Being Happy: It’s All In Your Brain

Some people just seem to be happier than others and it isn’t because they’re drop-dead gorgeous, rich, healthy, and in a perfect relationship.  I’m sure all those things help.  I wouldn’t know but a recently published study indicates that a particular region of our brain is responsible for how happy we feel.  “The structural neural substrate of subjective happiness,” (Sato, W. et al. 2015) asserts that subjective happiness is associated with increased gray matter volume in the precuneus.  A correlation between purpose in life and positive and negative emotional intensity scores was also noted.

Participants in the study underwent an MRI scan and then answered psychological questionnaires.  These questionnaires included Japanese versions of the Subjective Happiness Scale, Emotional Intensity Scale, State-Trait Anxiety Inventory, and The Purpose of Life test.  MRI results were then compared to how participants scored on these particular tests.

Results support that intensity of positive and negative emotions and purpose of life scores affected subjective happiness scores.  In other words,  if you have happy emotions and feel like you have a purpose in life, you’re probably a happy person.  So, what does that mean for us sarcastic, snarky types who find the dark lining in every silver cloud?

Well, it may mean that our precuneus is a size or two too small, like the Grinch Who Stole Christmas’s heart.  But like the Grinch whose heart eventually grew, our down-in-the-dumps precuneus can too!  The key may be meditation.  With a little psychological training through meditation we may be able to actually increase the size of our precuneus gray matter volume.  Think of it as a workout for your brain to increase your perceived feelings of happiness.  Our lives might still stink but we’ll be happy about it!

If you would like to read the entire study visit:  http://www.nature.com/articles/srep16891

Sato, W. et al. The structural neural substrate of subjective happiness. Sci. Rep. 5, 16891; doi: 10.1038/srep16891 (2015).