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Here are 10 Powerful New Insights from The Science of Happiness

This article first appeared on Greater Good, the online magazine of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley.

More than a decade after Greater Good first started reporting on the science of compassion, generosity, happiness--what we call "the science of a meaningful life"--the research in our field is acquiring ever more nuance and sophistication. New studies build on and even re-interpret findings from previous years, particularly as their authors use more exacting methods, with bigger and broader data sets, and consider additional factors to explain prior results.

These nuances are clearly reflected in this year’s list of our Top 10 Insights from the Science of a Meaningful Life—the fourth such list compiled by Greater Good’s editors. Indeed, many of this year’s entries could be described as “Yes, but” insights: Yes, as prior findings suggest, being wealthy seems to make people less generous, but only when they reside in places with high inequality. Yes, pursuing happiness makes you unhappy, but only if you live in an individualistic culture. Yes, Americans are less happy than they used to be, but only if they’re over the age of 30. The caveats and qualifications abound.

And these are not just signs of academic hair splitting. Instead, they demonstrate that researchers are sharpening their understanding of the actual causes, consequences, and current state of humans' social and emotional well-being. And that, in turn, means that Greater Good is able to report on the practical implications and potential applications of this research with greater confidence and detail than ever before.

To do that, of course, we rely on a brain trust of some excellent guides and advisors. In addition to our staff and faculty here at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, we polled more than 150 outside experts in our field, asking them to identify the findings from 2015 that they considered most novel, provocative, profound, and (potentially) enduring from the science of a meaningful life. From the scores of nominations that we received, it was challenging to whittle the list down to 10, as it always is. But after much discussion and debate, here are our top choices.

1. Experiencing awe makes us, well, awesome.

Before 2015, there were just a handful of studies ever published about the experience of awe. It was one of those emotions--like gratitude and happiness before it--that had been neglected as a topic worthy of serious scientific attention.

That started to change in a big way last year. Several studies published suggest some profound, previously overlooked benefits associated with awe, which is defined by researchers as feeling like we’re in the presence of something larger than ourselves—be it a natural wonder, a work of art, or feats of athleticism or altruism—that defies our understanding of the world and makes us feel like we’re just one small part of a vast, interconnected universe.

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To finish reading the full story, visit The Huffington Post website:

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