When Barbara Fredrickson, PhD., professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at UNC-Chapel Hill, hears “go to your happy place” she literally heads for her PEP Lab (Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Laboratory). For more than 20 years she’s been studying positive emotions, tackling how they affect the heart, the immune system and mental health.

“The ways that we feel happiness and well-being are actually showing up in the cells of our immune system and supporting our health in that way,” she said.

Money and success account for only a small part of people’s happiness, a bigger portion is self-created, and meditating even just 15 minutes a day is an easy way to do that.

“Before and after a three month study, we’ll measure people’s heart rates, and we see a healthy pattern of cardiovascular activity,” Fredrickson explained.

It is possible to re-wire your brain to be happier. According to psychologist and happiness researcher Shawn Achor, five habits will help you rewire your brain:

Think of three things you’re grateful for

  1. Write about a positive experience from the past 24 hours
  2. Exercise
  3. Meditate
  4. Perform one random act of kindness.
  5. If you do this every day for just 30 days, it can change the neural pathways in your brain, making happiness second nature.

A new study also argues that happiness does not lead to a longer life.

Researchers believe suffering from disease or other illnesses causes people to be unhappy and it also causes them to die earlier. But simply being unhappy -- on its own -- does not.

However, happiness does improve the quality of life.