Finding Happiness in the Brain

Happiness in the Brain

[Excerpted from You, Happier: The 7 Neuroscience Secrets of Feeling Good Based on Your Brain Type by Daniel G. Amen, MD]

You, Happier: The 7 Neuroscience Secrets of Feeling Good Based on Your Brain Type is written by psychiatrist, neuroscientist, and brain health expert Daniel G. Amen, MD. In this book, he reveals how to discover your brain type and tailor happiness strategies best suited to your brain type. This book also shows how to improve your overall brain health to consistently enhance your mood, protect your happiness by distancing yourself from the “noise” in your head, and make 7 simple decisions and ask 7 daily questions to boost your happiness.

Your brain is the organ of happiness. Your brain is the organ of liking, wanting, and learning—all essential ingredients that go into happiness. Your brain is also the organ of sadness, anxiety, panic, anger, and storing past emotional trauma—the enemies of happiness. Deciding to assess and optimize the 3 pounds of tissue between your ears is the first foundational decision to a happier life. Yet most people never think about their brains, which is a huge mistake, because success and happiness start in the physical functioning of the brain.

Your brain is the organ of happiness. Deciding to assess and optimize the 3 pounds of tissue between your ears is the first foundational decision to a happier life. Click To Tweet


Research shows that happiness seems to stem from an interaction of 3 important brain areas:

  • Orbitofrontal cortex, located in the front, underside part of the cerebral cortex
  • Basal ganglia, especially in the front half of the nucleus accumbens, which responds to rewards and the anticipation of rewards, in the limbic area
  • Brain stem, which is where the neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin, and phenylethylamines are produced; part of the reptilian brain

In addition to the interplay of these 3 brain regions, happiness also relies on quieting the misery-producing areas of the brain. In particular, this means calming activity in the amygdala, an area that registers fear, and the insular cortex, a region located between the frontal and temporal lobes that is more active when people feel angst or unhappiness.


As I was writing this book and learning more about brain systems and happiness, I decided to see if I could indeed find happiness in the brain imaging work we do at Amen Clinics. We had 344 patients, ages 9–89, take the respected Oxford Happiness Questionnaire, which was developed by Drs. Michael Argyle and Peter Hills of Oxford Brookes University. The questionnaire, which you can take as part of my 30-Day Happiness Challenge, gives people a happiness score based on a 6-point scale:

1–2: Not happy, you may be seeing yourself and your situation worse than it really is

2–3: Somewhat unhappy

3–4: Neutral, not really happy or unhappy

4–5: Rather happy

5–6: Very happy

6: Too happy

People with particularly low scores may be viewing their lives as worse than they actually are. Those with a perfect score are actually too happy and less likely to thrive in daily life. Their health may also suffer. Being too happy may lower healthy anxiety and decision-making ability.

Our research team compared the bottom 50, with scores ranging from 1.03 to 2.72, to the top 50, with scores ranging from 4.38 to 5.76. Then our statistician, Dr. David Keator from the University of California, Irvine, did an additional set of analyses correlating the happiness scores for all participants. The results were fascinating.

The brain SPECT scans of the high happiness group showed increased activity and blood flow overall, meaning the healthier your brain, the happier you are likely to be. We also saw increased activity and blood flow in the orbital prefrontal cortex and in the basal ganglia and nucleus accumbens in the limbic part of the brain.

In the low happiness group, the SPECT scans showed increased activity in the anterior cingulate gyrus, which I think of as the brain’s gear shifter, meaning these people are more likely to get stuck on negative thoughts.

In my new book You, Happier, I reveal more interesting results from our study.

If you want to join the tens of thousands of people who have already learned how to have a happier brain and a happier life at Amen Clinics, speak to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.


  1. How much does a SPEC scan cost and how can I get one?

    Comment by Barb DeMunck — January 12, 2022 @ 7:25 AM

  2. Hello Barb, thank you for reaching out. We would be happy to contact you directly with more information regarding pricing, financing options, and insurance. We can also help you schedule an appointment at one of our nine clinics across the US. We look forward to speaking with you soon.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — January 12, 2022 @ 10:29 AM

  3. Do I have to get a SPEC scan to know my brain type?

    Comment by Shari Fallin — January 13, 2022 @ 7:38 AM

  4. Hello Shari, thank you for reaching out. There is a free Brain Health Assessment offered by Brainmd that can help you figure out what brain type you may be ( For a more accurate assessment, we recommend getting a SPECT scan. For more information about scheduling, please contact our Care Coordinators:

    Comment by Amen Clinics — January 13, 2022 @ 10:37 AM

  5. Can your brain scan be manipulated by how happy you are in the moment?

    Comment by Janet Gilbert — January 13, 2022 @ 6:58 PM

  6. I provide psychiatric care in Phoenix area. Would like more info to give to patients.

    Comment by luchia young — January 14, 2022 @ 8:44 PM

  7. If I have had a brain scan recently, can I bring it to the clinic instead of having one done there?

    Comment by Dale Hudson — January 21, 2022 @ 4:38 PM

  8. Hello Dale, thank you for reaching out. If you’d like a consultation regarding scans you’ve had done, please contact our Care Coordinators:

    Comment by Amen Clinics — January 26, 2022 @ 9:27 AM

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment

Contact Us