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The Neuroscience For Happiness

Updated: Jun 3, 2020

How do you know when you "are happy?" It's a state of mind and feeling within our bodies, right? That warm fuzzy feeling when everything is going our way... What about when life is feeling so kind? Can we still be happy then? Let explore the neuroscience for experiencing happiness, shall we?

Psychologists and neuroscientists have been investigating the brain states associated with happiness for years. Scientists are also investigating how happiness correlates with well-being. Yes, we humans are a product of our environment. And yes, of course our life experiences reshape our brain and alter our nervous system, so what's the secret to finding happiness if we've been through some trying times?

Shocker - the big reveal... Positive thoughts are the catalyst for positive emotions. And, positive emotions are the keys to psychological well-being. Endless studies prove that positive emotions can improve physical health and foster confidence and compassion. They can also compensate and/or cushion depression symptoms, plus help humans recover from high stress situations.

Creating and sustaining positive emotional responses is where we win, and it beings and ends with mindset. What are we choosing to think about a person, place, object, situation, or experience? Are we labeling it good or bad? Are we seeking the bad out of past programming and protective mechanisms? Or are we focused on solutions and seeing the bright side? This might be a good place to begin when you are exploring doing some deeper work to CREATE THE HAPPY LIFE YOU DESERVE, by choice, not by chance.

Since Aristotle's time, happiness has been considered to have two components: hedonia (pleasure) and eudaimonia (a life well lived). In modern day psychology these aspects are oftentimes referred to as pleasure and meaning. Positive psychologists have recently proposed adding a third distinct component of engagement related to feelings of commitment and participation in life (Seligman et al. 2005).

After further research on this topic, I especially appreciate the viewpoints of Kevin Corcoran Professor of Philosophy, Calvin College.

Happiness Includes Satisfaction
Of course, there’s a difference enshrined in everyday usage between feeling happy and being happy. Feeling happy—intoxicated with joy, ecstatic, or blissful—seems to be most closely associated with pleasant experiences of one kind or another, whereas being happy is a less ephemeral psychological state than feeling happy. People who judge their lives as a whole as “going well” are likely to report being happy with their lives overall. This is what is meant by the satisfaction component of happiness.
Happiness Includes Emotion
Finally, there is the emotional component to happiness. This I believe resides at the very heart of human happiness. By emotional I mean to distinguish this component both from the life satisfaction feature of being happy with one’s life as a whole and from the occurrent mental state of feeling happy, which is itself a psychological state.
Although it too is a psychological feature, the emotional component of happiness, is much more stable, more like a character trait or enduring disposition than an episodic psychological state. What I am calling the emotional component of happiness is so deeply ingrained in those who enjoy it, that it tilts or leans them in positive emotional directions. It’s their emotional default setting, you might say.
Dispositional happiness is a primary way of being in the world, a fundamental orientation or posture to the world and to life. It is characterized by openness, wakefulness, affirmation and receptivity to the world. Dispositionally happy people embrace and savor life, they welcome new experiences, are imaginative, exuberant, resilient, optimistic, or hopeful—and unlikely to have their positive emotional setting permanently altered by life’s unavoidable setbacks and disappointments.

Reach out to me for a session to get started. I look forward to supporting your evolution on the road to happiness. Here's a tip - it's already within you!


Seligman ME, et al. Positive Psychology Progress: Empirical Validation of Interventions.American Psychologist.2005;60(5):410–21.[PubMed][Google Scholar]

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