Studies show that there's science behind why certain things satisfy you.

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.

Image by iStock.

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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I'm staring at my screen watching the President of the United States speak before a stadium full of people in North Carolina. He launches into a lie-laced attack on Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, and the crowd boos. Soon they start chanting, "Send her back! Send her back! Send her back!"

The President does nothing. Says nothing. He just stands there and waits for the crowd to finish their outburst.

WATCH: Trump rally crowd chants 'send her back' after he criticizes Rep. Ilhan Omar www.youtube.com

My mind flashes to another President of the United States speaking to a stadium full of people in North Carolina in 2016. A heckler in the crowd—an old man in uniform holding up a TRUMP sign—starts shouting, disrupting the speech. The crowd boos. Soon they start chanting, "Hillary! Hillary! Hillary!"

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What will future generations never believe that we tolerated in 2019?

Dolphin and orca captivity, for sure. They'll probably shake their heads at how people died because they couldn't afford healthcare. And, they'll be completely mystified at the amount of food some people waste while others go starving.

According to Biological Diversity, "An estimated 40 percent of the food produced in the United States is wasted every year, costing households, businesses and farms about $218 billion annually."

There are so many things wrong with this.

First of all it's a waste of money for the households who throw out good food. Second, it's a waste of all of the resources that went into growing the food, including the animals who gave their lives for the meal. Third, there's something very wrong with throwing out food when one in eight Americans struggle with hunger.

Supermarkets are just as guilty of this unnecessary waste as consumers. About 10% of all food waste are supermarket products thrown out before they've reached their expiration date.

Three years ago, France took big steps to combat food waste by making a law that bans grocery stores from throwing away edible food.According to the new ordinance, stores can be fined for up to $4,500 for each infraction.

Previously, the French threw out 7.1 million tons of food. Sixty-seven percent of which was tossed by consumers, 15% by restaurants, and 11% by grocery stores.

This has created a network of over 5,000 charities that accept the food from supermarkets and donate them to charity. The law also struck down agreements between supermarkets and manufacturers that prohibited the stores from donating food to charities.

"There was one food manufacturer that was not authorized to donate the sandwiches it made for a particular supermarket brand. But now, we get 30,000 sandwiches a month from them — sandwiches that used to be thrown away," Jacques Bailet, head of the French network of food banks known as Banques Alimentaires, told NPR.

It's expected that similar laws may spread through Europe, but people are a lot less confident at it happening in the United States. The USDA believes that the biggest barrier to such a program would be cost to the charities and or supermarkets.

"The logistics of getting safe, wholesome, edible food from anywhere to people that can use it is really difficult," the organization said according to Gizmodo. "If you're having to set up a really expensive system to recover marginal amounts of food, that's not good for anybody."

Plus, the idea may seem a little too "socialist" for the average American's appetite.

"The French version is quite socialist, but I would say in a great way because you're providing a way where they [supermarkets] have to do the beneficial things not only for the environment, but from an ethical standpoint of getting healthy food to those who need it and minimizing some of the harmful greenhouse gas emissions that come when food ends up in a landfill," Jonathan Bloom, the author of American Wasteland, told NPR.

However, just because something may be socialist doesn't mean it's wrong. The greater wrong is the insane waste of money, damage to the environment, and devastation caused by hunger that can easily be avoided.

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