BBC NEWS / HEALTHMay 21, 2003
Buddhists Really Are Happier
Scientists say they have evidence to show that Buddhists really are happier and calmer than other people. Tests carried out in the United States reveal that areas of their brain associated with good mood and positive feelings are more active. The findings come as another study suggests that Buddhist meditation can help to calm people. Researchers at University of California San Francisco Medical Center have found the practice can tame the amygdala, an area of the brain which is the hub of fear memory. They found that experienced Buddhists, who meditate regularly, were less likely to be shocked, flustered, surprised or as angry compared to other people. Paul Ekman, who carried out the study, said: "The most reasonable hypothesis is that there is something about conscientious Buddhist practice that results in the kind of happiness we all seek."
In a separate study, scientists at the University of Wisconsin at Madison used new scanning techniques to examine brain activity in a group of Buddhists. Their tests revealed activity in the left prefrontal lobes of experienced Buddhist practitioners. This area is linked to positive emotions, self-control and temperament. Their tests showed this area of the Buddhists' brains are constantly lit up and not just when they are meditating. This, the scientists said, suggests they are more likely to experience positive emotions and be in good mood. "We can now hypothesise with some confidence that those apparently happy, calm Buddhist souls one regularly comes across in places such as Dharamsala, India, really are happy," said Professor Owen Flanagan, of Duke University in North Carolina. Dharamsala is the home base of exiled Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama. The studies are published in New Scientist magazine.