The Neuroscience of Happiness and Pleasure

Social Research 77 (2):659-678 (2010)
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Abstract
The pursuit of happiness is a preoccupation for many people — and probably has been ever since the emergence of Homo sapiens sapiens. The scientific understanding of the brain basis of happiness and its pursuit is, however, still in its infancy. Here we focus on recent scientific research on the closely related concepts of pleasure and desire, and discuss their underlying neural mechanisms and their roles in happiness. We also speculate on potential contributions of the brain's default networks to orchestrating cognitive aspects of meaningfulness that are important to happiness. Finally, we discuss how the lack of pleasure, anhedonia, is a central feature of emotional disorders such as depression and thus perhaps the most important obstacle to happiness for many people.
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