The neuroscience of happiness: 5 ways to hack your brain and be happy

Happiness has been the subject of various studies. Researchers study happiness using science experiments.

According to UCLA neuroscience researcher Alex Korb, happiness starts with our thoughts.

When we force ourselves to think happy thoughts, it activates our brain to make us feel happier.

Here are some of his findings based on his research:

1. Gratitude creates happiness

Gratitude has been defined as an emotion, a moral virtue, a mood, a personality trait, and a coping response.

It has also been depicted as a way of life.

A research study showed that participants who wrote gratitude letters reported significantly better mental health.

It also suggests that gratitude writing can be beneficial for both the healthy and those who struggle with mental health concerns. Moreover, gratitude boosts levels of serotonin and dopamine.

These are considered the brain’s happy chemicals.

What’s striking about gratitude is that it can work even when things aren’t going well for you.

It’s because you don’t actually have to feel “gratitude” to produce the happy chemicals.

You just have to force yourself to think about something you are grateful for.

The thoughts of gratitude alone will make you feel happier.

2. Recognizing your negative feelings produce positive effects.

It seems like avoiding anger and other negative emotions are not good for you.

There is an amazing amount of power in simply recognizing your negative emotions.

A study showed that words are powerful regulators of emotion processing.

When labeled negative emotions, the fMRI scans of their brains showed that their emotions calmed down.

This effect also works when we label the emotions of other people – they calm down too.

This psychological phenomenon is the basis of FBI hostage negotiators.

3. Making a “good enough” decision can make you happy.

According to the book The Upward Spiral

“..Making decisions changes your perception of the world — finding solutions to your problems and calming the limbic system.”

The key is just to make a “good enough decision.” It doesn’t have to be the perfect decision – just decide.

Trying to make the perfect decision can create stress.

It makes your emotions overly involved in the decision-making process.

4. Helping people makes both party happy.

According to a world-renowned game designer Nicole Lazzaro, there are 4 chemicals that activate happiness. They are dopamine, serotonin, endorphins, and oxytocin

This article states that helping others triggers a release of these chemicals.

In a Harvard study, happy employees helped others and they were 40% more likely to get a promotion.

The same study showed that they are the same people who consistently provided social support to others.

It also suggests that happy employees were the most likely to stay happy during times of high stress.

5. Touching releases happy chemicals

It’s been a proven fact that humans are social animals. We need to feel love and acceptance from others.

That is why our brains react to social exclusion in the same way we react to physical pain.

That being said, our brains are hardwired to interpret touch as social acceptance.

When we hug the ones we love, it releases oxytocin.

Oxytocin is also called the “cuddle hormone.” In short, it makes us happy when we are hugged by people that matter to us.

Touch reduces stress hormones, decreases pain, improves sleep quality, and reduces fatigue.

Kolb’s research focused on the brain – where our emotions are managed.

“Everything is interconnected. Gratitude improves sleep. Sleep reduces pain. Reduced pain improves your mood. Improved mood reduces anxiety, which improves focus and planning. Focus and planning help with decision-making. Decision-making further reduces anxiety and improves enjoyment. Enjoyment gives you more to be grateful for, which keeps that loop of the upward spiral going. Enjoyment makes it more likely you’ll exercise and be social, which, in turn, makes you happier.”

Happiness is not only studied by scientists.

It became humanity’s quest to search for the meaning of happiness.

From philosopher Plato to psychologists, here are some of the best books to read about being happy:

1. The Happiness Hypothesis

The Happiness Hypothesis

This book is written by psychologist Jonathan Haidt.

It is a book about ten great theories of happiness discovered by the thinkers of the past.

Haidt explores happiness through the words of Plato to Jesus to Buddha.

He then performs analysis of their thoughts through the prism of modern psychological research.

The book aims to create a blueprint for being happy and optimize the human condition for happiness.

2. Stumbling on Happiness

Stumbling On Happiness

This book is considered the best-researched yet captivatingly digestible book on the art and science of happiness.

It’s published by Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert to expose the misconceptions we have about happiness.

3. The Art of Happiness

The Art of Happiness

This book was co-written by His Holiness the Dalai Lama with Howard Cutler, MD.

The Dalai Lama is the spiritual and temporal leader of Tibet, who is also a Nobel Prize winner.

Reviews say that even after spending only a few minutes in his presence, you will feel happier.

In this book, he’ll tell you that happiness is the purpose of life.

It focuses on the philosophy of peace and compassion as a foundation of happiness.

The Art of Happiness is the book that started the genre of happiness in books.

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” – His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama

4. Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill

Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life's Most Important Skill

Matthieu Ricard, a French scientist-turned-Buddhist-monk, is the author of this book.

He got a degree in molecular genetics but decided to devote his life to the study of Buddhism.

In this book, he distilled 25 centuries of Buddhist spiritual tradition and combined it with his scientific knowledge.

It created a refreshing vision – fusing the life of the mind and the life of the heart into a path of happiness.

Happiness is subjective.

What makes one happy may cause misery to the other person.

It’s up to us to embark on our own journey to happiness.


Over the past few decades, scientists have grown increasingly interested in happiness: What makes us happy or unhappy? How can we increase our happiness? And how should we define or quantify happiness?

Buddhists have been studying the phenomenon of happiness for millennia.

Today, there’s considerable intersection between Buddhism and science. Recent research indicates that Buddhism has an incredible amount to teach us about living happier, calmer, and more satisfying lives.

By unwrapping iconic Buddhist teachings, we created a 71 page eBook focusing on specific actions you can take to:

  • Help you reduce stress
  • Cultivate healthier relationships
  • Handle people you don't like
  • Understand your place in your community and the world at large.

Check out How to Use Buddhist Teachings for a Mindful, Peaceful and Happy Life here.