The Psychology and Science of Happiness

MBV   December 29, 2015

Science of Happiness

The pursuit of happiness is something we share as humans, and whether we are conscious of it or not, everyone  is on the same quest to find meaning, purpose, and joy.

But as elusive as the concept of happiness can be, there always seems to be just one more hurdle to jump before we can fully capture it.

In positive psychology, the goal is to help us better understand the relationship that takes place between our perception, our quality of life and how we feel emotionally when it comes to our level of overall happiness.

The term ‘positive’ is used to indicate an extended approach from  traditional psychology, which tends to only focus on the cause and effect of mental and behavioral disorder.

By providing a more comprehensive approach to the mechanics of the human psyche, positive psychology includes aspects such as emotional status, self-esteem, life purpose, spirituality, relationships, sense of humor and self-knowledge as key factors pertaining to human happiness.

What Is The Good Life?

When referring to the ‘good life’, there are several factors involved, but it has become obvious to those who study this field of psychology that there is more to the equation than meets the eye. What can be considered happiness varies greatly from person to person; situations and circumstances are highly relative to the person who is experiencing them.

What is interesting, however, is the value that many different variables share in regards to how the average person would experience happiness in life. As opposed to the more common colporates when thinking of what might cause true happiness — such as money, social status, and material gain — positive psychology has been able to uncover some intriguing insight when it comes to what really causes the average person to experience a happy existence.

Ranging from  the thoughts expressed by ancient philosophers all the way to recent studies in various fields of psychology, here are some deceptively important factors in dictating profound happiness in one’s life:

  • human connection
  • kindness
  • ability to follow through on commitment
  • clearly defined goals
  • overcoming adversity and seeking challenge
  • experiencing love and compassion towards others
  • giving time to engage in worthy causes
  • learning about topics that inspire curiosity
  • gratitude and appreciation
  • ability to be aware of the present moment
  • enjoyment of simple pleasures

True joy and content are present in typical everyday experiences. For this reason perhaps, the premise of positive psychology indicates that human beings are more often than not drawn by the future than they are driven by the moment. This key point represents why true lasting happiness seems to evade so many of us.

The Neuroscience of Happiness

As tools and resources evolve in the realm of scientific approach, new clues have been able to be examined  through a sharper lens. The study of neuroscience looks at the function of the nervous system and brain activity from a cellular and molecular level.


One of the most recent discoveries in the field of neuroscience has been the indication of the brain's ability to reshape and reform through experience over time. The brain's ability to change and develop is referred to as neuroplasticity.

This process is also connected to the nervous system, and the experiences that influence the shape of the brain can come with either positive or negative impact regarding health and well-being.

Brain imaging has provided doctors and researches with the ability to actually look at the structure of the brain. This development in the recent history of neuroscience has been a huge turning point in how we are able to understand brain function.

The implications of this technology are illuminating when it comes to positive psychology by providing a better understanding of where happiness is actually located in the brain.

By identifying areas of the brain that correspond to certain emotions, scientists have been able to help define several pathways that may lead us to the experience of happiness.

In research conducted by psychology professor Richard Davidson, it was found that the prefrontal cortex is noticeably more active when someone is in a state of happiness. This area of the brain is also associated with the ability to recover from negative emotions and overcome negative thoughts.

It has been revealed through similar studies that by finding ways to stimulate a certain area of the brain, we are able to enhance the performance of whatever that specific area is related to.

For example, aside from corresponding to our experience of happiness, the prefrontal cortex is also responsible for regulating our attention and focus. By intentionally practicing awareness through activity such as meditation or reading, we are actually strengthening this part of the brain.

During meditation the mind tends to drift, but we are constantly focusing our attention back into the sensations of the moment – causing repetitive stimulation of the prefrontal cortex. Perhaps this is a compelling indication of why many meditation practitioners report overall feelings of joy and well-being.

Why It Is Easier to See Bad Instead of Good In Life?

Fear is something that is wired deep into our biological makeup. Long before human beings were able to experience creative thought and imagination, we were made to survive. The part of the brain responsible for letting us know that we are in danger and triggering fear is known as the amygdala, and this most ancient part of the brain is still our most dominant in comparison to our more recently developed human brain.

Psychology and Science of Happiness

In a recent study aiming to reveal factors pertaining to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the brain was examined through a brain scanner while being exposed to negative and positive stimuli – such as facial expressions and emotionally loaded images.

It was found that the amygdala is highly active through both positive and negative influences but the response to negative information was far more intense and much more rapid.

The amygdala has been proven to be particularly attuned to identifying potential threats in our environment, which is why the human mind is so accustomed to giving priority to bad news.

This part of the brain is able to communicate threat through a hyper fast neural connection that actually bypasses our visual cortex. This means that the amygdala is able to pick up on threats that we may not even be aware of visually or consciously. There is no known mechanism in the brain similar to this when it comes to being able to recognize positive influences in the environment.

Training The Brain To Be Happy

As a survival mechanism we are conditioned to recognize threats as opposed to appreciating what is positive in life. Although these physical and neurological systems may explain why it so hard for most people to overcome fear in order to experience a more abundant life, it is still possible to train the brain to override these ancient functions.

Here are some great ways to condition your brain to seek out happiness and get the most out of life:

Practice awareness – By bringing attention to your thinking patterns you are gaining the ability to focus only on the thoughts that are in your best interests. Instead of getting dragged around wherever your automatic mind takes you, take control of what thoughts you are invested in by intentionally choosing your thoughts.


Whenever a negative or limiting thought comes into play, focus on replacing it with a positive and more exciting version. After a few weeks of taking the time each day to focus on you thought patterns, you will begin to notice that you are now easily able to see the brighter side of things instead of always getting weighed down by negative energy.

Gratitude – Being thankful is one of the most effective ways to put things in perspective. As opposed to dwelling on what we are missing out on in life and our shortcomings, how about bringing some attention to the little things.

You don’t need to wait for something special to happen in order to practice gratitude. Start with your breath, your eye sight and all the amazing possibilities you have as a human being experiencing life. You will soon notice how things begin to shift and pure joy starting to show up when least expected.

Become the creator – By realizing that you hold the power to create your own path in life, you are embarking on a journey of purpose, fulfillment and exhilarating happiness. Start by writing down some of your biggest goals and desires in life.

Begin to pay attention to the ones that matter most to you, and at the start of each day, write down five or more small things you can do to nourish these aspirations. Follow what inspires you and stay in touch by writing them down in a journal or even just a note pad.

The act of following your curiosity and taking action towards growing your passions will most definitely lead you in the direction of happiness. When we are able to zone into our own unique path, there is not a lot of room left for worry and negative thinking; only joy and happiness can survive when we are able to let our imagination and inspired ability to think creatively take over.


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