Sitting Quietly, Doing Something – NYTimes.com

by Scott Smith

But when it comes to his own pursuit of happiness, Buddhist theory and practice are Rinpoche’s chosen tools. He has done several years-long meditation retreats, under the tutelage of some of the most renowned Tibetan masters. Of course, what we mean by “happiness” can be elusive, what with the myriad varieties of good feeling running from ecstasy to equanimity. One flavor of happiness at which Rinpoche seems to excel has been well-studied by scientists specializing in how emotions operate in our brains.

Richard Davidson, who heads the Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin, has found one distinct brain profile for happiness. As Davidson’s laboratory has reported, when we are in distress, the brain shows high activation levels in the right prefrontal area and the amygdala. But when we are in an upbeat mood, the right side quiets and the left prefrontal area stirs. When showing this brain pattern, people report feeling, as Davidson put it to me, “positively engaged, goal-directed, enthusiastic, and energetic.”

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