That uplifting feeling you get when something good happens to you? Researchers now think they know the part of the brain responsible for it—and they suggest we may be able to train ourselves to make those positive emotions last longer.
Their conclusions are based on a study (paywall) conducted by scientists at the University of Wisconsin, where psychologist Aaron Heller and his team conducted an experiment with more than 100 college students. For a period of 10 days, participants were sent text messages about 25 times a day asking them to rank their positive and negative emotions on a scale of 1 to 9, with 1 being a low level of feeling and 9 being the most intense. Once a day, the subjects were invited to play a game of chance: They were asked to guess if a computer-generated number would be above or below 5, and if they were right, they won $15. After the game, participants checked in with their positive and negative emotions every 10 to 15 minutes for the next hour and a half, so that their moods could be monitored.
The researchers also analyzed brain scans, taken by an MRI scanner, of 40 participants in the study. Here they found that those who were happier for longer periods of time after winning the game had the longest activation in a part of the brain called the ventral striatum(pdf), which helps regulate our reward system.