There is an undeniable connection between mood and brain activity. Individuals burdened by anxiety and stress exhibit heightened levels of beta brain waves. In the realm of beta, neurons fire rapidly, oscillating 15 to 30 times per second. Conversely, when we achieve a state of relaxation, the prominence of beta diminishes, making way for slower waves such as alpha, theta, and delta.
Among these brain waves, a recent revelation emerged—gamma. This remarkable frequency is associated with happiness, love, compassion, creativity, insight, and the seamless integration of information across various brain regions. Gamma is not limited to a select few; it is present in all human beings.
Moments of profound revelation, those delightful “aha” experiences, generate gamma waves. Solving a crossword puzzle, perfecting a soufflé recipe, assembling a bookcase, or hitting a bullseye in darts—all trigger a brief surge of gamma activity, lasting typically between two to five seconds. While these fleeting bursts of happiness bring joy, few individuals manage to sustain them beyond those precious few seconds.
In my book Bliss Brain, I delve into research conducted with seasoned meditators, including Tibetan monks who have dedicated over 10,000 hours to their practice. These adept individuals possess the ability to prolong and expand these positive emotional states. EEG scans reveal that their brains can enter the gamma frequency for minutes at a time, producing significantly higher volumes than the average person. They reside in a realm of profound happiness, stretching these elevated emotional states over extended periods.
As the neural pathways responsible for these euphoric signals are repeatedly activated in their brains, a remarkable phenomenon unfolds—neural plasticity takes hold. What were once transient moments of euphoria evolve into enduring personality traits. These individuals are no longer merely experiencing happiness; they embody happiness itself.
A protracted study of individuals who undergo extraordinary psychological and spiritual breakthroughs has provided keen insights for a research group at Stanford University. Over the past 15 years, they’ve glimpsed the very essence of bliss that the subject population of monks attain by an objective biological measure, revealing a remarkable surge in happiness levels for these individuals (Martin et al., 2021). How much happier do they become? Astoundingly, their research reveals they possess the capacity to generate 25 times the amount of gamma activity compared to the average person, remarkably resulting in them being 25 times as happy.
This state of ecstasy engenders profound transformations in their personalities. While overflowing with compassion for others, they find themselves disinterested in bonding over shared grievances and complaints, which can be a “typical” social glue. Gossip and judgment lose their allure, and even their own personal history fades into insignificance. Those around them struggle to comprehend the magnitude of their boundless happiness.
Furthermore, they undergo a metamorphosis that severs their connection to their former selves—the individuals they were prior to this extraordinary leap. Their previous selves were oblivious to the possibility of experiencing such profound happiness. If I were to tell you that you could be 50% happier, you might entertain the notion. However, the chasm between our current state and the unfathomable experience of being 2,500% happier is too vast to bridge in our imagination.
Now, thanks to EEG studies, scientists are unraveling the brain states of these mystics in reverse. Novices can be trained to access those very same states. You, too, can learn to generate vast amounts of gamma activity in your own brain. Once you have even a single taste of this extraordinary experience, your brain is forever changed, forever transformed.
Embrace the audacious leap into the realm of extreme happiness. Once a brain has savored the extraordinary ecstasy, contentment with ordinary states becomes a distant memory, as it yearns for the limitless heights that lie within reach.
Martin, J. A., Ericson, M., Berwaldt, A., Stephens, E. D., & Briner, L. (2021). Effects of two online positive psychology and meditation programs on persistent self-transcendence. Psychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research, and Practice. doi:10.1037/cns0000286