Happiness is often subjective, all sorts of things make people happy, but a team of scientists are close to figuring exactly what causes the feeling of happiness. The team is approaching the question of happiness from a neurological angle. Based in Kyoto University, Wataru Sato, the study’s lead author, and his group of researchers have isolated the precuneus, a region in the parietal lobe associated with consciousness, as a region that lights up when people feel happy.
EurekAlert reported on Nov 20, that Sato and his team believe that overall happiness is a culmination of brief happy feelings coming together with a greater satisfaction with life. However, not everyone feels happiness the same way. For example, some people have a much greater emotional response to compliments than others do. Studying the subjective experience of happiness is further complicated by the fact that scientists still aren’t sure about the exact neural mechanism that makes people feel happy.
Sato and his team located the relationship between happiness and the precuneus by running a group of research participants through a series of surveys and MRI brain scans. The experiment found that those who measured higher in terms of overall happiness and satisfaction on the surveys also had more grey matter mass in the precuneus. This means that, for the most part, people who feel emotions of happiness more intensely, are more content with their lives, and don’t feel depressed as easily, have a bigger precuneus.
According to Sato the study has some major implications for future research into what makes people feel happy, but the study also suggests some immediate means to increase happiness. “Several studies have shown that meditation increases grey matter mass in the precuneus. This new insight on where happiness happens in the brain will be useful for developing happiness programs based on scientific research,” he said.
Sato hopes that we will soon discover exactly what the neural mechanism that causes happiness is, as that is the key to most future research on the topic and will allow for more objective measures of happiness. For now, Sato and his team are happy with the major step they have made towards discovering the source of good feelings.
“Several studies have shown that meditation increases grey matter mass in the precuneus. This new insight on where happiness happens in the brain will be useful for developing happiness programs based on scientific research,” said Sato. “I’m very happy that we now know more about what it means to be happy.”