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Mind-Body: Practicing Compassion and Happiness can Change Your Brain

Posted Aug 24 2008 7:19pm
The eternal quest for happiness. We seek happiness in a variety of ways many of which center on the two words "if only."

If only I had that new car, house, job, lover, friend I would be happy. If only I were popular, attractive, famous I would be happy. The list goes on and on.

There may be an answer to finding happiness. Thanks to neuroplasticity--the idea that our brains change and make connections that can become permanent. It may be that merely thinking about certain states like happiness and compassion can manifest these states.

Researchers from the University of Wisconsin, Madison (Go Badgers!) recently found that emotions such as compassion and kindness can be learned. What I find really interesting is that the emotions were learned through meditation.

The researchers used a new kind of MRI called fMRI or functional MRI. This kind of MRI observes blood flow and oxygen to different parts of the brain. It is a kind of way to peer into someone's brain to see parts that are active at any point in time.

The subjects were taught compassion meditation by monks who meditated at least 10,000 hours. The subjects were then compared to a control group without meditation training who were told to think positively about loved ones.

Both groups were then given an fMRI scan. During the scan the subjects were exposed to the same stimuls consisting of negative and positive human voices. Some voices were designed to evoke empathy and others were neutral.

The results showed increased function in the insula, an area of the brain associated with emotions in the group trained in meditation. There was also increased function in another part of the brain, the temporal parietal juncture which has been associated with empathy.

So what are the implications of this study? Well, for one if you deeply practice an emotional state your brain will respond by becoming more functional in activating that state. This is very similar to learning a new skill like a tennis serve or golf swing, only instead of developing the motor areas you develop the emotional areas.

Perhaps the key to happiness is to think that you already are...


University of Wisconsin-Madison (2008, March 27). Compassion Meditation Changes The Brain.

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