The 4 Keys to Well-Being, According to Richard J. Davidson

For Richard J. Davidson, the keys to well-being coincide with the goals of meditation. This neuroscientist assures us that happiness is learned. Read on to learn more!
The 4 Keys to Well-Being, According to Richard J. Davidson
Gema Sánchez Cuevas

Written and verified by the psychologist Gema Sánchez Cuevas.

Last update: 28 July, 2022

Before we talk about the keys to well-being, let’s remember who Richard J. Davidson is. He’s a doctor of personality, pathophysiology, and psychopathology from Harvard University. He’s been studying emotions for many years, mainly from a neurological standpoint. One thing that characterizes him is that he studies cases on a lifetime basis, not only resorting to interviews or experiments.

Based on his research and studies, Richard J. Davidson proposed the idea that, thanks to brain neuroplasticity, it’s possible to learn happiness and compassion in the same way that people learn a language or other information. Based on this, he proposed the four keys to well-being.

Also, Richard J. Davidson is a good friend of the current Dalai Lama and a student of meditation. He meditates every day and believes that it’s a discipline that promotes neuroplasticity. Below, we explain Davidson’s keys to human well-being.

“The basis of a healthy brain is goodness, and you can train it.”

-Richard J. Davidson-

A woman in a field.

1. Resilience, one of the keys to well-being

In general terms, resilience is the ability to recover from adversity and become stronger as a result. For Davidson, this ability is closely linked to the Buddhist concept of “non-attachment”. In other words, often, the real difficulty is resistance to change.

Resilience is one of the keys to well-being. Everyone is exposed to adversity. Thus, if a person is able to accept bad times and flow with them, interpreting them as growth opportunities, it’ll be harder for them to get bogged down by their problems.

2. Positive outlook

A positive outlook isn’t synonymous with self-deception. In this case, we’re not talking about extreme optimism, which denies the existence of negative situations. Instead, we’re talking instead about the conscious choice you can make to give greater relevance to the positive aspects of each situation, however adverse it may be.

According to Richard J. Davidson, people who meditate experience brain circuit changes that transform their way of perceiving reality. In a study Davidson conducted, he identified differences between the brains of those who meditated and those who didn’t and concluded that his hypothesis was true.

He claims that meditating for half an hour a day for two weeks is enough to experience the benefits of perspective changes.

In general, an abstract effort to develop a positive outlook usually has very short term effects and, therefore, wouldn’t greatly influence your mood. However, those who meditate enjoy more lasting effects, which impact their emotional state.

3. Full attention

Another study conducted by Richard J. Davidson showed that the average person doesn’t pay attention to 47% of the things they do during the day.

One of the triggers for this disorientation is multitasking or divided attention work, which is when you perform several tasks at once without focusing on any one task in particular. In these cases, the mind starts to wander, going from one idea to another without any defined pattern.

Davidson found that those who work this way are more likely to feel dissatisfied and unhappy. That’s why he points out that one of the keys to well-being is full attention, which could be defined as mentally and physically focusing on the here and now.

The ability to guide your mind into the here and now is a skill that you can also acquire through meditation. In general, when you think a lot about the future, you can start to suffer from anxiety. On the other hand, thinking about the past often leads to depression. Thus, living in the present is less emotionally taxing.

A woman meditating.

4. Generosity

The last of the four keys to well-being, according to Richard J. Davidson, is compassion or generosity. According to this researcher, giving activates many areas of the brain that are related to happiness and joy. In fact, generous people are almost always more at peace with themselves and tend to be calmer and more carefree.

For Davidson, generosity, as well as selfishness, has a boomerang effect. This doesn’t necessarily mean that whoever gives receives equivalent compensation but simply because the act of giving boosts physical and mental well-being. In other words, the one who benefits most from giving is the one who gives.

According to Richard J. Davidson, these keys to well-being coincide with many psychology theories, as well as Buddhism. Thus, you should consider the fact that these could be the aspects that can help improve your well-being.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Kabat-Zinn, J., & Davidson, R. J. (Eds.). (2013). El poder curativo de la meditación: diálogos científicos con el Dalái Lama. Editorial Kaiŕos.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.