Here’s How Your Brain Perceives Happiness
“There are specific areas of the brain that perceive happiness through a variety of chemicals called neurotransmitters”
The areas of the brain involved in ‘pleasure and happiness’ are widespread and includes the nucleus accumbens, ventral pallidum and other forebrain and limbic cortical regions. Even though multiple regions are involved, they are not involved in isolation, but rather are interlinked in the form of a circuitry.
A person may be happy for various reasons, including good health, a good job, good family and friends, good income, travel experiences and so on. Happiness is the best feeling and everyone likes to be happy. However, reasons for feeling happy differ among different people and at different times, even in the same person.
And though happiness is evident on a person’s lace in the form of a smile or laughter, It is the brain that perceives happiness Besides, there are specific areas of the brain that perceive happiness through a variety of chemicals called neurotransmitters.
Reward System And Pleasurable Stimulus
Nucleus accumbens is referred to as the ‘pleasure centre’ of the brain. When researchers stimulate this part of the brain, people smile, laugh or report feelings of pleasure, happiness or euphoria. Thus, there is a reward system in the brain which responds to a pleasurable stimulus.
When the brain receives a pleasurable stimulus. it sends a signal to the ventral tegmental area of the brain. This part of the brain releases a neurotransmitter, dopamine into the nucleus accumbens, amygdala (involved in emotional responses) and prefrontal cortex (involved in thinking).
In a recent Japanese study, a part of the brain, the right precuneus was found to be larger in happier people. This study was based on MRI assessments of the brain. Psychological training and meditation can increase the size of the precuneus. which could potentially be linked to being happier.
Brain Chemicals And Happiness
These are self-produced cannabis that work on the receptors of the cannabinoid system. These are the chemicals which are involved in causing the ‘runner’s high,’ experienced after a long distance run.
Dopamine is also referred to as ‘reward molecule.’ When one sets a goal and achieves it, dopamine is released, leading to a feeling of happiness and pleasure. Extroverts and uninhibited people have higher dopamine levels as compared to introverts.
Oxytocin is also referred to as the bonding molecule.’ It has been implicated to be the chemical involved in romantic relationships and is believed to increase trust and loyalty. It is released with skin-to-skin contact, cuddling, lovemaking and intimacy which are keys to happiness.
Endorphins resemble morphine and other opiates and act like painkillers. They are released by the pituitary gland and hypothalamus during strenuous physical exertion, sexual intercourse and orgasm. Acupuncture is another method to enhance the release of endorphins because freedom from pain is an important aspect of feeling happy.
Gamma Amino Butyric Acid (GABA)
GABA is an anti-anxiety molecule and it has a calming effect on the brain. Yoga and meditation are the natural methods of enhancing GABA release. The same effect can be obtained with the use of anti anxiety and sleeping pills, but they have side effects and the risk of dependence.
Lower serotonin levels are linked to depression and enhanced serotonin secretion leads to confidence and a boost in self-esteem.
A Happy State
Happiness is infectious – one smiling lace in a room can make several others in the room smile too. It is also very difficult to frown at a person who is smiling? A smiling person is liked by everyone and is perceived to be more competent.
A happy state of the brain has a positive effect on other brain functions as well. These are as follows
- Better attention and concentration, so better productivity
- Better memory
- Better problem-solving ability
- Stimulation of growth of nerve connections
- Lesser anxiety and depression
Thus, happiness is not only desirable, but it is essential too, as the feeling of happiness is related to positive health outcomes and a longer life. Research studies have shown various health-related benefits of happiness:
- Lesser risk of heart attacks
- Lowering of resting heart rate and blood pressure
- Lesser risk of brain strokes
- Strengthening of the immune system, leading to lower risk of infections
- Lower stress (cortisol, the stress hormone, is lower by 23 per cent in happy state of mind)
- Happiness is a painkiller.
- People with arthritis, migraine and other chronic painful conditions experience lesser pain, when happy
- Happiness reduces the risk of developing cancer
- Increased longevity- this is the ultimate and supreme benefit of happiness
- Several studies have shown that happier people survive longer and have lesser chance of death, as compared to those who are not happy. This additional survival can be as much as 7-10 years more in happy people
So, start smiling and feel happy always! Spread happiness and reap its benefits.