Studies show that there's science behind why certain things satisfy you.
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How excited would you be if you discovered that your guilty pleasures don't always need to make you feel guilty?

GIF from "The Voice."


Like what if the blissful satisfaction you get from that slice of warm apple pie isn’t necessarily evidence of an intervention-level addiction to sugar and carbs (despite what that magazine cover told you) but could also just be a sign that you’re craving connection and feeling nostalgic?

Or that embarrassingly joyful feeling you have when small, random objects fit perfectly into another may not be a sign that you have obsessive compulsive disorder but just that you, like most people, really appreciate small moments of order in a chaotic world?

In other words, what if we could trace our feelings of happiness and satisfaction back to our brains and our humanity — and just a little farther away from the guilt-riddled land of right and wrong?

Well, according to science, maybe we can.

Over the past decade, a lot of research has been done into the science — both neurobiological and psychological — around why certain things make us feel so darn good. The science of happiness and satisfaction is a broad, relatively new area of study, and even though, like most big scientific questions, it will take a long time to have definitive answers, a few themes seem to be emerging from the research.

If true, they would be pretty powerful antidotes to the shame-based culture that makes us feel guilty about everything from a blissful bite of chocolate to our pursuit of wealth.

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So without further ado, here are three ideas about satisfaction and happiness that could make you feel a bit more ... happy and satisfied.

1. It's possible that our brain wiring has a lot to do with how happy we feel.

Image via PublicDomainPictures/Pixabay.

Researchers at Kyoto University used MRI scans to see if they could find where happiness actually happens in the brain. The results showed there was a positive relationship between an individual's subjective happiness score and gray matter volume on the right precuneus (an area in the medial parietal lobe of the brain, located at the top of your head, toward the back). People who were more content with their lives had a larger precuneus. They also found that the same area was associated with positive and negative emotional intensity and life satisfaction.

So while we know that pleasure is both genetic and learned (nature and nurture), it is good to understand that overall happiness and satisfaction is also made up of a lot of factors. Good old biology may be one of them.

2. Some things that we're told "shouldn't" affect our happiness actually do — but not as much as we think.

Does money buy happiness? Well, despite the sweet old moral adage that says it can't, the science tells a different story. Studies show that our instinct (the one that we would never tell our kids about but deep down inside we think is true) is right: Money can increase our life satisfaction. Statistically speaking, household income is strongly related to both emotional well-being and a person's quality of life assessment. In other words, you don't have to feel amoral or greedy for always wanting more money. It makes sense!

Image by David Koontz/Flickr.

But it's the why that's important and can reduce our anxiety a bit. Money increases our life satisfaction in as much as it helps us satisfy other evolutionary needs (like our desire for safety, freedom, health, or novelty, for example) and only up to a certain point. Studies show that after a certain amount, it has diminishing marginal returns on our satisfaction. So we can calm the never-ending desire for more — and stop comparing ourselves to the uber-rich. They aren't that much happier than the rest of us!

3. Overall life satisfaction leads to longer life. (Duh.)

In a nine-year-long study published by Chapman University that looked at adults over 50, the researchers learned that as participants' life satisfaction increased, the risk of mortality was reduced by 18%. By contrast, greater variability in life satisfaction was associated with a 20% increased risk of mortality.

So what's the actionable takeaway here? If we know that life satisfaction is tied to our mortality, it probably makes sense for us to spend time learning what brings us true satisfaction and fulfillment and actually pursuing those things ... right? Allowing ourselves guilt-free pleasures as well as investing in the deeper things that bring us overall life satisfaction isn't a selfish pursuit. It really may be a life-saving (or at least life-extending) measure!

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Increasingly customers are looking for more conscious shopping options. According to a Nielsen survey in 2018, nearly half (48%) of U.S. consumers say they would definitely or probably change their consumption habits to reduce their impact on the environment.

But while many consumers are interested in spending their money on products that are more sustainable, few actually follow through. An article in the 2019 issue of Harvard Business Review revealed that 65% of consumers said they want to buy purpose-driven brands that advocate sustainability, but only about 26% actually do so. It's unclear where this intention gap comes from, but thankfully it's getting more convenient to shop sustainably from many of the retailers you already support.

Amazon recently introduced Climate Pledge Friendly, "a new program to help make it easy for customers to discover and shop for more sustainable products." When you're browsing Amazon, a Climate Pledge Friendly label will appear on more than 45,000 products to signify they have one or more different sustainability certifications which "help preserve the natural world, reducing the carbon footprint of shipments to customers," according to the online retailer.

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In order to distinguish more sustainable products, the program partnered with a wide range of external certifications, including governmental agencies, non-profits, and independent laboratories, all of which have a focus on preserving the natural world.

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Wikiimages by Pixabay, Dr. Jacqueline Antonovich/Twitter

The 1776 Report isn't just bad, it's historically bad, in every way possible.

When journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones published her Pulitzer Prize-winning 1619 Project for The New York Times, some backlash was inevitable. Instead of telling the story of America's creation through the eyes of the colonial architects of our system of government, Hannah-Jones retold it through the eyes of the enslaved Africans who were forced to help build the nation without reaping the benefits of democracy. Though a couple of historical inaccuracies have had to be clarified and corrected, the 1619 Project is groundbreaking, in that it helps give voice to a history that has long been overlooked and underrepresented in our education system.

The 1776 Report, in turn, is a blaring call to return to the whitewashed curriculums that silence that voice.

In September of last year, President Trump blasted the 1619 Project, which he called "toxic propaganda" and "ideological poison" that "will destroy our country." He subsequently created a commission to tell the story of America's founding the way he wanted it told—in the form of a "patriotic education" with all of the dog whistles that that phrase entails.

Mission accomplished, sort of.

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If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.