Subjective happiness (well-being) is a multi-dimensional construct indexing one's evaluations of everyday emotional experiences and life satisfaction, and has been associated with different aspects of trait empathy. Despite previous research identifying the neural substrates of subjective happiness and empathy, the mechanisms mediating the relationship between the two constructs remain largely unclear. Here, we performed a data-driven, multi-voxel pattern analysis of whole-brain intrinsic functional connectivity to reveal the neural mechanisms of subjective happiness and trait empathy in a sample of young females. Behaviorally, we found that subjective happiness was negatively associated with personal distress (i.e., self-referential experience of others' feelings). Consistent with this inverse relationship, subjective happiness was associated with the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex exhibiting decreased functional connectivity with regions important for the representation of unimodal sensorimotor information (e.g., primary sensory cortices) or multi-modal summaries of brain states (e.g., default mode network) and increased functional connectivity with regions important for the attentional modulation of these representations (e.g., frontoparietal, attention networks). Personal distress was associated with the medial prefrontal cortex exhibiting functional connectivity differences with similar networks--but in the opposite direction. Finally, intrinsic functional connectivity within and between these networks fully mediated the relationship between the two behavioral measures. These results identify an important contribution of the macroscale functional organization of the brain to human well-being, by demonstrating that lower levels of personal distress lead to higher subjective happiness through variation in intrinsic functional connectivity along a neural representation vs. modulation gradient.
- Functional magnetic resonance imaging
- Multi-voxel pattern analysis
- Personal distress
- Resting state functional connectivity
- Subjective well-being
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cognitive Neuroscience