Aiming Happiness & Bliss: The Intersection of Science & Spirituality

Physical or material science try to explain the physical reality using physical or tangible evidences. Thats how the whole paradigm of science is based upon, on observable phenomena and verifiable logic and facts. On the other hand spirituality is often about things that can not be touched, observed with naked eyes or can't even be proven with material evidences. Spirituality has a very big component which deals with the unseen.

Never the less there is something common between the most materialistic person and the most spiritually oriented person and that commonness is to aim for happiness. This is like an universal demand of human mind and heart which is to be happy, to find bliss and happiness.

From a philosophical point of view it can be argued that all that God, the Supreme Architect of reality, wants is that sentient beings be happy. No matter what the believers believe, no matter how much they worship, they add nothing to the Master of the Universe because God already owns it all, He is the Supreme Inheritor. No amount of worship, adoration or the opposite of it, no amount of denial or doubt or indifference can neither add nor substract anything from God's Kingdom. Creation can give back nothing to the Creator, and yet the Merciful and Loving Creator wants happiness for His family, which is humanity and by extension for all sentient beings.

If you think about it you will perhaps come to this realization that every religious tradition aims at providing certain guidelines which if followed can ensure both a collectively sane society as well as sane individuals. So even behind all religious structure, its laws, ethics, guidance, scriptural teachings they all can be summed up to the same goal which is human happiness. Spirituality often teach how being charitable we are less attached and less attachment means less suffering which eventually leads to a happy life. Spirituality provide a number of guidelines for right living and end goal of all of them are less and less suffering, which is just another way of saying more happier life.

If we look at how things are in extremely consumer and materialistic society is that they tend to give constant feedback to people about how they can be more happy with material things. The world of advertisement and marketing use human psychology all the time to tap into the demand for happiness. So the message from an advertisement ends up being, how the latest gadget is the most beautiful device ever and those who have it are the most happy people. The latest car is owned and driven by the most successful people who have the most assuring smile on their face in the commercial and if we own that car, we surely will be happy - at least thats the subtle message.

Now physical science specially the field of medical science fairly recently did uncover some of the mechanism behind what makes people happy. So our physical body and particularly our brain is influenced by many chemicals and scientists have figured out what kind of chemicals are directly linked to happy feeling. For example: Dopamine, Serotonin, Oxytocin, and Endorphins are the neurotransmitters (or hormones) mostly responsible for our happiness, at least from biochemical correlation point of view.

Here are some brief functionality of these important four neurotransmitters thought to be linked with happiness or our state of being thats related with happiness. 


Dopamine motivates us to take action toward goals, desires, and needs, and gives a surge of reinforcing pleasure when achieving them.


Serotonin flows when you feel significant or important. Loneliness and depression appears when serotonin is absent. Princeton neuroscientist Barry Jacobs explains that most antidepressants focus on the production of serotonin.


Oxytocin creates intimacy, trust, and builds healthy relationships. It’s released by men and women during orgasm, and by mothers during childbirth and breastfeeding. Animals will reject their offspring when the release of oxytocin is blocked.


Endorphins are released in response to pain and stress, and helps to alleviate anxiety and depression. The surging “second wind” and euphoric “runners high” during and after a vigorous run are a result of endorphins. Similar to morphine, it acts as an analgesic and sedative, diminishing our perception of pain.

Now since we now know these, you can easily imagine what will happen next in pharmaceuticals companies. They will come up with drugs that will trigger these happiness hormones. In fact anti-depressant drugs use this science.

So you can say there are two approaches to use this knowledge. One is to artificially creating a situation where these hormones / neurotransmitters are released or activated. This is more a materialistic approach where physical reality is changed using physical or material means alone.

But spirituality has a different approach. Its more likely to be opposite of material approach. Instead of relying on drugs, it relies on the heart and mind. Here are some practical tips how certain spiritual practice or simple techniques to achieve a certain state of mind can actually trigger these happiness hormones naturally, genuinely not artificially.

Be Grateful, its the Best Tool for Happiness

Gratefulness is a state of mind. It doesnt matter how much or how little you have, you can always be grateful. You can always find reasons to be grateful no matter what. Gratefulness is such a central core to many spiritual path. In Islam for example the daily prayer every time begins by saying "Thank you God and I praise you" (yes thats what Alhamdulillah approximately means, from Surah al-Fatiha the opening chapter, recited in every single prescribed prayer by Muslims).

What triggers gratefulness? It is triggered when we reflect and realize significance of our life, significant achievements or gifts in our life. Interestingly the hormone for happiness that most antidepressants focus is serotonin or the product of it.

Reflecting on past significant achievements allows the brain to re-live the experience. What gratitude practices does is that it remind us that we are valued and have much to value in life.

Spiritual life has ever encouraged contemplation and prayer. Contemplation helps reflect on our gifts and to be grateful. Prayer is also a way to channel that gratitude towards the Giver of all. Thus if you need a serotonin boost during a stressful day, take a few moments to reflect on a past achievements and victories, contemplate and give thanks while being genuinely grateful.

Meaning of Life is Important

Spirituality gives meaning to life, not only this life but the hereafter, the eternal life to come. A religious person with lots of faith find it much easier to move through life, specially when time is tough. On the other hand a life devoid of spiritual meaning end up depressed and tragic end can be fatal through suicide. A spiritual life is also filled with actions that have certain goal, certain meanings. Religious observances are meant for that as well.

It is Dopamine that motivates us to take action toward goals, and needs, and gives a surge of reinforcing pleasure when achieving them. We can recreate the effect of Dopamine release by being motivated towards goal and achieving them. When we do act of charity, when we act based on compassion, motivated by our faith and love of God, there are almost no action more motivating on earth than that. Motivation for God or the love of God is the highest motivation and hence highest cause for happiness. One simple tip towards Dopamine triggering effect is to breaking big goals into small ones and being mindful of achieving those small goals. This gives us sense of joy, happiness. The more important those small goals are, the more likely we will be happy.

Faith, Trust and more Faith

Interestingly enough the third neurotrasmitter that is responsible for happiness effect has a lot to do with faith, intimacy and trust. Oxytocin creates intimacy, trust, and builds healthy relationships.

It’s released by men and women during orgasm, and by mothers during childbirth and breastfeeding. Animals will reject their offspring when the release of oxytocin is blocked. Oxytocin increases fidelity; men in monogamous relationships who were given a boost of oxytocin interacted with single women at a greater physical distance then men who weren’t given any oxytocin. The cultivation of oxytocin is essential for creating strong bonds and improved social interactions.

People of faith, with intimate relation with God obviously are more happier people because they tend to have higher level of Oxytocin. People of faith also trust others easily, which is again linked with Oxytocin.

The hormone referred to as the cuddle hormone, a simple way to keep oxytocin flowing is to give someone a hug. Scientists explain that inter-personal touch not only only raises oxytocin, but reduces cardiovascular stress and improves the immune system; rather than just a hand-shake, go in for the hug. Some experts even recommends eight hugs each day.

Spiritual life encourage community and such community thrive on good inter personal relationship where people genuinely trust and have faith on each other. They hug more. 

In Islam in fact giving and exchanging gift is a recommended Sunnah and scientific research now shows that Oxytocin level increase when someone receive gift.

Suffer Consciously, it has rewards

Certain spiritual tradition will explain that this world of duality is composed of opposites. The Islamic Scripture, the Qur'an says that God created everything in pair. Interestingly our mind also works on contrast. We can not distinguish one without its opposite or absence. Our perception develops based on opposite. In fact without the opposite we wouldn't name things. There would be no day if there were no night or opposite of the condition of day.

So the opposite or duality is necessary for this reality to work. Similarly often time it is the opposite condition which helps achieve its counter part. Conscious suffering in spiritual practice is one such things which may seem difficult to enter in our mind simply because at the surface it seems counter intuitive. But here is an easy example. If we are really hungry, the next meal we will eat will taste so much delicious. Now if someone is never hungry, is never craving for food, his or her system is not even ready to in take food, digest food, enjoy food.

A common example of conscious suffering is fasting. Take for example the Muslim fast. From pre-sunrise to post-sunset, that is the time period when during the entire month of Ramadan, every able adult Muslim will observe complete fast. No food, no drinks, no sex. What does it do? It feels great once this gets into the habit. Body feel light, mind is light, surprisingly you feel energetic. Depending on physiological condition and body type, some people may experience otherwise, but those who enjoy fasting, though on the outset it appear a tool for suffering, yet it may produce very positive effect on body and mind. What is the explanation?

Think of Endorphins. Endorphins are released in response to pain and stress, and helps to alleviate anxiety and depression. The euphoric “runners high” during and after a vigorous run are a result of endorphins. Similar to morphine, it acts as an analgesic and sedative, diminishing our perception of pain.

Also aromatherapy release endorphins. In Islam its encouraged to use good fragrance / perfumes. Interestingly the smell of vanilla and lavender has been linked with the production of endorphins.

So spiritual practices that taxes the body and gives it relatively hard-time may end up make you feel happier. As a side effect probably you will also have a very good sleep and thus further reduce your over all stress and that again makes you more happier. "Indeed with hardship is ease" is a Quranic reminder to us.

So yes, scientific knowledge and spiritual wisdom can intersect and help us achieve a more balanced, happier and blissful life. May our capacity to be grateful be increased, may our capacity to have faith be increased, may the meaning of our life be made more meaningful to our heart and may our capacity to be more conscious be increased. May all sentient beings in the universe be happy and blissful.

// Sadiq M. Alam
// Dhaka, Bangladesh



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Technology of the Heart: Aiming Happiness & Bliss: The Intersection of Science & Spirituality
Aiming Happiness & Bliss: The Intersection of Science & Spirituality
Science have discovered what are the chemicals mostly responsible for our brain to feel happy. Can scientific knowledge and spiritual wisdom intersect and help us achieve a more happier life?
Technology of the Heart
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