From meditating and reading self-help books to finding true love, people have long been searching for the root of happiness.
Now, scientists have discovered exactly where in the brain it can be found.
People who scored higher on contentment surveys had a bigger precuneus – a part of the brain normally associated with consciousness.
Psychologists found a combination of joyful feelings and the satisfaction of life coming together, were experienced in this part of the brain.
They said this is what constitutes the subjective experience of being ‘happy’.
Until now, the mechanism behind how happiness emerges in the brain remained unclear.
Understanding that mechanism, according to the researchers, will be a huge asset for quantifying levels of happiness objectively.
Dr Wataru Sato, a cognitive psychologist at Kyoto University, said: ‘Over history, many eminent scholars like Aristotle have contemplated what happiness is.
‘I’m very happy that we now know more about what it means to be happy.
‘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 programmes based on scientific research.’
The study scanned the brains of research participants with MRI.
They then completed a survey that asked how happy they are generally, how intensely they feel emotions, and how satisfied they are with their lives.
People feel emotions in different ways; for instance, some people feel happiness more intensely than others when they receive compliments, the study found.
Their analysis revealed that those who scored higher on the happiness surveys had more grey matter mass in the precuneus.
The precuneus is found in the superior parietal lobule at the top, back of the brain.
In other words, people whose brain is larger in this area feel happiness more intensely, feel sadness less intensely, and are more able to find meaning in life.
The research was published in the journal Scientific Reports.