Researchers pinpoint brain’s happiness region

creativity1.jpg Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence,” the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle once said. But how does one reach this goal? According to a new study by researchers from Japan, a person’s happiness may depend on the size of a specific brain region.

Researchers found people who were happier had larger gray matter volume in the precuneus region of the brain.

Study leader Dr. Wataru Sato, of Kyoto University in Japan, and colleagues publish their findings in the journal Scientific Reports.

The definition of happiness has been debated for centuries. In recent years, psychologists have suggested that happiness is a combination of life satisfaction and the experience of more positive than negative emotions – collectively deemed “subjective well-being.”

But according to Dr. Sato and his colleagues, the neurological mechanisms behind a person’s happiness were unclear.

“To date, no structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) investigation of the construct has been conducted,” they note.

“Identification of the neural substrates underlying subjective happiness may provide a complementary objective measure for this subjective construct and insight into its information-processing mechanism.”

 

Meditation may boost happiness by targeting precuneus brain region

To address this research gap, the team used MRI to scan the brains of 51 study participants.

After the scans, subjects were asked to complete three short questionnaires that asked them how satisfied they are with their lives, how happy they are and how intensely they feel positive and negative emotions.

The researchers found that individuals who had higher happiness scores had larger gray matter volume in the precuneus of the brain – a region in the medial parietal lobe that plays a role in self-reflection and certain aspects of consciousness – than their unhappy counterparts.YMen.jpg

What is more, the researchers found that one’s happiness may be driven by a combination of greater life satisfaction and intensity of positive emotion – supporting the theory of subjective well-being.

“These results indicate that the widely accepted psychological model postulating emotional and cognitive components of subjective happiness may be applicable at the level of neural structure,” they add.

These findings, the researchers say, indicate that individuals may be able to boost their happiness through practices that target the precuneus, such as meditation:

“Previous structural neuroimaging studies have shown that training in psychological activities, such as meditation, changed the structure of the precuneus gray matter.

Together with these findings, our results suggest that psychological training that effectively increases gray matter volume in the precuneus may enhance subjective happiness.”

Dr. Sato adds that, while further research is required, these current findings may be useful for developing psychological programs that boost a person’s happiness.

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It takes two

It takes two to lie. One to lie and one to listen. Homer Simpson

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Different Cultures Enhances Creativity

Creativity can be enhanced by experiencing cultures different from one’s own, according to a study in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (published by SAGE).

Three studies looked at students who had lived abroad and those who hadn’t, testing them on different aspects of creativity. Relative to a control group, which hadn’t experienced a different culture, participants in the different culture group provided more evidence of creativity in various standard tests of the trait. Those results suggest that multicultural learning is a critical component of the adaptation process, acting as a creativity catalyst.

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The researchers believe that the key to the enhanced creativity was related to the students’ open-minded approach in adapting to the new culture. In a global world, where more people are able to acquire multicultural experiences than ever before, this research indicates that living abroad can be even more beneficial than previously thought.

“Given the literature on structural changes in the brain that occur during intensive learning experiences, it would be worthwhile to explore whether neurological changes occur within the creative process during intensive foreign culture experiences,” write the authors, William W. Maddux, Hajo Adam, and Adam D. Galinsky. “That can help paint a more nuanced picture of how foreign culture experiences may not only enhance creativity but also, perhaps literally, as well as figuratively, broaden the mind.

The article “When in Rome… Learn Why the Romans Do What They Do: How Multicultural Learning Experiences Facilitate Creativity” in the June 2010 issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

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The mindful way through depression

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Observing thoughts

In mindfulness, you learn to see thoughts as just thoughts rather than as facts or situations you must react to. Thoughts commonly come and go in the mind, and if you treat all thoughts as true and assign them all the same level of importance, you’re more prone to feel down in the midst of negative or self-judgmental thoughts and highly elated in the midst of positive thoughts. This rollercoaster ride of emotions and energy often seems to trace the same path as bipolar disorder’s ups and downs.
By practicing mindfulness, you notice that both types of thoughts are just thoughts, and you don’t need to react to them or even give them your full attention. After all, thoughts arise merely out of your perception of reality or are borne out of your own thought process. You’re not required to give them the full status of being true. Mindfulness involves watching thoughts and stepping back from them – like watching clouds passing through the sky. This enables you to become a disinterested observer, and thoughts lose some of their control over your emotions.less_stress_by_antre.jpg

Switching modes of mind

Mindfulness also emphasizes learning to switch modes of mind. Normally you operate in “doing mode,” which is all about setting goals and trying to achieve them. Many people get stuck in this mode and never realize they have the option of shifting to “being mode,” which is all about allowing and accepting things just as they are, rather than working hard to change them.
Being mode is particularly helpful in the realm of emotions. If you’re feeling sad and don’t accept it, you can end up fighting to change the experience. This can lead to a deeper feeling of sadness and trigger a negative thought cycle. By being with the experience and mindfully accepting the emotion, you allow the feeling to dissipate in its own time.
Mindfulness looks like a potentially effective way of managing bipolar disorder, especially the depressive pole, which may be the most difficult to treat with medication alone. Mindfulness exercises and meditations are useful for people with bipolar disorder (manic depression) because mindfulness:f-516

  • Decreases the relapse rate for depression.
  • Reduces stress and anxiety, which contribute significantly to the onset of both mania and depression and may worsen the course of the illness.
  • Improves a person’s ability to manage thoughts and feelings and increases awareness of the way the person tends to internalize external stimuli.

Mindfulness exercises include guided body scan meditation, mindful walking, mindfulness of breath, and mindfulness of thoughts and feelings.

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Wounding and healing

“Wounding and healing are not opposites. They’re part of the same thing. It is our wounds that enable us to be compassionate with the wounds of others. It is our limitations that make us kind to the limitations of other people. It is our loneliness that helps us to find other people or to even know they’re alone with an illness. I think I have served people perfectly with parts of myself I used to be ashamed of. ” Rachel Naomi Remen

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Honesty handout

This is a handout I use for groups that tend to be dishonest. 
  1. Figure out why you lie and who you lie to. We’ve all lied at one time or another, to different people, to ourselves, and for different reasons. But coming up with a systematic plan for becoming more honest will be difficult unless you try to define those reasons and those people for yourself.Transformation.jpg
    • Lies to make ourselves look better might include exaggerations, embellishments, and flat-out tall-tales we tell to others, and ourselves, to make ourselves feel better about our inadequacies. When you’re unhappy about something, it’s much easier to fill it in with lies than tell the truth.
    • We lie to peers we think are better than us, because we want them to respect us as we respect them. Unfortunately, being dishonest is disrespectful in the long run. Give people more credit for their ability to empathize and understand you on a deeper level.
    • Lies that avoid embarrassment might include lies told to cover up bad behaviors, transgressions, or any activity we’re not proud of. If your mom found a pack of cigarettes in your jacket, you might lie and say that they’re your friend’s to avoid punishment.
    • We lie to authoritative figures to avoid embarrassment and punishment, including ourselves. When we’ve done something we feel guilty about, lies are told to eliminate the guilt, avoid the punishments, and get back to the objectionable behavior we’re forced to lie about. It’s a vicious cycle.
  1. Anticipate behaviors that will make you feel guilty. To break the chain of embarrassment and lying, it’s important to learn to anticipate things that you’ll likely    feel guilty about in the future, and avoid those behaviors. When you lie, you’re covering up some uncomfortable truth that’s more easily couched in a lie. You can either get comfortable with the truth, or abandon the behavior that makes you embarrassed.
    • If you smoke cigarettes, you won’t have to lie if everyone knows it’s true. Own up to it. If a behavior is un-own-upable, it’s probably best to avoid it. It would be humiliating for your wife to find out that you had an inappropriate relationship with a coworker, but you won’t have to lie if you don’t do it.
  1. Avoid situations in which you’ll have to lie for others. Be wary when someone tells you something in confidence that you know that you should share with someone else (e.g., knowledge of a crime, a lie, or a harmful act against another). Hearing such information puts you in a difficult position, especially when the truth eventually emerges and reveals to the affected person that you knew all along.
    • If someone begins a sentence with “Don’t tell so-and-so about this, okay?” be prepared to offer your own disclaimer: “If it’s something that I’d want to know about were I them, then please don’t tell me. I don’t want to be responsible for anyone’s secrets but my own.”
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