Can happiness actually be quantified?
Is it just some nebulous, vague concept that we all understand but can’t truly measure, or can it be identified and pinpointed in the human brain?
According to a 2015 study, it may very well be possible to “find happiness in the human brain”.
The study, conducted at Kyoto University , set out to find concrete neurological proof of happiness. They subjected participants to MRIs that examined their brains, and gave them surveys that asked them questions like:
How happy do you feel generally?
How intensely do you experience emotions?
How satisfied are you with your life?
The MRIs revealed that people who rated their life as “happier” tended to have a higher concentration of gray matter mass located in the precuneus, a region of the brain associated with mental imagery, memory retrieval, recollection, integration of information, and pain response. The precuneus is also known to “become active when experiencing consciousness”, and research has shown that meditation can actually cause the precuneus to grow.
According to the study’s lead author, “This new insight on where happiness happens in the brain will be useful for developing happiness programs based on scientific research.” Thanks to this information, scientists may be able to create programs aimed specifically at increasing happiness through psychological treatments using neurological data that can be quantified using MRIs.
It’s a discovery that could have HUGE impacts on the future of mental health treatments because now we know where to “find” happiness in the human brain—and we know how to measure the presence of happiness.
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Want to Be Happy? Here’s How to Achieve It, According to Science
It should come as no surprise that science has spent A LOT of time researching happiness and the methods of achieving it. Even throughout history—as far back as Aristotle and the earliest philosophers—scholars and great minds have dedicated immense energy into discovering the paths to happiness.
Modern science has made huge strides and provided some fascinating insights on the best, most effective means of achieving happiness in your daily life:
Buying experiences. A lot of us spend money on things because of the short-term emotional boost that we get when we get our hands on something new and “cool”. But the real benefit, according to a 2009 study from San Francisco State University , comes from using our money to buy new life experiences. Even simple things like theater tickets or a meal out with your loved ones will boost your happiness far more than material possessions.
Buying time. Using money to “buy time” really means paying someone else to do the menial tasks you have to do regularly (cooking, cleaning, driving, etc.) has been linked to greater life satisfaction in a study from the University of British Columbia . Because someone else is doing the boring tasks you dislike, you have more time to dedicate to other activities that make you happy and improve your mood.
Buying things for others. The University of British Columbia also found  that spending money on others—either as charitable donations or gifts—it leads to “significant” improvements in happiness. Of all the participants involved in their study, people who spent more money on others reported the highest levels of happiness compared to those who spent more money on themselves.
Meditating. Meditation has been proven to increase gray matter in the precuneus, visible proof that it can lead to greater happiness. But a 2010 study from the University of Cambridge  also found that it increased other positive emotions, including affection, contentment, and interest. People who meditated were prone to functioning better overall than those who didn’t.
Spending more time in nature. Surely you’ve noticed how you tend to feel lighter and better after a walk through the forest, a swim in a gorgeous lake, or a hike up a mountain trail. That’s because spending more time in nature has been scientifically proven to improve happiness. A study from the National University of Singapore  found that countries with the highest amount of nature experiences also had the highest rates of life satisfaction among its residents.
Exercising and eating right. A 2021 study from the University of Kent  proved that eating your fruits and veggies and getting in your daily workout leads you to feel overall happier with life—a direct causal link between a healthy lifestyle and life satisfaction!
Socializing with friends and family. Social interaction is crucial for maintaining high levels of happiness and combatting depression, but did you know that happiness can actually spread through your social network? That’s right, a Harvard Medical School study  proved that happiness can trigger a chain reaction that spreads up to “three degrees” (friends of friends of friends), an effect that can last for up to a year!
Happiness doesn’t have to be some elusive, impossible-to-find mythical entity. Thanks to science, you have real, practical steps you can take to bring happiness into your life starting TODAY!
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