What, exactly, causes happiness? A team of researchers aim to find answers by looking at happiness from the neurological perspective.
The research team from Kyoto University said that happiness is a combination of positive emotions and feeling satisfaction in life which occurs in the precuneus, a region of the parietal lobe in the brain.
The precuneus is the area responsible for self-consciousness, which enables people to assess their personality traits and compare themselves and the state of their lives to others. Studies have shown that those with bigger precuneus areas are better at processing information regarding self-awareness and feeling positive emotions.
"Psychological studies have shown that subjective happiness can be measured reliably and consists of emotional and cognitive components. However, the neural substrates of subjective happiness remain unclear," the research team, led Kyoto University researcher and psychologist Wataru Sato, wrote in their paper.
The team used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to scan the brains of 51 participants. They were first interviewed by mental health workers to clear them of any neuropsychiatric conditions before being given a Subjective Happiness Scale questionnaire to self-assess their levels of positive and negative emotions and being scanned by the MRI.
Results showed that participants, who had higher self-assessment scores on the questionnaires had more grey matter in their precuneus areas, thus are able to feel happiness more strongly than sadness.
This proved that emotions are also influenced by neurological roots. Sato also believed that this finding can help other researchers to eventually be able to objectively assess and quantify happiness levels.
"Over history, many eminent scholars like Aristotle have contemplated what happiness is," Sato said. "I'm very happy that we now know more about what it means to be happy."
Other studies have also shown that certain areas in the brain having more grey matter can help others perceive rewards and consequences of certain actions and decisions better. They may also feel a stronger sense of accomplishment over successes.
But with this new insight to research, Sato and his research team hoped that their findings will also help researchers eventually develop happiness programs and even successfully increase grey matter in the parts of the brain necessary to facilitate feelings of happiness.