Years ago I met Willoughby Britton at Brown University. She is an assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior, director of her own lab at Brown, and also works with Hal Roth and his Contemplative Studies Initiative. That's how I met her. Hal Roth had invited me to screen Alms and Vows as part of his program that year. That's when I learned about Willoughby Britton's fascinating and very relevant work. The Britton Lab at Brown "researches the effects of contemplative practices on cognitive, emotional, and physiological aspects of affective disturbances in the interest of the cultivation of greater well-being." To put it another way, she's studying the mechanics, the chemistry, (the alchemy?) of happiness, contentedness, and compassion. It's the real work. I think it's very exciting science.
Today I discovered a TEDx talk Willoughby gave last year. If you ever wanted to know what neuroscience has to say about happiness, this is a great, very concise 15-minute introduction. And it's hopeful. It says that mind is ours to mold - and that if we want happiness, we have to work at it, just like anything else. The key, it seems, is to understand what it is exactly that makes us human beings happy, and let that be the point of departure. She says getting what we want doesn't make us happy. So what does? Watch the video to find out.
As a Buddhist and meditator, I have my own way of processing and appreciating this kind of science. What's your take on it?