NOV 23, 2015 2:20 PM PST

The Search for Happiness: MRI Shows Location of Happiness in Brain

WRITTEN BY: Julianne Chiaet

What does it mean to be happy? 

Happiness is a deeply subjective state of being. Subjective happiness refers to how an individual experiences and understands their own happiness. It varies per person and is influenced by one's experiences, environment, and genetics. Studies have shown that we can reliably measure this state. Yet, where happiness lies in the brain has always been unclear.
Kyoto University scientists have used MRI brain scans to find the location of happiness.

Now, Kyoto University researchers claim to have found the location of happiness in the brain. The team found the location using previously known methods of measuring subjective happiness, along with structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

To measure happiness, the researchers, led by cognitive psychologist Wataru Sato, had 51 participants answer the Japanese version of three well-known questionaries: the Subjective Happiness Scale (SHS), the Emotional Intensity Scale, the Purpose in Life Test. The Subjective Happiness Scale measures how happy a person believes they are in comparison to other people. The Emotional Intensity Scale measures the intensity of positive and negative emotional experiences. The Purpose in Life test measures to what a degree a person feels their life has a purpose.  
Brain region significantly associated with the subjective happiness score
The researchers found a positive correlation between an individual’s happiness score and the volume of grey matter in the right precuneus region of the brain. No other brain region was significantly associated with the subjective happiness score.

The Japanese researchers hope future studies on this matter will use a larger sample. A larger sample size may reveal other regions of the brain are involved in subjective happiness. The team also notes that using an MRI might have altered the mood of each participant, perhaps making some individuals nervous. 

The study was part of a project investigating personalities and mental health. There have been many calls for Japan to reform their mental health care as the country struggles with an unusually high suicide rate. The scientists hope the research will be useful in developing “happiness programs” in the future.

The findings were published in the journal Scientific Reports on November 20, 2015. 

Source: Scientific Reports, Mental Floss
About the Author
  • Julianne (@JuliChiaet) covers health and medicine for LabRoots. Her work has been published in The Daily Beast, Scientific American, and MailOnline. While primarily a science journalist, she has also covered culture and Japanese organized crime. She is the New York Board Representative for the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA). • To read more of her writing, or to send her a message, go to
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