Happiness’ biological location having been found, we can today hope that Medical Schools will offer “Neurology of Happiness” and-or “Happiness Medicine” classes. In this blog-article, i will first examine a recent discovery that shows where the state of Happiness and Wellbeing may be located in the brain (Section A) and follow-up with an analysis of the healing implications of this discovery. (Section B).
Happiness’ Brain Location has been found
A positive relationship has been found between the volume of grey matter in the right precuneus (*) and the subject’s subjective happiness score. This finding has been published in one of the leading medical journals, Nature. (1)
“Psychological studies have shown that subjective happiness can be measured reliably and consists of emotional and cognitive components. (…) To investigate this issue, we used structural magnetic resonance imaging and questionnaires that assessed subjective happiness, the intensity of positive and negative emotional experiences, and purpose in life. We found a positive relationship between the subjective happiness score and gray matter volume in the right precuneus. Moreover, the same region showed an association with the combined positive and negative emotional intensity and purpose in life scores. Our findings suggest that the precuneus mediates subjective happiness by integrating the emotional and cognitive components of happiness.” (Source)
Top: The precuneus region of the brain, in red where happiness-wellbeing resides
The Developed Precuneus Region appears to be specifically Human
The precuneus seems to be a recently expanded part of the human brain. Although other primates have precuneus brain regions, they appear to be poorly developed. One study showed that new world monkeys’ superior parietal and precuneate regions were poorly developed. (2) In this regard, the following has been observed:
It has been noted that “the precuneus is more highly developed (i.e. comprises a larger portion of the brain volume) in human beings than in non-human primates or other animals, has the most complex columnar cortical organization and is among the last regions to myelinate”. (3)
Top: Consciouness’ movement
The Happiness State resides in the Same Brain Compartment as Consciousness
Together with the posterior cingulate, the precuneus appears to be key for conscious information processing. (4) The evidence for this connection with consciousness comes from the effects of its disruption in epilepsy, brain lesions and vegetative state. (Ibid & 5) Equally interesting, cerebral glucose metabolism is at its highest in these two areas during wakefulness, yet it is most reduced in them during anesthesia. (6) In addition, during slow-wave deep sleep and rapid eye movement sleep, this brain area is deactivated. (7)
For these reasons, it is reasonable to assert that the wellbeing or happiness feeling resides in the same brain lobe area as consciousness.
Top: On the left, the meditative brain is much more relaxed than the walking one.
The Findings’ Implications for Health and Wellbeing
If the feeling of Happpiness and wellbeing resides in the same brain lobe as Consciousness, then it follows that for Happiness to exist, to be felt, it must necessarily be anchored to Consciusness and active mindfulness. For example, it would be difficult to experience happiness and JDV (joie de vivre) in deep sleep or in a coma, because during deep sleep and a coma, we have no consciousness experience or recollection thereof.
In this perspective, one of the best ways to achieve the JDV-Happiness experience is by super-activating Consciousness via holistic techniques. At the Happiness Medicine Institute’s French retreats, we offer breathing, meditation, sophrology, herbs, essential oils, chanting, smell and other holistic techniques to better activate Consciousness and subjective wellbeing. (See Workshop)
In another setting, a 6-week mindfulness based therapy was found to correlate with a significant grey matter increase within the precuneus. (8) But because the HMI’s retreats are more intense than what occured during this intermittently based therapy, and because the French Retreat is located in the wild pristine Pyrenean mountains, the Institute is able to increase this above-mentioned “grey matter” in the precuneus within a shorter amount of time.
Longevity and Health benefits from being in a State of Happy Meditative Consciousness
Chopra and a few other authors have claimed that the State of Mindfulness slows down aging and is by nature healing. (9) (Source) However, hard evidence via rigorous studies have been lacking. Today, a few scientists have been showing that Meditation and what “Positive Psychology” experts have labeled “ mindfulness” can indeed contribute in upregulating the longevity and health (cellular repair) genes, albeit mildly in most cases. One of the first scientist to have shown this causative correlation between meditation and longevity is Nobel Prize winner Blackburn: In a published 2009 article, she and her colleagues wrote the following :
“Meditative practices appear to improve the endocrine balance toward positive arousal (high DHEA, lower cortisol) and decrease oxidative stress. Thus, meditation practices may promote mitotic cell longevity both through decreasing stress hormones and oxidative stress and increasing hormones that may protect the telomere. There is much evidence of neuroendocrine and physical health benefits from TM, which has a longer history of study than MBSR. The newer studies of mindfulness meditation are promising, and offer insight into specific cognitive processes of how it may serve as an antidote to cognitive stress states.” (10) (Source)
Recently, Ms Blackburn has updated her findings on telomeres (11) in relation to stress, lifestyle, health and longevity. This book is called “The Telomere Effect”. (12) And a few years back, Dean Ornish added credible evidence showing that longevity and health can be significantly spurred with meditation, yoga, plant-based diet and a holistic lifestyle. (13)
In still another study, its scientists showed that highly experienced Zen meditators have longer telomeres on average than people of a similar age and lifestyle. (14) (Source) This finding may be also connected to the fact that these Zen meditators tend to be vegetarians and have a compassionate approach to Life and animals.
Furthermore, when telomeres lengthen, immune cells tend to get stronger. This result occured with a group of workshops who partook in an intensive meditation retreat. (15) (Source)
In this realm, a study published in 2013 found that just 15 minutes’ meditation in novices had immediate effects on the expression of many genes, including, but not limited to the upregulation of the gene that makes telomerase and the downregulation of the gene that promotes inflammatory and stress responses. (Source)
A contrario, one of happiness’ staunch foes, chronic stress, is known to accelerate the shortening of telomeres and the suppression of telomerase amd hence to shorten human lifespan and increase diseases. (16). (Source)
Top: Evidence that shows a postive correlation between subjective happiness and the right precuneus (Source)
Still in the perspective of the precuneus’s happiness role, a team of neuroscientists under the direction of Dr Sato in Japan reported that people who scored higher on a happiness survey had more gray matter volume in this brain region called the precuneus.
The researchers stated that study participants who “feel happiness more intensely, feel sadness less intensely, and are more able to find meaning in life have a larger precuneus.” (17) (Source)
To which they added:
“…our results suggest that the precuneus may play an important role in integrating different types of information and converting it into subjective happiness.” (Ibid)
Dr Wataru Sato, who led the research, said:
“Several studies have shown 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 programs based on scientific research.” (Ibid)
In this perspective, a complementary study found that mindfulness meditation practice was associated with a detectable variation of cerebral gray matter in older adults. (Source)
In still another study, the researchers at Duke University reported that the precuneus is a core hub of the default mode network (DMN), which is active during states of consciousness related to self-reflection, divergent thinking, and daydreaming. (18) (Source)
Another November 2015 study, by a research team from Harvard Medical School and University of Chinese Medicine (published online in the journal Translational Psychiatry), found that underconnectivity of the precuneus to other brain regions may be linked to depression. (19) (Source)
The Japanese neuroscientists mentioned above have made a significant step forward in understanding the neurology of happiness. They have found that happier people have a larger precuneus, an area towards the back of the brain, hidden between the two cerebral hemispheres.
This study appears to be the first to link this cerebral area to happiness. Connected to these findings, meditation and holistic lifestyle have been shown to promote the expression of self repair and longevity genes, the maintenance of telomeres while nourrishing the growth of the brain’s grey matter in the precuneus. These findings are great as they add even more credibility to naturopathic, holistic and happiness medicine.
However, we still don’t understand all of the mechanisms of action involved in this happiness-to-brain process. It would thus be useful to conduct additional studies that would integrate meditation with other holistic techniques so that we can better determine the benefits that are bestowed upon the sacred precuneus. Thus, HMI’s impression is that additional studies are warranted in this ground-breaking field.
The neurological location of human Happiness consciousness is significant in that we can better monitor what techniques work in favor of producing additional “grey matter” (20), wellbeing and happiness. Knowing that many prescription drugs destroy “grey matter” while a huge amount of holistic techniques promote its growth, as well as boosts happiness and wellbeing is useful in that this knowledge can help lead the health practitioner and the patient to choose safe, efficient and cost-effective healing results.
But for happiness and holistic medicine to prevail, we would need to change most of medical schools’ content, in particular its outdated biomedical model. For example, the Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry, the clinical “bible” of psychiatry and clinical psychology, has 500,000 lines of text. There are thousands of lines on anxiety and depression, and hundreds of lines on terror, shame, guilt, anger, and fear. But there are only five lines on hope, one line on joy, and not a single line on compassion, forgiveness, or love. (Source) Same necro-absurdity with pharmaceutical and general conventional medicine textbooks, “positive psychology” and “naturopathy” are seriously missing as are hundreds of evidence-strong safe, efficient and cost-friendly holistic protocols that are based on the simple and enpowering Life-building techniques, from adapted human diets, to sun therapy, to hyperthermia, sleep medicine, herbology, smell therapy, breathing techniques and more.
In a following blog, i will examine the role of expanded JDV (joie de vivre) consciousness and holistic medicine in reversing systemic inflammation and oxidative stress that characterize so many chronic diseases, including mental illnesses and severe depression.
Christian Joubert: CSO and HMI director
Reference and Precision Notes