Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Cortisol, the Brain and Happiness

Findings from Davidson’s lab clearly suggest that a sense of well-being should not be considered as the simple absence of disease or depression, but rather as the presence of a distinct profile of emotional reactivity and emotion regulation characterized by a pattern of unique neurobiological substrates. Moreover, these patterns of brain function appear to influence peripheral biology in ways that may be consequential for health.

Cortisol is a stress hormone produced by the adrenal cortex. It is triggered whenever we feel threatened, but prolonged exposure can increase blood pressure and blood sugar levels, and suppress the immune system.

“We have found that individuals who show very effective regulation of negative emotions also show a more adaptive pattern of cortisol release,” explained Davidson.

Cortisol is naturally higher in the morning and reaches a low point just before bedtime. According to Davidson’s findings, individuals who show the highest levels of well-being and most effective emotion regulation are those who also show the lowest levels of cortisol at night. The ability to automatically regulate this stress hormone may play a critical role in mediating the health consequences associated with high degrees of happiness.
Now I want to get a hold of a device that allows me to measure my cortisol levels to see how I stack up every night.
Davidson’s research also shows that positive and negative emotions produce activity in very different paths of the brains. It turns out that one place the blue bird of happiness likes to roost is the left prefrontal cortex.

Research reveals that people experiencing anxiety, anger or depression show the most brain activity in the right prefrontal cortex, just behind the forehead. Those experiencing positive outward-reaching emotions show more activity in the left prefrontal cortex. What’s more, people seem to be predisposed genetically and through their experiences towards being either more left-brained or right-brained, that is, more cheerful or sad.
Gives new meaning to the old left brain/right brain debate.
“We discovered that when expert practitioners meditated — and our subjects had between 12,000 — 62,000 hours of meditation each over the course of their lives — there were major, observable changes in the brain, some quite unusual. We saw the production of certain rhythms over extended periods of time, minutes, even hours. In normal individuals, these patterns occur very episodically and last only seconds. What we observed is the brain getting reorganized. We are using these findings to identify long-term end points achievable through intense practice.”
62,000 hours, wow that is a lot of time! But I guess it is all relative.

I remember watching Charlie Rose interview Mark Cuban and Mark said he needs to read 4 hours a day to keep up with the latest in technology. I thought, hmm I'm not quite there, but I could definitely see myself doing that. Then the next day Charlie interviews Yogi Sri B.K.S Iyengar and he said that he does 4 hours of yoga a day. I thought, wow, how could anyone do 4 hours of yoga a day? Seems like a big waste of time. So, I guess it is all about the perspective with which you look at it.

via Daily Planet via Happiness and Public Policy

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