. By understanding the response of the brain to these factors on a wide scale, maybe we can get a little closer to analytically figuring out the secret sauce to happiness.
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