Facts & Physiology of Happiness

A woman stands in a field. She is smiling and wearing sunglasses.

Happiness is an emotion that brings pleasure and plays a crucial role in our psychological well-being. Studies have found happy people are more likely to have fulfilling relationships and marriages, higher incomes, superior work and study performance, community involvement, experience robust health, and live longer. Positive emotions and sustained happiness are often associated with characteristics that parallel fulfillment and success, including sociability, optimism, energy, and originality.

Physiology of Happiness

Happiness produces physiological changes, evident by scientific testing. Positron Emission Tomography (PET test) and functional MRI show activity in the left prefrontal cortex, which when stimulated, people feel more positive. Optimism, a contributing factor for happiness, is also linked to brain function

Within the brain, the anterior cortex and the amygdale (in the brain) become more active when we think about positive events. Research demonstrates that the neurotransmitter dopamine plays an important role in happiness because it mediates transfer of positive emotions. Happiness is also associated with lower levels of cortisol, and therefore, a stronger immune system, and less stress.

Are People Born Happy?

An interesting question. A classic study of twins found that genetics accounts for about 50% of our satisfaction with life – called the “happiness set point.” This is the point we return to if our happiness is disrupted.

Happiness Formula

The Happiness Formula is a combination of our genetic happiness set point (approximately 50% of our satisfaction with life), and other circumstances of a person’s life, such as health, and factors under our voluntary control, like engaging in satisfying relationships and participating in meaningful life activities.

What Makes Us Happy?


We actually become happier with age! A Gallop study of people ages 18-85 years old found that happiness appears to decrease gradually until age 50, then trended upward, while worry declined.


Research shows a definite correlation between faith and happiness. Studies also demonstrate that people who attend some type of religious/spiritual service weekly were happier than those who attended less often. Experiencing a faith life also reduces stress and provides positive meaning to life.


The link between money and happiness is complicated. Satisfaction with the standard of living is associated with a more positive evaluation of life, but true positive feelings come from psychological factors, such as using one’s skills and autonomy. Additionally, research shows that more money does improve overall life satisfaction, but does not improve daily happiness.


Studies show that people with long-term partners or spouses tend to be happier. However, it’s not just the concept of “marriage” or “partnership” that causes the happiness. A person who is married or in a long-term partnership can potentially be unhappy. The key word here is “satisfaction.” The individual has to find the partnership or relationship satisfying. Single or divorced people can be happier than those in difficult or challenging relationships.

Strategies to Improve Happiness

  • Connect socially! Get out, smile, and seek activities that bring fulfillment and pleasure
  • Keep a positive attitude and practice gratitude
  • Take care of your body—follow a healthy food plan, such as Total Health System’s FirstLine Therapy Program
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Follow a routine sleeping schedule
  • Exercise! It produces feelings of well-being and releases endorphins (“feel good hormones”)
  • Get regular chiropractic adjustments and massage
  • Practice forgiveness, which frees you from the past and moves you forward in life
  • Love yourself, be kind to yourself, and take care of yourself!
  • Pursue goals that interest you
  • Surround yourself with positive people

Be Committed

It takes time to change a behavior, but feeling good and experiencing true happiness are worth it!

If you need help improving your quality of life, contact Diane Delf, RN, Director of Wellness and Weight Management at Total Health Systems.


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