What we are looking at here is the actual chemical and physiological that happen within a person when they are happy. What happens to the body and ultimately, can it improve our health and wellbeing.
There are a number of chemicals that are released in the brain when we are happy. These include dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and endorphins. Let's look at each of these and try and understand why they are released and the effect.
Dopamine is a chemical which acts within the brain as a neurotransmitter. Simply put, this means that it helps the brain's cells talk to each other. It's not only present in the brain but dopamine can be found throughout your body.
Dopamine has many roles. Importantly, it plays a significant part in your motivation and levels of excitement. It also helps with someone called reinforcement. That is essentially telling the brain that whatever just happened was a good thing and go do it again.
However, it's not necessarily ideal to equate being happy with increased levels of dopamine. Just because something might temporarily make you experience increased dopamine levels and heightened 'happiness', it doesn't follow that longer term repetitive behaviour will lead to sustained levels of happiness. As a slightly extreme example, taking heroine creates a spike in dopamine but there's not much evidence that long term use leads to much happiness.
Like dopamine, serotonin can be found throughout the body but within the brain it considered to have an effect on your mood. Levels of seratonin can control your anxiety and depression, thus affecting your happiness directly.
A low level of seratonin is associated with depression. Drugs such as LSD or ecstacy cause an increase in levels of seratonin with a knock-on mood changing effect.
There are a number of suggested ways to naturally increasing levels of seratonin. Excercise is commonly suggested along with sunlight, diet and a positive attitude.