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The Happiness Track: Religious Experiences Really Do Unite Us

Emma Seppälä

Emma Seppälä PhD is author of The Happiness Track, founder of, and Science Director of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education.

One memory keeps coming back to me from a retreat for meditation researchers. We had spent the week presenting our latest data and discussing how to move the field forward. Then, at the very end of the week, a Tibetan monk who had attended as a guest was invited onstage to share his reflections. He dropped his chin to his chest, put his head in his hands, and said: “I don’t know what you all are up to!”  He was pointing to the fact, I believe, that our heady and intellectual approach was not going to really get us to the ultimate truth of things. I think he was right about that. And yet, research studies can also be tremendously helpful—especially for the cynical. They can open the minds of people who believe only in hard data.  For example, we live in a time that seems increasingly close-minded and divisive—a world coming apart. However, if you look at religion (one of the most outwardly divisive forces of all) from inside the brain, the results can help you see the world from a very different perspective. A recent brain-imaging study at Yale University called “Neural Corr …

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