happiness is a warm gun: the biology of happiness

 Biology Brain Cortex Happiness Medicine Neurology Pleasure

Happiness is a supreme state of well-being, a myriad of positive states of mind people want to preserve at any cost. Biologically, it's difficult to tell if the alterations this state of mind produces, neurologically, are the cause or effect of the happiness experienced by the person, but Neurosciences are working hard to overcome this phase of speculation, determine the different interactions between the states of mind and biochemistry of the human body and discover means that could be used to change it.

Anything in the name of happiness.

Most likely, the alterations shown by the sensation of pleasure when it comes to the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala, with the increase in activity of these areas of the brain, shown by a Positron Emission Tomography (PET), by a Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and by a Electroencephalography (EEG), are biunivocal, which leads to the conclusion that these areas of the brain are responsible for some types of happiness and that suggests there are people who are genetically predisposed to be happy.

 Biology Brain Cortex Happiness Medicine Neurology Pleasure

These are the conclusions of a study by Richard Davidson, Professor of Psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and director of the Laboratory of Affective Neuroscience and the Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging and Behavior. These discoveries were published in the USA National Academy of Science Report.

His experiments, which involve the relationship between the brain and the meditation of Buddhist monks, seem to have established a direct relationship between Dopamine and the transfer of signals related to the aspects of happiness associated with the anticipation of a purpose, such as the happiness monks reach when they achieve a state of meditation, and the happiness shown by smokers allowed to light up a cigarette after 24 hours without smoking.

Other neurotransmitters and other areas of the brain seem to be implied in the mechanism of pleasure and happiness: Brian Knutson, professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Stanford University, also using a fMRI, has oriented his work in an attempt to understand the neurophisiology of motivation and decision-making, having arrived at the conclusion that brain activation in this model was in the nucleus accumbens, not on the prefrontal cortex.

Another study, by psychologist Laura Kubzansky from Harvard, performed in a group of 1 300 people of the male sex, concluded that the heart disease rate in men who said were optimist was half of the rate in those who didn't consider themselves to be so and, as such, pulmonary function in the non-optimist was considerably worse than in the optimist group. "The distinction of the positive feeling we experience when we get closer to a goal, connected with dopamine, which gives us sensory pleasure, connected with the Opioid System is an area where important progress has been made", says Professor Dacher Keltner from University of California, Berkeley.

But what interests us humans in all this scientific work surrounding happiness and its mechanisms, is the achievement, for this area, of a degree of respectability which can make a difference in the near future of Neurosciences, especially, in the cognitive area, and can make us all a lot happier, in a not-so-distant future, in a galaxy near us.

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