The true home of our feelings and emotions is not located in the heart, but in the brain. What’s more, as recent studies reveal, a good part of your happiness is in the left hemisphere. Thus, every time we feel enthusiastic, full of energy, positivity and hope, the area with the greatest neuroactivity is precisely the left prefrontal cortex.
By itself, the subject is still interesting. Daniel Goleman talked about it in a New York Times article and explained, for example, how in recent years neuroscience, psychology, Buddhism, and spirituality were joining ties to find answers from seemingly distant disciplines.
It is known that in May 2000 a meeting that was as productive as it was rewarding took place. The Dalai Lama met with the best neurologists and psychologists of the day for a purpose. With a high as well as practical purpose: to know how Buddhism handles negative emotions, to know what happens in the brain of a person accustomed to practicing meditation and to use (apparently) a mental approach based on kindness, altruism and the happiness.
That meeting lasted five days, in a secluded setting in Dharamsala, India. The truth is that it was very fruitful for one of those scientists. Dr. Richard Davidson, director of the Affective Neuroscience Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin, and author of books such as The Emotional Profile of Your Brain, left with a working hypothesis.
“Recent research has shown that when we sympathize, make friends or socialize, the brain activates many of the same networks as when we experience physical or other pain”
Happiness is in your left hemisphere
Dr. Richardson is famous for his research in affective neuroscience. After years of work and analysis in his laboratory at the University of Wisconsin, he repeats in his lectures a phrase, the same comment: the basis of a healthy brain is kindness. To this day, he also chairs the Healthy Minds Research Center at the same university and it is also common for him to surprise us every so often with a new revelation.
For example, in 2008, when one of his studies focused on demonstrating the relationship between neuroplasticity and meditation techniques. That is, those people accustomed to carrying out this practice for a good part of their life (it is not worth starting meditation from one day to the next) have greater electrical activity, greater ability to concentrate, learn and generate new neural connections .
On the other hand, if we refer to his book The Emotional Life of Your Brain ( 2012 ) , we find one of his most interesting theories. The one that tells us simply that happiness is in your left hemisphere of the brain. Let’s see more data on this idea.
The frontal lobes and our emotions
Throughout our evolution as a species, that mass of one billion neurons located inside our skull has specialized. Thus, saying that happiness is in your left hemisphere is nothing more than a way of expressing how and in what way our positive emotions have also developed over time.
- For example, not long ago the idea was assumed that all this universe of feelings and emotions was housed in that most primitive area of our inner brain, the same one that in its day was labeled “reptilian”. It is in this area where, indeed, those older structures such as the limbic system are located, in charge of regulating all those emotional processes.
- However, it has been more than thirty years since neuroscience made another discovery. We already know that emotions do not remain exclusively in that deep cavern of the brain that is the limbic system. In fact, this structure is directly connected to the frontal lobes (involved in more complex thinking such as executive functions).
Anguish, stress, and anxiety are in the right hemisphere
Dr. Richard Davidson already started from this base. That is, I already knew the relationship between the limbic system and the frontal lobes. However, after a few years of research and through tests with MRIs, he could see something very striking:
- Functional imaging revealed that when we feel distressed, stressed or depressed, the most active areas of the brain are the circuits that converge in the amygdala as well as the right prefrontal cortex.
- This area, the right prefrontal cortex, is related to hypervigilance, something very common in those moments when we experience high stress.
The left hemisphere and positive emotions
Happiness is in your left hemisphere or, more specifically, in your left frontal lobe. Thus, when we feel calmer, optimistic, relaxed and hopeful, the right frontal lobe shows less activity, in contrast to the intense neuronal activity in the left area.
It is a striking fact, a reality that neuroscience considers valid and that can undoubtedly serve us to carry out the odd reflection.
“In my research, I discovered practical and effective ways to do it, to modify our emotional style to improve resilience. The surprising fact is that only through mental activity can we intentionally change our own brains. Mental activity ranges from meditation to cognitive behavior therapy ”.
If happiness is in your left hemisphere, how can I stimulate this area?
Dr. Davidson points out that to modify the activity of our brain, the best thing is to improve our thoughts, our mental activity. This is something supported by therapeutic approaches such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, a more than ideal framework for treating depression, anxiety, phobias, stress, etc.
Likewise, if happiness is in your left hemisphere and you want to “silence” that hyperactivity in the area of the right brain lobe, it is advisable to practice the following dimensions:
- The meditation.
- The goodness.
- Dedicate time to rest.
- Cultivate friendship.
- Have a goal, a motivation.
- Be enthusiastic.
- Be positive, believe in hope.
To conclude, regardless of where a certain process, quality or competence is located, there is an aspect that we cannot ignore. We are the ones who can modify and optimize our brain processes. We who have the obligation to travel through that line of life more relaxed, open and flexible where to establish the authentic neurological bases of happiness.