The first is “our ability to maintain positive states.” It makes sense that the ability to maintain positive states or positive emotions would directly impact one’s ability to experience happiness. These two great spiritual leaders were saying that the fastest way to this state is to start with love and compassion.
The second circuit is responsible for “our ability to recover from negative states.” What was most fascinating to me was that these circuits were totally independent. One could be good at maintaining positive states but easily fall into an abyss of a negative state from which one had a hard time recovering. That explained a lot in my life.
The third circuit, also independent but essential to the others, is “our ability to focus and avoid mind-wandering.” This of course was the circuit that so much of meditation exists to develop. Whether it was focusing on one’s breath, or a mantra, or the analytic meditation that the Dalai Lama did each morning, this ability to focus one’s attention was fundamental.
The fourth and final circuit is “our ability to be generous.” That was amazing to me: that we had an entire brain circuit, one of four, devoted to generosity. It is no wonder that our brains feel so good when we help others or are helped by others, or even witness others being helped, which Ekman had described as the elevation that is one dimension of joy.
There was strong and compelling research that we come factory equipped for cooperation, compassion, and generosity.
– The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World