Happiness and Our Brains

Our brains have a frontal lobe. The front portion of the frontal lobe is called the prefrontal lobe. The prefrontal cortex  is the thick outer layer (cerebral cortex) of the prefrontal lobe.

Research presented by Gilbert shows that “the pre-frontal cortex does lots of things, but one of the most important things it does is it is an experience simulator.” This ability to simulate experiences is something that we humans can do better than any other creatures. We  can actually, vicariously, have experiences in their heads before they try them out in real life. Doctors and nurses  use simulation labs  with life-like computer-operated mannequins to simulate everything from mild symptoms to complex health problems that occur in real-life patients. Pilots use flight simulators to gain experience that allows them to avoid mistakes in real life.

Simulation doesn’t work perfectly. There is something called “impact bias,” which Gilbert says “is the tendency for the simulator to work badly. For the simulator to make you believe that different outcomes are more different than in fact they really are.”

The work of Dr. Richard Davidson at the University of Wisconsin shows that the frontal lobe is involved in both higher level thought and emotion.  This fact explains why our thinking affects the way we feel and vice versa. As such, we can use our thoughts to change our feelings. We can make ourselves happy by changing the way we think. That is, we can intentionally change our thoughts to change our emotions.