Neuroscience Psychology

What are some of the physical effects of happiness?
Answered by Science Channel
  • Science Channel

    Science Channel

  1. Happiness as a state of well-being and contentment and we are all aware of some of the physical effects of happiness -- smiling and laughing are two that instantly come to mind. From a physiological perspective, happiness has been linked to increased activity in the brain's left prefrontal lobe, as well as a decreased amount of the stress hormone cortisol in the bloodstream. These physical manifestations of happiness are real, but can fade with time.

    Maintaining happiness and many other emotions may be all about neurochemicals that work as receptors in the brain's cells. They've gotten more attention in recent years, and rightly so. Scientists recognized the role of dopamine in controlling mood, for instance, some time ago. If all goes well, dopamine peaks when you need it most. Several neurochemicals are involved in the mind-brain connection that helps keep us happy: In addition to dopamine, endorphins, oxytocin and serotonin play roles in the brain-happiness connection [source: Psychology Today].

    The purpose of endorphins is to mask pain, but they also make you feel a sort of "high," especially after laughing or exercising. Oxytocin is related to trust, but it's triggered by actions like giving birth, holding one's child or an orgasm. Feeling good boosts levels of serotonin, but if you have an imbalance in this neurochemical, you might have depression. That's why some people need antidepressants to help their bodies balance problems with their natural chemicals. As a matter of fact, most medications for depression are named after this neurochemical: selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs.

    Once we find and maintain happiness, we can feel its physical effects. Laughing produces endorphins, leading to more good feelings. And when we're happy, we're probably less stressed, so we're not affected by all of the damage stress and cortisol can do to our bodies and minds. We're probably more likely to be active, too. A study from Columbia University Medical Center found that people who mostly had positive outlooks -- they stayed upbeat, enthusiastic and content with how their lives were going -- had lower risks for heart disease than their peers who were not as cheerful [source: The Washington Post]. They haven't yet proven whether happiness creates better heart health or whether happier people just happen to be healthier too. Regardless, they say taking care of yourself and ensuring your happiness certainly cannot harm your health.

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