Research
Happy talk

Where does happiness live? Researchers in Japan use MRI to find out and say it could be the key to increasing wellbeing. Jane Kitchen reports

By Jane Kitchen | Published in Spa Business 2016 issue 1

Scouring self-help books, exercising, taking time-out, going to spas… we go out of our way to make ourselves happy. But do we really know what happiness is?

Scientists at Kyoto University, Japan, think they’ve found the answer by using MRI to narrow in on the neural structures behind subjective happiness. They hope their findings will have larger implications for happiness training.

Grey mass matter
Associate professor Wataru Sato and his team scanned the brains of 51 people using MRI. Participants then took a survey asking how happy they are generally, how intensely they feel emotions and how satisfied they are with their lives.

Their analysis, published in Scientific Reports* in November, revealed that those who had a higher happiness score had more grey matter mass in the precuneus. The precuneus is a region in the medial parietal lobe that becomes active during states of consciousness – such as when people are self-reflecting or daydreaming. There was about a 15 per cent difference in size between the smallest and largest precuneus in the participants.

Sato’s findings complements a study by Harvard Medical School and the University of Chinese Medicine which shows that less activity in the precuneus may be associated to depression.

Tapping into happiness
“Over history, many eminent scholars like Aristotle have contemplated what happiness is,” says Sato. “I’m very happy that we now know more about what it means to be happy.” 

This is one of the first studies to use MRI to investigate happiness and the Sato believe that this paves the way for future scientists to clinically measure what things make people happier.

He’s also hopes his work may be useful in creating interventions to make people happier, especially if combined with meditation. Sato says: “Several studies show that meditation increases grey matter mass in the precuneus. This new insight on where happiness happens in the brain will be useful for developing happiness programmes based on scientific research.”

* Sato et al. The structural neural substrate of subjective happiness. Scientific Reports. November 2015.



Jane Kitchen is the news editor of Spa Business and Spa Opportunities

Tel: +44 1462 471929
Email: janekitchen@spabusiness.com

Brain activity was measured in 51 people Credit: Puwadol Jaturawutthichai/shutterstock.com
 


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SELECTED ISSUE
Spa Business
2016 issue 1

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Spa Business - Happy talk

Research

Happy talk


Where does happiness live? Researchers in Japan use MRI to find out and say it could be the key to increasing wellbeing. Jane Kitchen reports

Jane Kitchen, Spa Business
Scientists hope their findings will have larger implications for happiness training EpicStockMedia/shutterstock.com
Brain activity was measured in 51 people Puwadol Jaturawutthichai/shutterstock.com

Scouring self-help books, exercising, taking time-out, going to spas… we go out of our way to make ourselves happy. But do we really know what happiness is?

Scientists at Kyoto University, Japan, think they’ve found the answer by using MRI to narrow in on the neural structures behind subjective happiness. They hope their findings will have larger implications for happiness training.

Grey mass matter
Associate professor Wataru Sato and his team scanned the brains of 51 people using MRI. Participants then took a survey asking how happy they are generally, how intensely they feel emotions and how satisfied they are with their lives.

Their analysis, published in Scientific Reports* in November, revealed that those who had a higher happiness score had more grey matter mass in the precuneus. The precuneus is a region in the medial parietal lobe that becomes active during states of consciousness – such as when people are self-reflecting or daydreaming. There was about a 15 per cent difference in size between the smallest and largest precuneus in the participants.

Sato’s findings complements a study by Harvard Medical School and the University of Chinese Medicine which shows that less activity in the precuneus may be associated to depression.

Tapping into happiness
“Over history, many eminent scholars like Aristotle have contemplated what happiness is,” says Sato. “I’m very happy that we now know more about what it means to be happy.” 

This is one of the first studies to use MRI to investigate happiness and the Sato believe that this paves the way for future scientists to clinically measure what things make people happier.

He’s also hopes his work may be useful in creating interventions to make people happier, especially if combined with meditation. Sato says: “Several studies show that meditation increases grey matter mass in the precuneus. This new insight on where happiness happens in the brain will be useful for developing happiness programmes based on scientific research.”

* Sato et al. The structural neural substrate of subjective happiness. Scientific Reports. November 2015.



Jane Kitchen is the news editor of Spa Business and Spa Opportunities

Tel: +44 1462 471929
Email: janekitchen@spabusiness.com


Originally published in Spa Business 2016 issue 1

Published by The Leisure Media Company Ltd Portmill House, Portmill Lane, Hitchin, Herts SG5 1DJ. Tel: +44 (0)1462 431385 | Contact us | About us | © Cybertrek Ltd