Your brain and the art of happiness

Last month during his visit to Ireland, the Dalai Lama addressed a capacity crowd at the University of Limerick. He spoke at length about compassion and happiness,  emphasising that we all possess the ability to achieve happiness and a meaningful life.

As a neuroscientist and educator I have had a keen interest in this area over the past 30 years and I have tried to include something of the flavour of what the Dalai Lama teaches in my own research in neuroscience – the scientific study of the brain.

In his book The Art of Happiness, the Dalai Lama points to four basic principles of happiness:

1. The purpose of life is happiness.
2. Happiness is determined more by the state of one’s mind than by one’s external conditions, circumstances, or events—at least once one’s basic survival needs are met.
3. Happiness can be achieved through the systematic training of our hearts and minds, through reshaping our attitudes and outlook.
4. The key to happiness is in our own hands.

Perhaps the most surprising finding is that the achievement of happiness is scientific and requires discipline. It’s no surprise to me then that the Dalai Lama in Limerick spoke of the need for more neuroscientific research into emotions and the health benefits of cultivating a more compassionate and loving outlook in life.

Over the coming week I will explore these teachings in more detail and look at ways in which we can apply them to help our brains break free from the trap of unhappiness.