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Greater Good Science Center

The Top 10 Scientific Findings that Will Change How We See Ourselves

Happiness is good for you but not all the time—and other insights from The Greater Good Science Center

The past few years have been marked by two major trends in the science of a meaningful life.

One is that researchers continued to add sophistication and depth to our understanding of positive feelings and behaviors. Happiness is good for you, but not all the time; empathy ties us together, and can overwhelm you; humans are born with an innate sense of fairness and morality, that changes in response to context. This has been especially true of the study of mindfulness and attention, which is producing more and more potentially life-changing discoveries.

The other factor involves intellectual diversity. The turn from the study of human dysfunction to human strengths and virtues may have started in psychology, with the positive psychology movement, but that perspective spread to adjacent disciplines like neuroscience and criminology, and from there to fields like sociology, economics, and medicine. Across all these fields, we’re seeing more and more support for the idea that empathy, compassion, and happiness are more than you-have-it-or-not capacities, but skills that can be cultivated by individuals and by groups of people through deliberate decisions.

In 2013, the UC Berkeley Greater Good Science Center is now part of a mature, multidisciplinary movement. Here are 10 scientific insights published in peer-reviewed journals from the past year that we anticipate will be cited in scientific studies, help shift public debate, and change individual behavior in the year to come. Click on any point for more details.

1. A meaningful life is different—and healthier—than a happy one.

2. The emotional benefits of altruism might be a human universal.

3. Mindfulness meditation makes people more altruistic—even when confronted with barriers to compassionate action.

4. Meditation changes gene expression.

5. Mindfulness training improves teachers’ performance in the classroom.

6. There’s nothing simple about happiness.

7. Gratitude can save your life.

8. Employees are motivated by giving as well as getting.

9. Subtle contextual factors influence our sense of right and wrong.

10. Anyone can cultivate empathic skills—even psychopaths.

"The Top 10 Insights from the “Science of a Meaningful Life” in 2013" by Jason Marsh, Devan Davison, Bianca Lorenz, Lauren Klein, Jeremy Adam Smith, Emiliana R. Simon-Thomas originally appeared on Greater Good, the online magazine of UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center. To view the original article, click here.

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