The Science of Happy

Did you know there is a science of happy? Scientists have decided that along with studying abnormal psychology it might be a good idea to figure out the science behind happiness.  How cool is that!  Many people are fascinated by the freaky nature of serial killers and scientists are no different.  Science has spent most of it’s effort on the bad emotions and actions with barely any studies done on the positive emotions.   So as a science nerd, I was really excited to start seeing articles and studies on what makes us happy.

The Science of Happy

What is the Science of Happy?

The science of happy is a movement called positive psychology.  Started in 1998 by University of Pennsylvania psychologist Martin Seligman when he asked the American Psychology Association to start studying ways to build on the strengths that we have as humans.  It struck a chord with many psychologists and in 1999 60 of them showed up for the first Gallup Positive Psychology summit.

Positive psychology studies the science of happy but its focus is to use that science in conjunction with traditional psychology to overcome problems.  If you were to see a positive psychologist for depression, they would focus on building up the positive things in addition to using traditional methods for treating depression.

To figure out what positive things people should build up, scientists have been doing studies to find out what really makes people happy.  They have studied the physiological as well as the psychological attributes that happy people have and the results were pretty interesting.

What the Studies Have Found

  • Money does not buy happiness – there is some correlation between income and happiness but not nearly to the extent that most people think.  If you are extremely poor, then your happiness level does take a nose dive, but once you get to middle-income the correlation decreases dramatically.
  • Hugs make you happy – In this TED talk, Neuroeconomist Paul Zak talks about the power of oxytocin in your happiness. Oxytocin is produced by your body and can be produced by doing many different things, but Dr. Zak recommends 8 hugs a day to increase your happiness and better your relationships.
  • Giving makes you happy – Students at Harvard conducted a study with the thesis that how you spend your money is more important than how much you make.  They found that people who gave more were happier and more satisfied with their lives.  (and you thought I was crazy when you read The Joy of Giving.)
  • Gratitude matters – In a study of 700 middle school students, scientists found that the more grateful they were, the happier they were overall. Being able to be grateful for the things you have keeps people satisfied and in their happy place.
  • Prayer is important – Scientists have found that praying has many physically measurable benefits including less stress, a more positive attitude, and improved self-control.

8 Hugs a day will boost your happiness

How This Science can Help You

The science of happy is telling us the absence of bad things does not make us happy. Just because nothing particularly awful is going on in our lives that doesn’t make us happy or satisfied with our lives. We have to be actively involved in our own happiness. We need prayer in our life. We have to practice gratitude and we have to be kind to one another.

I think Jesus said it best in Matthew 22: 36-4036 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

If you are interested in learning more about the science of happy UC Berkeley offers a free 8-week online course all about positive psychology and the science of happy.

Do you have any experience with the science of happy?  Leave a note in the comments section.



Peterson PhD, Christopher,(2008) What is Positive Psychology and What it’s not, Psychology Today,

Aknin, Lara B., Norton, Michael I. and Dunn, Elizabeth W.(2009)’From wealth to well-being? Money matters, but less than people think’,The Journal of Positive Psychology,4:6,523 — 527

Aknin, Lara B., Norton, Michael I. and Dunn, Elizabeth W (2010) Spending Money on Others Promotes Happiness,Berkley.Edu,

Peterson PhD, Christopher (2010)Gratitude:Letting Other People Know They Matter, Psychology Today,

Routledge PhD, Clay (2014) 5 Scientifically Supported Benefits of Prayer, Psychology Today

1 Comment

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